Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday: Morning in the 'burgh*

Zee keekoff party, it is today. Send a reporter -- heck, send a photographer while you're at it. What do you have to take pictures of today, snow and accidents? (2 Political Junkies)

Get this: Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato are coming under what could become intense fire for failing to pay sufficient homage to the Pittsburgh Steelers. YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP. (PghIsACity, Mind Bling)

*UPDATE: Rest assured whatever it is, it will be appropriate. (P-G)

Michael Lamb continues to accrue political goodwill. Who said it's not good to be the Controller? Your job basically consists of criticizing others. But I feel like we have to ask: wasn't there a Housing Authority audit in the mix at some point? And Streetface? Or are these being held up for familiar reasons? (PghIsACity)

Progress Pittsburgh is wondering if the Parking-for-Pensions notion is likely to benefit a certain political ally. The Comet wonders more generally if it is intended to help clear the road for city/county consolidation, but P2's idea is, you know, also fun. (Progress Pittsburgh)

This, meanwhile, is absolutely teeming with possibilities. More to come. (Trib, Tim Puko)

Are my standards for blog consumption totally lower than my standards for newspaper consumption, or is this not ten times more thought-provoking and useful than almost anything by the same author in the P-G? Maybe the difficulties really are editorial or conceptual in nature. (Pittsblog 2.0)

So let me get this straight: the Steelers are picking and choosing which Authority board members etc. get offered special face-value tickets etc. and which do not -- and the results seem to correlate with how approving of recent Steelers business these board members have been -- and they refuse to answer questions about their policies in this regard. But there are no problems here. These aren't the droids we're looking for. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Onorato at the Parking Authority: Trying His Best

David Onorato, brother to Dan Onorato, is Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. The Parking Authority is preparing to do a whole lot of stuff.

Over and above the executive director sits a board. All of its board members are mayoral appointees, confirmed by the council. However, pursuant to § 220, one of those must be a member of Pittsburgh City Council itself. A good idea, in my opinion.

Probable mayoral candidate Patrick Dowd pointed this out, and said essentially, hey! Before you sell the parking lots, let's get a council member on this body!

A Parking Authority board seat "was offered to Patrick Dowd some time ago, and he turned it down," said Parking Authority Executive Director David Onorato. "I don't think there's merit" to Mr. Dowd's concern that decisions of the current board could be challenged in court. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Now, if Rich Lord sneaks up on you and asks you a question about some random celebrity complaining about your organization and your bosses, this is a nice effort. Good thinking.

Unfortunately, the argument is totally specious and a distraction. How about we just run the government rightways already?

Mr. Ravenstahl nominated Mr. Dowd to the board April 3, to replace Dan Deasy, formerly a council member and now a state representative. At the time, though, Mr. Dowd was part of a legal challenge to a Lamar Advertising billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center, which is owned by the authority. Mr. Dowd asked that the mayor hold the seat open "until such time as the appeal is resolved."

He and Lamar reached an agreement on April 17 requiring a public process for the billboard.

The desire to avoid being seated on the Parking Authority in mid-April of '08 was conspicuously understandable, because Pittsburgh was freaking out about a Parking Authority issue with which Dowd had intimately involved himself.

Mayor Ravensahl initially sounded approval of Dowd's approach to his particular concerns. But as other members of council joined Dowd's appeal, and as Lamar Advertising sued all five members on conspiracy-related charges, and as Dowd's colleagues counter-sued Lamar, it all became very unfortunate for the Mayor.

My point is: That was in April! It's been nine months.

Has the Parking Authority seat been offered to anyone? There are three other council members -- Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, and Douglas Shields -- available to be called up for active duty. I would think Kraus in particular has made himself less politically radioactive.

If a billboard can cause this much waste and distraction, how much more havoc can a massive garages-for-pensions swap wreak?

Pittsburghers can now reasonably ask of their government whether their own direct influence over decisions at the Parking Authority is oddly out of sync with that of the County Chief Executive. That should be ludicrous and unnecessary. Every citizen, every politician, every city worker now has good reason to lobby the Ravenstahl administration in favor of filling that board vacancy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Theresa Smith presents herself as someone who's gone to all the meetings, has the greatest depth and breadth of district-wide experience, and is an advocate for increased funding for children's programs and certain aspects of public safety even if it stretches the budget.

Georgia Blotzer presents herself as the unassuming champion of the McArdle Roadway remediation movement, a fierce critic of business as usual in Pittsburgh, and an advocate for community responsibility, collaboration, and strategic planning along the lines of the East End.

Brendan Schubert presents himself as an earnest Catholic school grad who went to work for the City of Pittsburgh, who is feels his procedural and political knowledge of city planning is what separates him from other candidates, and is convinced that this makes him the superior choice to bring change at last to District 2.

The candidates were seated in front of a scattered audience of about 50; the inestimable Carl Sutter was accorded by the moderator the honor of the first question.

We know about the problems. Why isn't the Bureau of Building Inspection cracking down on these problem property holders?

Schubert said we need to fill 16, 17, 18 vacancies in the bureau. To carry that many vacancies for so long is "unexcusable".

Blotzer agreed heartily with that, and said that furthermore, five out of the seven currently on staff are not properly certified. Also, there is currently only one overworked attorney at BBI; it makes it difficult to follow through on problem-solving.

Republican candidate Chris Metz said the right answers were already taken.

Smith seconded what was said previously, and recommended dealing with these issues in the manner of Tony Ceoffe in Lawrenceville.

We all know we're overrun with drug dealers, drug users, and vandals. What are we going to do about that?

Theresa asserted this was tied closely with high school dropouts. She recommended more school programs, and strengthening Weed & Seed.

Georgia recommended neighborhood block watches. The people of District 2 need to take responsibility for following up on problems directly with police commanders.

Schubert said we're underfunded as far as police go.

A voice called out from the back of the room. The moderator let it proceed.

WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ON COUNCIL? What law are you gonna pass?

Georgia gamely asserted that coordinating how to work the system is very important. If you go through 311 and you go through the police and you don't get an answer, you have to make your council representative aware and they'll make things right.

You're telling us stuff that we already know. We do all that stuff. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ON COUNCIL?

Theresa chimed in that restoring longevity pay for police officers would have a good effect on retention, and the need to retrain and relearn neighborhoods.

A new voice rang out, and the moderator let it have the floor.

Hey, can we hear from Chris? He hasn't said a word.

The Republican candidate Chris Metz agreed with all that, and added, "I'm sure we can find a way to make loans cheaper or something". End quote.

Two voices called out at the same time. The moderator said the previous questioner could proceed with a follow-up.

Oh! Oh, I'm sorry.

That's okay! I don't have a question, I have a comment.

It was about Weed & Seed and how to make it more effective. The inestimable Carl Sutter took it upon himself to answer the comment himself.

The moderator chimed in with even more data on Weed & Seed. However, "the sad thing is, they're just like cockroaches. You kill one and ten more pop up."

A new guy.

You talk about building inspection. I been doing this. [Explains credentials, licenses, experience] I've been looking, and they're not advertising! The administration isn't putting pressure on to fill the vacancies. So great. Now I've got a job out in the South Hills. [Shrugs].

The candidates nodded in affirmation that that was not ideal.

I've seen Theresa and I've seen Georgia at various community meetings. Chris, I don't think I've ever seen you. Can you explain that?

Republican candidate Chris Metz said that he went to more meetings a year ago, but then got busier with his job, but he still goes to some. "I'm usually quiet, hanging out in the back."

I'll give you each two minutes. Give me a Strategic Plan for District 2.

Brendan spoke of a plan involving Overbrook; down Lorenze Avenue. He envisions an active mixed-use development district that will bring foot-traffic and commerce, and stabilize a key corridor.

Georgia repeated her desire to see a strategic plan grow out of a facilitated, grassroots community process. The moderator chimed in that the WEECC has been working diligently on a strategic plan for four months, and is shepherding it along through certain channels.

Matt Hogue, who had been functioning quietly as assistant-moderator for the discussion, then took the floor and chimed in with his own concerns. After clearing his throat to the effect that Georgia Blotzer seems like a nice person and he'd be happy to work with her as a council member...

You come from
the most affluent neighborhood in District 2. How are you going to relate to neighborhoods like ours? Also, how much time are you going to waste on campaign finance reform? It doesn't work and it's proven.

Georgia, turning halfway around to face him, said first that campaign finance reform gets to the crux of why development goes where it does in the city, and how it goes in there. For example a single company can invest $70,000 in politics, turn around and get a return of ten million with a hotel that ... and Matt had an answer:

We're not getting the projects, though! I'd love to see a Bakery Square come here!

Georgia mostly let that pass, then said more importantly that when a lot of people of think Mt. Washington they only think of one side, of Grandview Avenue -- and there's a whole 'nother reality that maybe some in other neighborhoods don't know exists.

New questioners.

What's the deal with the West End Circle?

The moderator clarified that this was a PennDot concern.

As a black American, know that I tried to raise issues with my council rep in the past. But I never could get through. I could never have a talk. I could never sit down. How am I gonna be sure it's going to be different with you?

Georgia immediately answered that he has a good way to hold us accountable: his vote.

Talking about development. What are you going to do for places like Windgap-Chartiers? You can't really say it has a business district: it has a bar, a Dairy Queen, and a day care.

The candidates gave short answers wholly representative of their approaches.

Carl Sutter posed to Brendan the same question someone else had already fired at Chris.

Theresa Smith and Georgia Blotzer, I know I've seen them at meetings and I know they're active in Weed & Seed. Where have you been when it comes to things like Weed & Seed?

Brendan said he's very active as a community member through his church and through fraternal organizations. He said that when it comes to something like Weed & Seed, due to his position at City Planning, there are guidelines in place that discourage him from getting too highly involved in certain civic organizations that have overlaps with his duties.

That was about it. The moderator gave a few more updates on neighborhood news and reminded everyone to go check out

In an unscientific smattering of post-debate interviews, the audience was generally impressed with the field of candidates as a whole. They held some reservations about Theresa's ability to make change, about Georgia's ability to relate to the whole district, and about Brendan's lack of direct involvement in programs that they find critical.

The Comet also interviewed the three candidates separately.

Tuesday: Yes We Are

1. Here is the other tremendous story that is transpiring. You better get it right. No lazy reporting, no cliched analysis. (Progress Pittsburgh)

2. The Post-Gazette rallies the good citizens of District 2 towards a future in which continued fiscal constraints encourage a prudent debt strategy. (P-G, Edit Board)

3. This is what progressive means. You go now, come back all fixed. (ADB1, ADB2)


4. After his hiring in 2005, Roosevelt closed 22 schools, opened eight Accelerated Learning Academies with a longer school day and school year, and hired Kaplan Inc., a New York-based educational services firm, to revamp curriculum. Schools were reconfigured into K-8 and 6-12 models.

These reforms, dubbed Excellence for All, cost $25 million and were paid for by the federal government and foundations. (Trib, Bill Zlatos)

My goodness, that is a lot of energy, toil and expenditure to account for -- to say nothing of this business with CEP. To an extent we have been planting seeds for future growth, but to an extent it's 2009 and it's reasonable to see some harvest. I hope the Superintendent's self-evaluation today is frank, credible and constructive.

The money Allegheny Valley School District stands to receive in a proposed federal stimulus package would come just in time to help pay a portion of a $16.5 million high school renovation project. (Trib, Jim Ritchie)


"These are for things like the added educational programs for individuals with learning disabilities but also for modernization of schools, new technology and school construction," said Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

Since day one (practically), then-President Elect Obama was impressing upon us the national economic imperative to make swift, massive federal investments in our public schools -- bricks and mortar as well as technological infrastructure.

I hope that our own School District wasn't so taken with its Panzer-driven rightsizing and reformatting strategies (and its perpetual public relations campaign) that it failed to act as adroitly as did Allegheny Valley ... though I trust continued opportunities will arise. There's nothing like ingenuity and initiative to demonstrate leadership.

RELATED: "We've submitted a list that is all-inclusive..." Really? Because it's a big spiral galaxy. Did we ask around? Maybe projects are continuing to solidify; maybe it's best to have multiple channels of influence interacting with a variety of federal agencies. The old community heave-ho.

TANGENTIAL: Mayor Ravenstahl shares some thoughts on the Club Pittsburgh scandal at around 17:00. It's interesting. A lot of the interview is interesting. (P-G, Toland and Tkach)

ANYWAY: There are some School Board seats up for contention this May, right? Any action on those?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday: Pre-Game

Councilman Dowd finally stepped up and raised issues about which the Comet has been screeching for over a year. Sometimes I think if it weren't for elections, democracy totally wouldn't work. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The D-2 candidate with the lowest self-imposed campaign donation limits --by far -- has amassed the most cash. Looks like she makes it around the district after all! (P-G, Rich Lord)

Speaking of which: Community Theater Night in Elliott! Drink every time any candidate says, "District 2 is the most overlooked district in the City of Pittsburgh"! (Hoagie)

Two quarrels with this article: the Rev. Johnny Monroe never, contrary to popular and inexplicable belief, actually fought against construction of the new hockey arena; he did fight for improvements in the surrounding neighborhood to coincide with it. And the Hill District hasn't received squat yet but promises. (P-G, Ann Rodgers)

Okay, we may have been a bit disparaging towards bread and circuses, but that shouldn't be taken to apply to wings and circuses. (P-G, Team Effort)

Federal attorney's offices are not the largest of offices and you have to believe what they spend time on is chosen with intent. Some speculation I have is not even worthy of blogging yet, but I wonder if the ongoing investigation already has tentacles in some seemingly unrelated news stories of late, some local and some far. (Null Space)

Null Space is not among the worst of blogs and you have to believe that the words it publishes are chosen with intent. On Friday I happened to catch some of Nighttalk, during which Bill Peduto and Chelsa Wagner appeared jointly, being all seditious. Peduto went so far as to say he's heard that some city employees have been and are being asked by investigators to have investigatory conversations. It didn't seem like he was talking about Mr. Katz.

The Slag Heap has a concise primer up on 2009's political x's and o's. For the sake of argument, the Comet's own Ouija Board is telling us that Dowd will in fact run; I don't believe that he and Andy Sheehan would have stayed up all night producing that campaign spot for nothing. But what do we know -- maybe he'd prefer either Luke or Doug to emerge with a victory and run Pittsburgh for four years.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Governor Dogmatic, Lacking in Self-Awareness

"The governor believes that investing in programs that attract more development is always wise,'' Mr. Ardo said. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

Mmmm, yes. Always wise! Subsidizing programs ("investing" sort of implies that the public owns a stake) that attract more development is always wise!

Never mind that our two stadiums themselves are supposed to attract more development in that area -- or the casino, or the light rail extension. Never mind that if there were an open land auction tomorrow, entrepreneurs would in fact be banging down our civic door, likely outbidding our present business associates -- probably with more interesting ideas, and possibly with more to offer the neighborhood.

Are you familiar with the neighborhood, Mr. Rendell?

No no no -- this development, this third or fourth mid-size amphitheater arriving in Pittsburgh in the current cycle, this project that entails a land giveaway, the forfeiture of sorely needed future property taxes, and a hefty state subsidy in the middle of a recession is going to be the thing that attracts more development (can it be private sector development, already?), and it therefore falls into the category of stuff that is always wise.

What if the Steelers' agents were asking for $100 million? A trillion? Is there a limit to the fact that "investing" in "projects that attract more development" is "always wise"? And does that maxim and do those labels apply to absolutely anyone?

Likewise, Mr. Ardo defended Mr. Rendell's access to tickets from the Steelers.

"I think the public expects the governor of a state whose team is represented in the Super Bowl to attend. I believe that it would be petty to argue that he doesn't deserve to go," he said. (P-G, Mark Belko)

I'm trying really hard not to make a fuss about this 2008-2009 Steelers season. New ethics guidelines are being developed, and for that we should be very appreciative. If the new rules turn out right then our public servants will have richly deserved any good times they have had or will have this weekend.

However, somebody just informed us that Pennsylvania is one of only about five states left in the union that does not limit political contributions.

So Mr. Governor -- are you implying that six years worth of football tickets and entertainments, and six years worth of campaign contributions not only to yourself personally, but to whatever PACs, causes and candidates you support, does not have any impact on your idea of who deserves "investments", despite all common sense to the contrary?

You honestly don't think it's fair to surmise that your relationship to the coolest team in football helped to generate that great gubernatorial weighing-in (and everything that may come with it) on a local issue? Most of us haven't heard from you since -- why, since you helped strike that deal with the Penguins. Thank you so much, by the way!

So don't condescend to us. Acknowledge that there are some legitimate issues, give a nod to the unmistakable influence of money and in-kind gratuities in politics and demand campaign finance reform in Pennsylvania already.

Or don't, and we'll know what we're dealing with.