Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cheating: Not As Easy As It Used To Be

Two city council candidates running with the ACDC endorsement have been upended on the front page of the Post-Gazette almost immediately before the election.

John Robinson Block, the co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, denounced the tactics of both campaigns.

"This is a deliberate, despicable campaign tactic and dishonorable in every way," Mr. Block said. (P-G, James O'Toole)

Can I interest you in blogging, Mr. Block?

Here is the misleading Reilly campaign literature. I went to bed with a guilty conscience for not having posted it yet, considering how I hammered away at Smith's similar literature -- but this morning I see the P-G's got it all under control.

.Robin & Robin

Not only is Reilly implicitly claiming the P-G endorsement, but also suggesting the support of Mayor Ravenstahl -- to which he is entitled (did anyone ever point out to Luke how much he owes the committee?) but of which he is not in possession.

I wish I had a scan handy of even more new Theresa Smith literature. The claim of a P-G endorsement is now absent, but baseless claims of having "secured funding" for fourteen community groups in her district remain. More amusingly, Smith's brother is shown shaking hands with the late Pope John Paul II -- who is misidentified in the photo caption as Pope Benedict XVI.

Wrong pope. The Councilwoman apparently doesn't know her popes.

She mispoped.

At any rate, if the Democratic party committee forfeits all influence over Pittsburgh City Council in part due to juvenile and unnecessary stunts like these -- considering what also happened in 2007 -- you've got to imagine heads are going to roll. They can't go on like this, forever earning the reputation and demonstrating the competence of Scooby Doo villains.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just Four More Days!!

I had originally planned to post this video as a precursor to City Council's ethics talks, but the timing got all screwy. It works well enough now, though:

Friday: In the Hands of Hobbits...

It's going to be a great day for the good people of Pittsburgh.

Campaign fliers being distributed by city Councilwoman Theresa Smith in her bid to be renominated in Tuesday's primary have left a bad taste in our mouths here on the Post-Gazette Editorial Board. (P-G, Edit Board)

Major kudos, gang. Although your industry faces all manner of adversity, your righteous hearts and Pittsburgh's ardent efforts will surely carry the day in every contest. Now if someone can just expose the even more patently ridiculous claims of "securing funding" on the opposite side of that flier, we'll all be truly ecstatic. :-)

These guys aren't so bad, either:

The largest last-minute contribution to Ravenstahl is $15,000 from three executives of The Forza Group, a real estate company that arranged to meet with city planning officials to discuss building at least one hotel in Pittsburgh. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Looks like Our Mayor didn't exactly take his reform conversion to heart. His challengers ought to point out this hypocrisy in a forthright and compelling manner, but they probably don't want to be accused of trading in "sleaze" or being "rude".

Heads up, Broughton: pointing out sleazy government activities in plain English is absolutely necessary, and not done nearly enough. Furthermore, conveying a justified sense of outrage is sometimes every bit as necessary just to wake people up and cut through the static and malaise -- or indeed, to stay sane oneself. We humans share information through emotionality.

As to your question of Mr. Dowd, "
What would he have done about the advertising sign?", I think his answer very clearly could only have been to FOLLOW THE RULES AS WRITTEN FOR ALL TO SEE and to NOT ISSUE ILLEGAL PERMITS TO PERSONAL FRIENDS AND MAJOR DONORS.

Yes, I used caps lock for a while there. Good luck with your calm, polite little website, I'm sure it will be of service to fives and fives of people. Now as Rocky the Flying Squirrel says, "Here's something you'll really enjoy":

The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat thinks Dan Onorato could be doing better.

Pittsburgh's Lesbian Correspondent is in celebratory mode.

Peaks and Gutters rather appreciated Dowd's lapse into realism.

Mark Ratuerkus takes a stand once again for the resurrection and upkeep of our City's recreational facilities.

And that's just in the wee hours of this morning. Take a stroll through our blogroll as the day progresses, fellow babies, and become passionate about your city.

Oh, one more thing: Mary Griffin produces and posts online a 20 minute infomercial for Mayor Ravenstahl in which he preemptively defends his guest from tough but fair questioners. Then he blithely reduces issues of pay-to-play, corruption, extortion, or whatever else a regular person might call it to "inside baseball" and inso doing dismisses it wholesale. Way to be an "investigative reporter" who is "on our side", my friend. If I didn't hear you stand up for medical marijuana the other day I'd really give you the business. ;-)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

District 4: Coghill the Maverick? Really?

I just submitted this as a comment but it really deserves a new thread of its own, if only to maintain a semblance of order around here:

This whole Coghill as the "anti-machine" candidate idea is the biggest fairytale I've ever heard!

No doubt Patrick Reilly has the strong backing of Wagner, Wagner and possibly Wagner, but Anthony Coghill enjoys the equally ardent backing of the rest of the City and County Committee, including the Chairman, by all indications.

The whole "lawsuit" scheme was cooked up as a pretense to allow Committee folk who are on the other end of the intramural squabble to back an unendorsed candidate without suffering the usual slings and arrows that come with Committee treason.

Who doesn't know this? Really.

Reilly is a puppet of the Committee Hatfields. Coghill is a puppet of the Committee McCoys. Natalia Rudiak is the only candidate in the field that is not being led around by the nose by party antediluvians. She would also be a fantastic influence upon the rest of the Council, in my educated opinion, and be about as energetic and intelligent a voice for the district as anyone could ask for, hands down.

However, a demerit must go to the Post-Gazette for running two pro-Coghill letters to the editor on two consecutive days, despite the wide-open four-candidate field. I have to admit, Matt H really knows how to bait a hook.

Reilly and Coghill: two puppets fighting one another...

CBA's: What are you, Chicken? BAWK? *

This week's top story, aside from politics:

Several City Council members said they would be more comfortable if the development came with a community benefit, such as a buffer-zone park and recreation area. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

Councilman William Peduto* said the city owns land at Parkway Center and could create a buffer for Ridgemont residents. "I support the people who have stuck it out all these years," he said of Ridgemont residents. "Sometimes the best development is the one that never happens." (ibid; see also Trib, Jeremy Boren)

It's amazing how progressive this city can be about forcefully demanding that benefits for surrounding communities arrive in tandem with new development, when...

A) The developers have nothing to do with sports teams,
B) The community resistance has a cute name,
C) It employs adorable spokespeople, and...
D) Is white.

Think I'm going too far there?

The "lazy, greedy, asking-for-handouts, you-all-should-be-more-concerned-about-parents-who-don't-care-about-their-childrens'-education" position has been an indispensable part of the counterargument against seriously considering community benefits for the Hill District and the North Side. It used to be more explicit on the local Internet, until this post, but it's still being made equally explicit just about everywhere else.

I'm not begrudging Chicken Hill and its small town America / Bruce Springsteen vibe its victory. I'm just encouraging everybody involved to take this inspiration and apply it elsewhere -- perhaps where it would actually bring the maximum, um, benefit.

The point was made what an impact an 8-story building has on a single city street in Ridgemont. How much more impact does a master plan including stadiums, hotels, restaurants, offices and carnival tents have on directly adjoining neighborhoods, and how much more carefulness and community benefit must be employed? The residents of Manchester for example have been "sticking it out" all these years in their own Pittsburgh community, too.

*-CLARIFICATION: My juxtaposition of Councilman Peduto's quote and my editorial on the record of the City as a whole unintentionally may have left impressions that I was calling Peduto himself onto the carpet for inconsistency.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Peduto has been most consistent of all in supporting CBAs for developments anywhere, as evidenced by the fact that he took an early stand for a CBA in conjunction with Steelers / Continental developments -- and for that very reason got himself ejected from the Stadium Authority. My sincere apologies for being unclear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009



"With so much happening in our District and in our nation, and so much opportunity for our neighborhoods to become all that they can be, Georgia Blotzer is the right leader for the times, and I encourage you to support her because District 2 needs more than a seat on City Council, we need a voice, a leader, and an advocate.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

District 2 Debate Winner = Bill Peduto!

Thinking back to the way things were, say, two years ago today, it's incredible to observe politicians clear on the other side of town scrambling to align themselves with the representative of District 8.

Yet that's exactly what happened during a sizable portion of this evening's debate among Democratic candidates Georgia Blotzer, Rob Frank and Theresa Smith for the Council seat representing District 2.

It was quite educational!

The candidates of the West End it seems are not only looking towards Peduto for leadership on government reform, but also most notably on financial stewardship.

For example, when the candidates were asked whether or not it's time to leave Act 47 Distressed Municipality status, incumbent Theresa Smith said that indeed Pittsburgh is ready to withdraw, arguing, "I followed the lead of my Finance Chair Bill Peduto" and is "joining him in working on a Five Year Plan to come out of Act 47."

We have long known Peduto as the Council's leading voice cautioning against withdrawing preemptively from Act 47, but apparently there is new encouraging financial data that has made him change his position recently. Well done, Pittsburgh!

Additionally, when answering a question about whether retaining a $47 million "irrevocable fund" "restricted fund" within the city for the purposes of paying down debt was a wise maneuver, Councilwoman Smith testified that although she expressed some reservations at the time, ultimately she "took the advice of Finance Chair Bill Peduto" who said the fund was a good idea.

We all do remember that Peduto actually voted against the measure to approve that fund -- twice -- once during budget talks, and again this year in a vote to approve the fund agreement. Yet apparently those must have been minor technical issues, since Smith maintains that Peduto talked her into it.

I do wish I could show you footage of these remarkable events -- however, the League of Women Voters ruled that I might film the proceedings only if all three candidates agreed to it. Disappointingly, Ms. Kail-Smith said, "No, I don't want you taping it," because I tell lies on my blog and have treated her unfairly. I tried to argue that a record of the debate would only benefit all three candidates, the public at large, and democracy in general, but to no avail.

I'm sure you'll be told that I misheard this material or misunderstood it or worse, but for the record I know I took very careful and accurate notes.

So unfortunately you will not get to hear stories of how Theresa Smith "first brought the Weed & Seed program to the eight communities," or "brought in funding for the Dillworth Pittsburgh Boxing Ring", or most interestingly, how just today she "introduced the vacant property / nuisance property registry." We will however be able to show you solid evidence of her other wondrous claimed accomplishments tomorrow.

Um, No.

Don't get me wrong, I'm appreciative that campaign finance reports are now online. But my instinct is not to trust Allegheny County with "unrestricted access to my computer". Was it that complicated to put a spreadsheet online? What should I do?

So We Are Presently A Hotbed Of What?

There was so much to cover yesterday this almost slipped through the cracks:
The city's planning process must be a hotbed of professionalism. (P-G, Osth, Swager & Loftness)

It's your semiannual message-in-a-bottle from the Civic Design Coalition!

It is also not uncommon to see a mayor lay off a good part of the city Planning Department and bring new people into his office in the name of "economic development." While this sounds good, it is inherently flawed.

Cities need a logical plan for how the city can develop, followed by a system that ensures that everyone is treated fairly. The developer needs a predictable process with clear rules. Citizens who have already invested in the city by either buying a home or owning a business are entitled to have their investment protected. Everyone is entitled to a predictable open process. The visioning, planning and zoning necessary to ensure the plan is carried out is the purview of the Planning Department. (ibid)

Mayors need a predictable stream of campaign cash extorted from developers who seek entrance into our marketplace. Pittsburgh's traditional developers need special privileges. Community groups with the correct political clout need license to accomplish whatever they want, when they want it, regardless of their neighbors or the greater good of the city.

So you can see where there is some "creative friction" in regards to Pittsburgh city planning.

A developer has a team of lawyers, engineers, architects and landscape architects working together to help the development get planned, permitted and built. The city needs equally qualified people in their Planning Department and on their commissions charged with improving the city.

Diversity should be one goal for the boards, authorities, and commissions of the city. The other goal should be highly qualified individuals who are well matched to their duties. (ibid)

Look around the table one of these days. Developer, attorney, developer, developer, developer, political hack, developer, political hack who is an attorney and wannabe judge...

Wait, why are we even looking at the Planning Commission? We should be looking at the URA. They're the ones who actually get to do things. They're the ones with the trenchant and fancy planning and civic design backgrounds. Right?


The cities we think of as successful like Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Portland, Ore., all have a strong planning ethic which has been informed by professionals in the industry as well as meaningful citizen input. (ibid)

WHOA! Slow down. They probably have Ethics Codes in those cities that don't permit their elected officials to accept near-limitless admissions to sporting events, either. Pittsburgh has its own unique set of priorities, and government isn't one of them.

A plentitude of rules is not a deterrent to development. A process clouded by inconsistencies and a lack of standards is. (ibid)

You know -- apropos of nothing. She's just saying. Something her mom always used to say, I'm sure.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Our Mayor is refusing to answer questions about this sign ... and why we need this contract."

The only thing Dowd forgot to mention is that Pat Ford himself said the same exact thing -- the same words, in fact -- before receiving the hush money.

Luke Ravenstahl: Do Great Minds Think Alike?

This was very interesting news for several reasons:

Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign reported having $480,475 on hand, versus $44,345 for city Councilman Patrick Dowd, as of May 4. The mayor rolled up that edge by adding $325,898 -- of which $150,000 was a loan from County Executive Dan Onorato's campaign -- to an already fat bank account.

The mayor's campaign reported spending $661,996 this year through May 4, topped by $85,000 spent on television ads. (P-G, Rich Lord)

I'll get to Dan Onorato eventually -- crikey, he thinks it would be that intolerable for Pittsburgh to lose Luke Ravenstahl? -- but I'm much more interested in what Null Space noticed: the discrepancy between only $85K spent on television out of a total of $662K spent on ... something.

Adding radio, direct mail, yard signs and local staff to the $85Kfor television simply won't get you anywhere near the ballpark of $662K. Where did the money go?

UPDATE: The web version of the Post-Gazette article added a "Correction/Clarification" three days after publication: Ravenstahl's campaign now reportedly has spent $295K on television ads, the original $85K having been an "incomplete figure". This leaves not such a wide discrepancy but a discrepancy nonetheless -- and meanwhile, the Ravenstahl team has maintained its silence on the general topic of the post.

I must say it lends more credence to rumors that have been circulating that the Ravenstahl campaign has employed high-powered DC political strategists Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group -- specifically Frederick Yang, made famous as Advisor B in the criminal complaint against disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated, “I want to make money.” During the call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH, HARRIS, and Advisor B discussed the prospect of working a three-way deal for the open Senate seat. (US vs. Blagojevich & Harris)

Advisor B said that he liked the idea of the three-way deal. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 and being on some organization boards. Advisor B said they should leverage the President­-elect’s desire to have Senate Candidate 1 appointed to the Senate seat in order to get a head position with Change to Win and a salary. Advisor B agreed that the three-way deal would be a better plan than ROD BLAGOJEVICH appointing Senate Candidate 2 to the Senate seat and getting more done as Governor. (ibid)

On November 12, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with Advisor B. ROD BLAGOJEVICH discussed with Advisor B his idea for a 501(c)(4) organization. Advisor B stated that he likes the idea, but liked the Change to Win option better because, according to Advisor B, from the President-elect’s perspective, there would be fewer “fingerprints” on the President-elect’s involvement with Change to Win because Change to Win already has an existing stream of revenue and, therefore, “you won’t have stories in four years that they bought you off.” (ibid)

Frederick Yang, AKA Advisor B, is mentioned 14 times in the criminal complaint.

Is it inconceivable that our young squire of pay-to-play, whom we know also harbors pronounced penchants for celebrity and for high-rollers, insisted upon hiring only the creme de la creme when it comes to political practices that skirt along the edge of propriety?

Geoff Garin of Garin-Hart-Yang served as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton. Thanks to Ravenstahl's stalwart support for her presidential bid, Bill Clinton hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for Ravenstahl.

If Ravenstahl is indeed purchasing political advice from Mr. Yang, that would be incredibly relevant, newsworthy and entertaining all at the same time. The sheer persistence of evidence about Ravenstahl's pay-to-play practices and the degree to which this has been the central charge levelled against him in the mayoral race would make it so.

I've been e-mailing the Ravenstahl campaign on and off for a while now asking for a confirmation or a denial of these rumors, and I've received no response.

The next time any of you see the Mayor or his campaign manager, I definitely think you should ask them and report back on how it went. You never know their response.

Monday: The Dowd Method

First there was the endorsement:

His optimistic campaign is driven by an ambitious agenda for the city. Mr. Dowd, 41, of Highland Park believes city government must deliver the best service at the lowest cost and must do so away from the reach of cronyism and friendly side deals. (P-G, Edit Board)

And now today comes the biography:

"Recently I've gotten a feeling that you are on your way to the next office," a woman told him at a recent candidates' forum in Stanton Heights.

"This will probably be the last office I ever run for," Mr. Dowd responded earnestly.

Later, over coffee at Kiva Han in Oakland, he reiterated that he had to run for mayor because no one else would. Someone, he argued, needed to challenge an administration that he believes engages in pay-to-play politics, rewarding big contributors with contracts and favorable regulatory rulings. (P-G, Mackenzie Carpenter)

Take it or leave it, Pittsburgh. It would be an interesting, exciting four years in which a lot of things would be possible.

"No one rushes to the front row in this business," notes City Council President Doug Shields. "I told Patrick, 'The faster you go, the slower it gets.'" (ibid)

That's the conundrum, Doug. If you wait in line, pay your dues and advance in a politically correct manner, are you still going to be worth a fig to anyone once you do take the helm? Will you have retained any dynamism, independence and idealism?

It's audacity that's on the menu these days.