Saturday, June 13, 2009


You know this:

... and how the Mayor had been compelled to attend it.



I mean, just think about it:

"While I am largely in agreement with the Act 47 plan, I will not support increasing taxes imposed solely on City residents to address our long term legacy costs.


I would remind City Council of one very important point: If we do not have a budget by June 30, there will be far worse cuts and pain suffered by City employees and residents in the form of lost state revenues. My administration and I stand ready and willing to further work with Council and the Act 47 team. We remain committed to a solution-focused dialog that will result in the passage of a fair and sustainable plan by June 30, 2009."
... Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (WTAE)

And then BLAMMO...

"No words can describe the history-making comeback achieved by our team. No one believed that this could be done, that we could win on the road and defy history, and that the league's youngest captain could make it happen. On Monday, let's show the world..." ... Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (P-G)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday: Rack 'em Up.

The North Shore Master Plan was approved at the Planning Commission, minus the specifics on the amphitheater for now.

There is coverage at WTAE and the Tribune-Review, which skipped over from what I hear were possibly a few interesting items (the full text and scope of the Law Department's letter to the Commission, the fact of City Solicitor George Specter's significant degree of participation during the meeting, and the spectacle of having to involve the police at one point) but the news was what it was.

I'd like to call your attention just to this:

"I appreciate the community group's frustration, but I think it's inappropriate to ask a project developer to meet with private groups and help resolve their problems," said Barry Ford, president of development for Continental Real Estate Cos. (Trib, Chris Togneri)

Inappropriate to expect someone to meet -- MEET -- with new neighbors.

And how do you like "help resolve their problems". Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I think of those as Pittsburgh's problems, all of our problems, Continental's problems or in actuality the Steelers' problems as well.

No they don't have to accede to all or even half of the community coalition's specific demands, if you ask me. No they don't have to install weather stripping on area roofs for example. But let's not stand on ceremony and make some kind of ideological statement ("No more CBA's! No more Communism!") by refusing to go through a couple pots of coffee with concerned neighbors. Not only are the developers inviting wrath, but they're probably passing up a few opportunities to do some things they could be really proud of.

No I'm not enamoured of some of Northside United's rowdier tactics -- at least not all the time -- but that rowdiness itself is partially a function of the regimen of religious avoidance and non-engagement served up by the developer. My guess is if the community folks were directly engaged, the labor organizers wouldn't have to do or be able to do as much of what they're trained to do.

NU included this in a press release of yesterday:

Today, a delegation of Northside community members and Clergy went to the Steelers corporate headquarters to deliver an invitation to the Rooney family to attend the bus tour we are hosting next week.


Next Wednesday, June 17th from 10am-Noon, we are hosting a bus tour through Northside neighborhoods. In addition to the Rooney family, we have invited politicians, members of the Planning Commission, members of the Stadium Authority, the media and allied organizations from across the city. We plan to show both the positive and negative aspects of life in Northside neighborhoods to help make our case that real investment and accountable development is needed in our community.

This strikes me as exactly the right tactic. No I do not expect the Rooney family will clear their schedules on June 17th at 10:00 am to ride on this bus. But it's probably high time to cut out-of-town Continental out of the loop. If one of the Rooneys can help foster peace within Ireland and generally around the globe, surely somebody from the Rooneys' organization can be tasked with attempting at least to make peace with some downtrodden neighbors on the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Jeez, if even their buddy the President was a community organizer, it can't be all worthless.


There will be another Alpark Terrace trailer park post soon, but for now a quick update is necessary: turns out the hearing before the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment was not a useful forum to help residents who would like to find a way to remain.

It is an unfortunate circumstance for those directly affected, but the Boilermakers union, which purchased the property, has every right to alter a use from light manufacturing to office and event-holding in one building, and more to the point, to change a nonconforming residential rental use to a nonconforming parking use ... so long as other nearby stakeholders aren't adversely affected.

The actual folks getting kicked out, oddly but unarguably properly, do not count from a zoning perspective.

It doesn't look good if you're a resident, but there are at least three avenues yet to be fully explored, in no particular order:

1. Tenants Rights law (got to check up on everything)
2. Historic Designation (long shot but utterly plausible)
3. Moral appeals / Political grandstanding / "Could you please not get rid of us?"


Well the Housing Authority thing got officially interesting. Will it turn compelling? We all wouldn't be doing our due diligence if we didn't specifically examine the "several unique challenges" to a merger, but hopefully this will spark a bevy of fruitful talks on ordinary collaboration across the County. There is a lot we can learn from folks right next door, no need to travel great distances. (P-G, Team Effort)

Infinonymous, the Pittsburgh Hoagie and Null Space all seem to think the Iron City thing is a more salient and more outrageous a story than it appears at first glimpse.

This strikes me
as good thinking. Maybe not in regards to converting buses (pursuant to a highly authoritative-sounding anonymous commenter) but the principle of Advanced Redd-Up sounds solid enough to jump on.

Peaks and Gutters has a balanced look at the City's latest international plaudits and what should be our posture towards these. For that matter, so does the Post-Gazette Edit Board.

Tune in later -- I'm thinking 4:00? soon -- for more thoughts our city budget situation. The blog is about to get lousy with that material for the next 18 days. We're already in the showdown before the showdown.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Okay, not quite:

Pittsburgh City Council today issued an order for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to meet with council members to discuss the city's five-year financial recovery plan.

"We want to see the mayor at this table. We want him to state his position on the recovery plan," said Councilman Bruce Kraus.

"We have the power to call a meeting between council and mayor at any time," said Councilman Bill Peduto. "I suggest that the mayor find a flight from the beach and come back to work." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

The maneuver stops just shy of a full-on subpoena -- which would involve sheriff's deputies and whatnot -- though that remains on the table as a last resort.

Lame-duck Councilwoman Tonya Payne said that she "came in saying no [to Act 47], I'm going to go out saying no," joining Darlene Harris, Theresa Smith and Patrick Dowd in clearly declaring opposition to the plan as it stands.

Council members expressed increasing worry that if the city can't find $10 million to $14 million a year to shore up its pension fund, and if it can't win state approval to tax nonprofit institutions or boost the $52 tax on those who work in the city, then they would be forced to boost property, wage or other levies on residents.

"The failsafe option, the sort of nuking of Pittsburgh, is a tax increase," said Mr. Dowd. (P-G, Rich Lord)

This is all a little strange. The council members who might ordinarily be against state oversight are finding common cause with the members who might ordinarily be for state oversight but don't want to be saddled with all the blame when things get even more uncomfortable.

Selected tweets:

And finally, an oldie but goody also from WTAE's Bob Mayo that aired originally around the time of -- um, what to call it, Golfgate II? -- which is relevant to the idea of a Mayor popping in to a session of Council to address grave concerns:

Oops, one more thing: a statement from Independent mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin:

I applaud the seven members of City Council who today compelled the Mayor to actively engage in the critical debate over the proposed amendment to the Act 47 recovery plan. What our Council and our Mayor do on this issue will have a profound impact on the future of our city. The new recovery plan will affect our city workers, our public safety, our long-term financial stability, even our ability to perform and deliver basic city services. The citizens of Pittsburgh deserve the hard work and full attention of their Mayor, and it’s unfortunate that it takes the compulsion of City Council to get Mayor Ravenstahl to engage in this process.

I think we can all agree without too much fuss that we ought to know by now where our Mayor stands in relation to this new Act 47 Part II: The Resubjugation. Obviously now that he has statementized on the subject, eventually it would be super to know where Mr. Acklin himself stands, but Mr. Ravenstahl is currently the guy in charge and as such his opinions are more pertinent.


Late in the afternoon, Mr. Ravenstahl's administration issued a statement in which he said he is "largely in agreement with the Act 47 plan" but "will not support increasing taxes imposed solely on city residents."

He said there's a real risk that the state will pull the plug on aid if the city doesn't meet the June 30 deadline.

"If council is going to vote down the plan because it does not spend enough, they must also provide leadership on how we are to receive additional revenues," he said in the statement, adding that there "will be far worse cuts and pain suffered by city employees and residents in the form of lost state revenues" without a new plan.

This in full: LINK, bottom of screen.

We are twold there is nothing in the statement concerning the Mayor's intent to comply with the Council's summons.


City-County Merger: Jawboning It

There was a huge convocation on the subject of City - County Consolidation last week, and somehow the prospect of a full merger emerged seeming less likely even than before.

"This is bigger than me and my political ambitions," Ravenstahl said. "If the city and county were to merge and I wasn't involved afterward, I would be fine with that. It would be a great legacy." (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

You can see they are pulling out all the stops.

"The problem of managing government and meeting the expectations and demand that the public wants is getting harder and harder to do under the model of government we have today," said City Council President Doug Shields. "I'm not sure eliminating the City of Pittsburgh is going to get us there. I'm not sure if we even understand what that means." (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

If I understand Our Council Prez correctly (which is never a given) I agree. If we would just launch the gnarly conversation about what Region Council would look like -- how many members, apportioned where -- I think there would be less fear and uncertainty. At least we could begin working through some of those issues.

As it is, this prospective merger feels more like handing over the keys to Dan and Luke and praying they make the right decisions for everybody. I'm not sure very many of the folks that voted for them care to go that far.

An April 2008 report on consolidation that the mayor and county executive endorsed calls for a pre-merger city-county "cooperation compact" that would commit current and future leaders of those governments to combining specific services.

"For us legislators, [a compact] is something that's going to show us a good-faith effort between the city and the county," said state Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview.

Mr. Onorato said an effort to develop a compact would be a distraction.

"Do you just go the next 10 years trying to [merge] parks and recreation, trying to chip away at [information technology]?" he asked, hypothetically, after the forum. "If you really want to merge all of these departments, merge the governments. ... But if [legislators] are not going to move, obviously you could do the slow change." (P-G, Rich Lord)

In this P-G Video, Onorato talks briefly about merging the URA with the ACED, and is like yum! One gets the impression that building an economic development juggernaut is what's driving a lot of the militant pro-merger sentiment. The thing is, merging Parks and Recreation while retaining our familiar governments has a lot more appeal to the average Joe.

Ms. Leland said that her research suggested there's no guarantee that any given type of merger will save taxpayer money or improve the economy, though the latter result happens more often than not. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The first coverage I had heard about this conference was on WDUQ -- it was an excerpt of one of the speakers. I'm not sure who it was, but she was insisting boldly and desperately, "If your only argument in favor of consolidation is that it will save money, then your. Efforts. Will. FAIL!!!!!" She really sounded sure of herself. So maybe add more talk about improved delivery of services to go along with a frank discussion of what the new government might look like.

And I'd settle in for at least 10 years, or at least until Pittsburgh emerges from state oversight. Which will be our next topic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Election Day Madness Revisited

You all remember this.

At least one person had been passing out a look-alike slate card in support of Georgia Blotzer for City Council.

The card claimed that the "Real Democrats" this year had endorsed Ms. Blotzer for Council. Actually, the party committee endorsed incumbent Theresa Smith.

Judge Bubash issued an order directing sheriff's deputies to seize any of the fake slate cards from anyone who was distributing them. (P-G, Jim McKinnon)

Many of you know that I decided to volunteer for candidate Georgia Blotzer during the Primary. What will follow further down screen will be my own recollections and ruminations on that day.

But now, in my last act as campaign volunteer, I release to you a note that Georgia sent to the Comet for public distribution:

Most people have moved on from the Primary election. However for me, there is an election day issue that I should have addressed earlier. I will do that now.

It concerns the campaign literature distributed by my campaign during the primary election. I knew that slate cards, similar in design to the ones of endorsed candidates typically handed out by Democratic Committee members, were to be distributed by one of my volunteers at a polling place in Sheraden.

Upon being informed of the concerns expressed about the similarity of our slate and the "official" slate card, I immediately ordered that the cards be removed and destroyed. At that time, I was told the cards were also at another polling pleace ready for distribution. I ordered the removal of the cards from this second location also. I take full responsibility for the cards and sincerely apologize.

Worse -- when asked for a response by the media, I released a short statement asserting in part that "I don't believe I did anything wrong". For this personal error in judgement I also apologize. I ran in part based on a platform of good government, political reform and honest leadership. I write to apologize for failing to live up to those ideals.

I can only supplement that with what I witnessed.

Several days before the election, the campaign held a big poll-worker training session. Everyone received a bag with information and materials, including literature we would hand out at the polls -- this being a four-color palm card with Georgia's face on it. The meeting adjourned and people began to leave.

As it was breaking up, a staff member fetched and unsealed a small box and excitedly showed several of the stragglers -- myself included -- the "REAL DEMOCRAT" slate cards. We few had a hearty laugh over them; it was pretty well known by then our what our insurgent campaign's position was on what makes for "real" Democrats.

However, we quickly fixated on the fact that the City of Pittsburgh REAL DEMOCRATS had in almost every case endorsed the SAME DEMOCRATS as the Allegheny County Democratic Committee -- except of course in City Council District 2.

I clearly remember saying, "We're not actually using these, right?". And I clearly remember our candidate shaking her head and confirming decisively, loud enough for everyone to hear, "No, we're not gonna be using these."

The staffer who presented the cards didn't argue, but encouraged a few of us who would be attending an ACDC event later that evening to pocket some, and utilize them at least to goad and josh around with committee folk -- so it wouldn't be a total loss.


That was the last I thought of the cards until about 11:30 AM on Election Day, when sheriff's deputies came marching up to the polling station, asked, "Are there any slate cards on the premises?", then affixed a judge's order "upon the motion of James Burn" to the front door.

As luck would have it, Georgia arrived fifteen minutes later, bearing a sandwich and an apple for me, asking how I was holding up and if there was any news. So I gave her the news.

"Someone must have used them," I remember her saying in a very not-happy tone of voice.

Blotzer departed to figure out what happened. What followed was a flurry of Blackberry activity between multiple persons. It seemed as though exactly one volunteer had been handing out the bogus slate cards early that morning -- at the polling station that generated the initial complaint. There was a rumor at one point that sheriff's deputies searched another volunteer's bag and found a single bogus slate card -- taken as a souvenir, just like I did myself -- but no one else seemed to have been handing them out.

When we all saw that the Post-Gazette had picked up the story, and that that looked to be the only Election Day action news of the day, we knew we would have to respond -- and sure enough, Channel 11 started calling persistently. When the statement which was eventually released came across my Blackberry -- the one that included, "I don't believe I did anything wrong" -- I didn't voice any objection to it, nor did any others.

The feeling at the time was, the candidate wasn't personally to blame for the bad decision; staff was insisting the race was razor-close; the opposition would use the news to hammer us for hours in the media while polls were still open and votes were still being cast; and why make it easy on them by rolling over and exposing our bellies? Besides, who does the ACDC think they are, endorsing people, having slate cards that people read and trust?

When I returned to my car and reviewed the souvenir card I had taken for myself, a distinctly sinking feeling began to settle in. Upon further review, this didn't look anything like some rival organization's endorsements -- these were lies on paper.

When I saw the statement on the screen on Channel 11, the feeling got worse. As the night's results began to trickle in and PCNC began airing our story every half hour or so for ... what was it, about 500 hours? ... it got to be downright nauseating.

At the results-watching party, Georgia came over to me and my laptop on occasion ostensibly to check in on results, but it became apparent quickly that the race was anything but close. Most conversations at that time meandered back to, "What are we going to do about that awful statement that made a bad situation impossible."


As it turned out, we did very little immediately. Draft statements and letters to the editor were discussed, but I think Georgia opted to handle things on an interpersonal level for a while. The whole idea of "preparing statements" was what got us into this mess, after all. However, perhaps because we had the media's sympathy and/or pity, nothing further was ever mentioned -- which itself sat poorly. I know that Georgia never fully got past the sordid debacle and for that matter neither did I.

I clearly remember that feeling that with the race "so close", and with "so much on the line", I allowed myself to believe that the campaign's confounding initial statement of non-attrition was okay. As the candidate points out above, it was not okay. If anyone was under any impression that certain political beliefs are good indicators of personal infallibility, consider yourselves disabused.

The Comet will endeavor as always to be righteous. If however in the future you should notice it being far less self-righteous, arrogant and judgmental than it has been in the past, you now know one big reason why.