Lestitian says there was considerable pressure to support the land sale long before she was removed. Twice in May 2008, she says, she met with officials supporting the deal: Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, as well as officials from the two teams and Continental. Team officials threatened to sue the authority if their development rights were not extended, she says -- and they promised to put her "on the podium with us" at the groundbreaking ceremony. (The Steelers and the Pirates did not return phone calls for comment.)
Lestitian didn't change her mind, but says another board member -- state Rep. Jake Wheatley -- did.
Lestitian says that all the way up until the vote, Wheatley "both publicly and privately was telling me, 'I'm with the chair'" -- with Lestitian herself. But on Aug. 7, the Hill District Democrat voted in favor of the plan.
"He flipped his vote," Lestitian says. "I would like to know why."
Wheatley did receive a $5,000 campaign contribution from Onorato's campaign on April 17 that year -- less than a week before the spring primary, and the first time Onorato had contributed to Wheatley. But Wheatley contends "Dan never asked me to vote any way on that deal."
"Dan wanted to see Jake get re-elected, period," agrees Oren Shur, Onorato's campaign spokesperson.
Kevin Evanto, another Onorato spokesperson, denies Lestitian's claim that Onorato came to meetings to pressure board members. "He did not intervene" in Stadium Authority discussions at all, he says. (C-P, Chris Young)
Newman! I mean ... Chris Young!
Real quick: if Onorato was that terribly interested in ensuring Wheatley's reelection, wouldn't the contribution have arrived earlier than a week before the election? Early money is like yeast. It's nice to be able to budget things out.
More importantly: notice how the claim made by Onorato's spokesperson in the last paragraph conflicts with what Lestitian tells us in the first paragraph. And notice how the denial was broad and flat: "He did not intervene". Couldn't he have gotten away with, "Sure, he might have sat in on a discussion or two, this is a hugely important development, it's not unusual for our region's leaders to keep one another one the same page"?
I suppose the next question would be what if anything else was discussed during those alleged meetings between Stadium Authority board members, the Steelers, the Pirates, Continental, the Mayor and the County Executive -- and whether any of those folks ever suggested performing a simple property