Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cui Bono?

B-list post by Vannevar Bush while Bram is on special assignment.

When I was a little kid I'd go to baseball games and the hawkers would be selling scorecards and I always thought those pieces of cardboard probably held valuable information, that for the giving of a dime you might become well-informed and knowledgeable and later as I grew up (to some degree) I have so many times wondered, where is that guy selling the scorecards now?

There are no scorecards, of course, and if you find yourself wishing for one it tells you more about your own situation than the game; you're a non-player, an observer. But if I may, some observations from way up high in the cheap seats.

Pattern Recognition and the ACE: Some functions of local government are organized into Authorities and governed by Boards. You might ask, Why is that? Sometimes it's when several counties want to cede a portion of their sovereignty to a new regional entity - for instance, the Port Authority of NY/NJ. Sometimes it's because the function involves planning, budgets, timeframes and decisions that need to be insulated from the four-year election cycle - for example, public transit or the airports.

In the last fortnight this pattern is discernable: the Allegheny County Executive (ACE) moves somebody into a position with the Authority's domain to accomplish his goals; they don't have any subject-matter-expertise, but they have the message. Might be somebody with turnpike experience, might be somebody with sales experience, but they're drinking the right flavor KoolAid. Shortly after that, the CEO is moved by the Board.

So I would think, if you're an Authority CEO and a new guy shows up, doesn't know the business but seems tight with the Executive, it's time to make three envelopes.

Last Man Standing, aka the Dog Not Barking: There are three people who seem to want to be the Mayor of Pittsburgh.

Within the last week, Team Peduto filed legal papers that could ruin the financial structure of Mr. Lamb's campaign, and what with him being a finance guy and all that would be pretty significant. The thorough preparation of the filing and their submission right after the offense was irrevocable suggests that somebody saw Team-Lamb failing to understand the complex new law and waited for them to put the noose around their own neck. By the way, who wrote that new law? Ah yes, the third Wannabe.

That complex new law may not be enforceable, what with shifting a City conflict to County courts; questions of jurisdiction n'at might preclude the timely response ostensibly sought. There is a clear change in the framework, and that might be sufficient.

Also within the last week, a steady series of discoveries about the Pittsburgh Police. At first it seemed like a story about the Chief, then it disclosed a grand jury conspiracy investigation, then it grew into other issues, and just now it's about no-show jobs. The person in charge of the Police, Mr. Ravenstahl, initially made bold statements of support and is now backing off; unsure of what to do and hoping to buy time he has called for outside counsel to consider the issue of outside employment.

The Hail-Mary-outside-counsel move was good short-term, and a minefield long-term; it takes time to form a panel, and an investigation into police outside employment evades the inquiry into the better question - was this person ever at work? How many no-shows are there? What's going on? The timing of these revelations seems terrible for the Incumbent and serendipitious for a Reformist Challenger.

The long-term minefield for Hizzoner and the FOP is the question of the police working lucrative mercenary assignments for bars and businesses, a corrupt arrangement in which taverns buy their own police, bars enforce commercial policy with the full force of criminal law, the bouncer becomes a policeman with arrest powers and Tasers whenever he wants to and gets to write the official report, and the city's insurance covers lawsuits and injuries. It's the third rail of Mayoral-FOP-governance politics.

Is it possible that this uncovering of long-standing, festering corruption is more about Luke's administration and re-election than the Police? Is there a electoral dimension leveraging a racial constituency against the FOP block?

And so, in this week of genteel boardroom, press conference, and court room throat-cutting - in other words, politics - who is quiet, subdued, and serene in the abattoir? Who profits?

At least, that's the question that comes to an uninformed observer, who doesn't have a scorecard.


  1. 1. On Fitzgeraldism: I think the P-G got it right recently. Not everything Rich puts forward is gold, but it seems like the system does a quick job curbing his enthusiasm. I don't consider his leadership nearly as much of a crisis as I do a huge opportunity. He's willing to move the pieces and has shown decent instincts on why he should move them. But by all means, you know, keep earning your bread Chelsa et al.

    2. It breaks my heart a little that the press releases emerging from the Peduto campaign right now are not directly related to a brilliant vision for the City or a cogent attack on the incumbent's leadership. We're being fed a story about politicians raising money and trying to regulate themselves. Now, that may be the way it has to be now. And I don't doubt that the campaign finance regs the city passed were for the better. And I don't even doubt that Michael Lamb's need to find a way around these campaign finance rules is illustrative of his campaign in some ways. I'm especially amused at how the attorney Lamb tries to defend his legal positions, and how well that would go. But in general, it would be more optimal to be talking about Pittsburgh, about operations, about stewardship.

    3. #Harpergate: You think it's partially about "no show jobs"? Huh, yeah I guess I partially disregarded that. But yes, it's certainly destined to remain a political issue, and I'm not sure why our mayor insists that despite everything "the Chief is the Chief". Just because it sounds like a Mike Tomlinism doesn't make it a sustainable situation.

  2. But anyways, Vannevar you are asking: "Who profits from Nate Harper remaining Chief?"

    First we should examine what Nate Harper brings to the table as Chief. Then we'd have to consider the costs of a transition (though Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson seems an immediately capable interim.) Only then should we really need to hazard guesses at who profits from a somewhat leisurely continuation of the Harper regime.

    Or can it just be just a matter of, Mayor Luke resistant to going back on his word from before? Thereby avoiding a "flip flop"? Or maybe going back on his word spoken directly to the Chief? And what would that be about? End unacceptable situations, don't putschky around.

  3. Actually I would ask, who benefits from the steady stream of disclosures about the police dept? Its a been a very good week for Team Peduto. Are they lucky or did they set out to make this the Week of Long Knives?

    In a zero-sum three way race, bad week for Lamb, bad week for Ravenstahl =good week for Peduto. Question: is that luck? Why is the dog not barking?

  4. Good week for Peduto??? Proving that his legislation is useless and ducking the endorsement because he would come in a distant third. This is more likely the beginning of the end for team Peduto.

  5. I'd like to hear more messaging on why he's forgoing the machinated endorsement. It's clear to insiders but not so much to people who only hear tell of this "Democratic party".

  6. If Wall Street Willie wanted to position himself as the true challenger and not just another apparatchik, he oils have taken his lead from Booby O and ran and ran and ran for mayor until he won! Instead he bowed out when the numbers looked bad. Not seeking the endorsement is a slap in the face of every committee member who has ever supported him because they still believe in the party system.
    He's called himself a Democrat these almost 20 years he's been running around the fith floor. You either wear it with pride all the time or not at all. Get some balls Bill!

  7. Its this a terrible week for Peduto? I'm not sure. The police info his campaign seems to be leaking might turn out his base among the young and progressive. I expect Lamb will drop out soon, which helps, but even if he doesn't he might help split Luke's major pillar of support - the old.

    If Harper steps down, Luke is plagued by scandal till May, and if he doesn't Peduto can use council to push policy proposals that make him look reform minded. There still seems to be open paths to victory.

    Also, not to sound naive but why 'wall street' willie?

  8. As a former Pittsburgh daily newspaper journalist, I read the Harper revelations as largely leaks from within the department and reporter legwork out of the federal courthouse, via the indictments against Harper's cronies. Don't forget, Rich L. is on the Fed Ct beat. All it takes is a close reading of official documents and lots of phone calls to connect some dots. That, combined with Dowd riding shotgun for Peduto's campaign by keeping PD staffing/training/sergeants etc. on the front burner, leads to a relatively good week for Peduto.

    And it makes good sense for Peduto to expend some effort trying to knock Lamb off the ballot. Stay tuned for nominating petition challenges and a poor showing for Lamb at the party endorsement. On the other hand, Peduto focusing on Lamb could be viewed as an admission that Luke has a 3-way race tied up.

  9. I don't think Dowd is trying to help Peduto so much as acting as a surrogate for the FOP which is his usual role in issues regarding the Bureau.

    Indeed I think it clear that Dotted supports Lamb. He brought Lamb to a community meeting in Stanton Heights last summer and just the other day a similar meet in Morningside. I thought it was well known that Dowd and Peduto didnt get along.

  10. @SCM, "Dotted"? Help out a guy who doesn't have a scorecard.

    And today brings news that Team-Lamb has indeed set its jaws on the third rail.

  11. MG Guy - You write, "Stay tuned for nominating petition challenges and a poor showing for Lamb at the party endorsement."

    Do you really think so? Even if the outright #Lambenstahl conspiracy theory fails to the low-end of the correctness spectrum ,and there is no coordination at any level between the political efforts -- the temptation for Ravenstahl committee backers to throw Lamb some support in order to keep him in the race with his head held high would be intense. The committee structure is just organized enough to easily do something like that.

  12. Damn autocorrect! 'Dotted' should read Dowd. Of course now putting Dowd into my computer's dictionary officially means I spend far far too much time thinking about city politics!

  13. Dowd is angling for a run at Controller should Lamb win.

  14. Anon 2:05 - Dowd is too smart to spend very much time angling for anything special to do if Lamb wins.

  15. Bram - Last time out, in 2005, Ravenstahl won the committee endorsement with almost 80 percent of the vote--602 to 163--over Peduto. I'll grant you that a "good" showing versus a "poor" one is subjective, as is the degree of coordination within the ACDC. But I'd be surprised if Lamb reaches 300 committee votes--nearly double Peduto's take in 2005--and that Ravenstahl winning any percentage north of 60 percent will be reported as a blowout. In fact, an argument could be made that with a number of high profile candidates snubbing the party by not seeking its endorsement, some committeemembers and ward chairs might want to make a statement by banding together behind one candidate.