Thursday, March 7, 2013

Your Guide to 'Burgh Drama: Ep. 2 - The General's Avenue. New Season starts Tues 5/21.


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whom some call "the Mad Mayor," has ruled Pittsburgh since 2006, but will step down at the end of this year having become so embroiled in controversies he will not run again.

In 2007, once his triumph in the special Democratic primary to be reinstalled as mayor was certain, Ravenstahl shuffled out of the administration three aides held over from his predecessor in the public communications and gate keeping fields. It will be left to philosophers of history to determine whether Ravenstahl's own mildly infamous succession of communications aides did a greater disservice to his mayoralty, or vice versa.

Today in Pittsburgh's Hill District, a grocery store at the grocery store site is rising thanks to redoubled effort by the URA and the philanthropic community as well as a new outside developer more connected with the City. In the Strip District, the reigning establishment now seems to be doing right by the Pittsburgh Public Market. The story of Buncher Co.'s fanciful and quintessential Pittsburgh origins remains instructive to civic debaters on the matter of cavalier character assumptions interfering with arguments.

During the days of the Mayor's revelation, a bevy of fresh reporting on the federal investigation into the Police Bureau was published and new public information issued. Even connecting the choicest portions in the context that they arose, one can only make assumptions about rivulets of misspending allegedly occurring under the aegis of the police which would interest the Federal Department of Justice to the point of scrambling the FBI in a sustained flurry.

Quickly thereafter the decisive, incisive mayoral appointment of Regina McDonald as Interim Chief stunned the police union numb, but that has not at all slowed her assertive pace of making change even in this painful, querulous, sometimes obtuse environment. We are all watchful of federal officials issuing further smoke-signals, and getting on with life in the City of Champions.

Our mayoral candidates! I used to wonder what democracy could be, until yinz all shared its magic with me...

Rainbow Dash (HUB, Hasbro)
Former PA Auditor General Jack Wagner indicates he's up for another big adventure, and sooner rather than later. His demands of Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal continue to echo in Harrisburg, his audits of technology contracts are spurring calls for reform, and he continues to advise a ban on school district interest-rate swapping. The last time he made waves in Pittsburgh politics, he criticized the sale of a State Office Building as a "ripoff" although that sale had become tied by a state oversight board to releasing City gaming revenue dedicated for the purchase and installation of modern municipal accounting software. No, really.

Pinkie Pie (HUB, Hasbro)
City Council President Darlene Harris must think this looks like tons of fun, announcing her candidacy as formally as one ought on Twitter. Harris this week introduced, fast-tracked and motioned to approve, hold and amend three bills related to cash management and cost recovery. She also went to bat for C-TIPS when questions about that police unit arose, being one of the few to perceive its role in her neighborhoods. Harris' approach to city challenges has been daring and audacious, and her relationship with Ravenstahl has prior to 2010 and since 2011 been one of alliance, though they grew estranged during that interlude.

Rarity (HUB, Hasbro)
State Senator Jim Ferlo has a beautiful heart, responding to Ravenstahl's crisis by rallying their retreating cohorts and inspiring them to collect in preparedness for a glorious issue. He has been combating Governor Corbett's privatization push by proposing to "modernize" State liquor stores and is now appealing to the state to address waste at VisitPittsburgh although that is a creature of the County. Mayor O'Connor first appointed the fellow Murphy antagonist to the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, where spotlights fell onto his campaign contributions and where it was briefly implied he gave his assent to a hush money settlement. Ferlo's close alliance with this Mayor additionally seems to have affected his interpretation of the 1st Amendment as it applies to government's ability to tax corporations.

Applejack (HUB, Hasbro)
City Controller Michael Lamb is faithfully pursuing the local Democratic Committee's endorsement and will receive it by a strong margin, and probably without pledging anything too too costly. To illustrate the case for his diligence as the city's financial watchdog, Lamb has said the police credit union account under inquiry "was set up specifically for the purposes of keeping it secret from me." Though frenetic recently in his financial oversight role, Lamb has yet to preview positions on issues as dear to the Comet as urban redevelopment or public safety -- but has long staked out organizing territory in public education and municipal relations.

Fluttershy (HUB, Hasbro)
State Senator Wayne Fontana is sharing a kindness by volunteering for the leadership post as a way to heal fractiousness and further vitalize the South hills. The pro-growth Democrat is presently shepherding an "angel" investment tax credit through the Senate, and would like to see progressively expanded tax credits for the film industry. In the past he has legislated to enable Allegheny County voters to eliminate the property tax in favor of something else, but being a fan of government that works he has also proposed applying its costs equitably to the major nonprofits. Fontana's reluctant but concerned presence in the campaign might be said for style purposes to be replicated by Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson, whose kindness extends as well to investigative transparency and pursuing clarity with the nonprofits.

Twilight Sparkle (HUB, Hasbro)
City Councilman Bill Peduto's reserved confidence makes it all complete, with favorable early poll numbers, a growing list of endorsements and a well-funded organization encouraging that perception. Differences with the Ravenstahl administration in regards to delayed implementation of his own diesel admissions ordinance threaten to draw him back into the fighting arena, even as he continues to emphasize that Chief Nate Harper should have been placed on a leave of absence pending the results of fuller investigations. In 2007 after Mayor Ravenstahl scuttled plans to manage the assignments and costs of police side jobs in security, Peduto instead urged acceptance of that plan to guard against unadvisedly entrepreneurial city officials as well as guard against misfortune. Peduto today pledged that increasing diversity in the Police Bureau through partnerships and organized neighborhood engagement is a "top priority".

Dave Reid, Flickr
Speaking again of the Police Bureau, many of the people of Pittsburgh are eager to begin having a conversation about a new Chief and a reformed Bureau. The qualities sought after for that position range from experienced and accomplished to courageous and honest to engaging and interactive, with model candidates ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Mahatma Gandhi. Notable consensus seemed to emerge around a desire for the Bureau to re-adopt the orders of the 1997 federal consent decree as the "hammer of justice." Notions such as employing social or psychological profile exams are being bandied about, given the thirst for trust and integrity.

Dr. Whooves (HUB, Hasbro)
On top of everything else Professor Chris Briem, oft-cited economist and oft-published writer, is crying that the sky is starting to fall in the vicinity of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority. Its special debt arrangement became controversial in the last mayoral election, and now threatens to inhibit the metro region's capacity to convert a decidedly old-school wet weather infrastructure plan into something more local, piecemeal, sustainable, and equally satisfying to federal authorities.

Our mayoral candidates. Don't you know they are our very best friends? And together, their powers combined, are Pittsburgh's best opportunity to marshal coherent solutions to many challenges?

Our city is sure to remain an exceptional place to live, love and struggle because we 'Burghers have a special thirst to build and excel. Just remember that during foundational power shifts, full-grown dragons may find themselves disturbed. The recommended approach to any unavoidable conflict with these big meanies is sternness and compassion.


  1. The Rev Ricky say's the housing Auth. of Pgh, which he chairs has a 100 million dollar budget, has city of Pgh emp's making who know what living large in the projects needs to be questioned on his oversight! Plus he passes on contracts to CCAC that again, he's on the board, he is too in deep and needs to be removed from something for G-dsakes.
    Cut him loose Luke.

  2. Psychological tests indicate that a Fire Horse born in Leo, rising sign in Aquarius and Moon in Libra is a transitive equivalent for a Myers Briggs test result of ENFJ.

    Clearly, we need to cast a few horoscopes for any Chiefly candidates, as well as pile on those MMPIs. I would suggest that those who align the star charts, take into account which side(s) of the three rivers the applicants were born on.

  3. To be a little less silly and more explicit, yes, I'm glad that we have such psychological tests as the Myers Briggs test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and other such exams even more specifically tailored towards measuring qualities of personality that might be either problematic or advantageous in people that we decide to entrust with deadly force. I think such tests have been useful in weeding out men and women who have the proclivity to abuse power and who have little capacity for basic human empathy.

    But the MMPI is the standard test used to qualify for employment in the CIA, the Department of Defense, and Top Security clearances including the phalanxes of men and women that have been deployed at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, and in black prisons around the globe to torture thousands of innocent civilians without the least due process, often without any evidence of wrongdoing at all. Such men and women who torture are in no way monsters, any more that Saldutte, Sisak and Ewing were monsters even as they savagely beat the defenseless Jordan Miles. In fact I would contend that it's false comfort to our own self-regard to consider such people out of the common norm and each of our own capacities for callousness under pressure - or in response to proffered rewards, including just plain peer approval. Those that have been guilty of the worst abuses within our military and our own police force were working within a system that rewards "high performance" according to other criteria of health and functionality than those measured by the MMPI.

    In fact, those who measure high for "oppositional defiant disorder" are often those who disobey or end up acting as whistleblowers within highly corrupt systems which foster, teach, train, and reward obedience to norms that on paper would be considered to be "bad" but in practice are supported and enabled not only by fear of punishment or career consequence, but also by motivations measured as "good" by the MMPI - loyalty, affection, tolerance for complex co-workers with whom they share long histories and who they know have demonstrated many good qualities and actions to balance out the "badness" they have witnessed.

    If we pay attention to history, it seems clear that most "healthy" people go along to get along in a corrupt system, even up to the point where they may find themselves using police dogs to terrorize naked people or herding people onto trucks to concentration camps.

    So, honestly, having done too much research for my comfort on the history of torturers (mostly pretty decent people based on testing and past histories before their jobs required cruelty,) I have come to think that an MMPI is about as relevant as a horoscope in determining the integrity and capability of a applicant for any position that entails such capacity for abuse of power. I'm more interested in the demonstrated history of a leader to resistance to corruption, I want to hear about their actions of enforcement of due process and accountability along all levels of the chain of command that they have occupied. I'm interested in whether or not a candidate has demonstrated the skills that must be learned and practiced over time rather than simply "good" qualities of personality. Such practices are crucial to the ability to resist common norms and temptations that have been demonstrated to be such powerful forces within our own police bureau.

  4. A psychologist friend of mine said of the MMPI that if you took a line and drew it down the middle of a sheet of paper that you would find the cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys will cluster on either side of the line. On one side is a sociopath the other a normal personality. she said you will find cops and bad guys on both sides of that line.ergo the rogue cop and the gentleman thief.

    As for Jordan Miles, I really don't see any reason that kind of mauling was necessary.three incredibly fit men whooping the life out of a young man. And yes they were exonerated on all levels. Something's are just not to be understood.

  5. No live blogging from the endorsement ?

  6. I'm not a committee man, so I couldn't get in anyway. Follow Jim Sheppard who promises updates.

  7. I'm in my 3rd term as a committeeman, starting in 2002, and have participated every year but two in the endorsement vote. Today was by far the most active meeting in terms of the amount of swag proffered and signage lining the roads and sidewalks leading to the voting place at the IBEW hall on the South Side. Alot of it had to do with 15 judicial candidates seeking the endorsement. Jennifer Satler was way out there--big signs up and down Hot Metal Street the entire length from Carson to Second Avenue, and a shiny silver Windstream trailer serving free coffee and donuts under a canopy at the back of the vehicle. Funny thing, she is the youngest judicial candidate, does not have a rating from the Bar Assn., and as far as I can tell, only has John Weinstein in her corner, for whatever reason. Not sure where she got the money to put on such a big front.