Monday, April 29, 2013
A Play On Words.
By Shawn Carter
[Chief of staff, Councilman Ricky Burgess.]
Since Bram was honest enough to state his support of Bill Peduto, I'll state mine for Jack Wagner.
[Much obliged. This blue and italicized text is the words of the Comet's editor, Bram Reichbaum. Due to a miscommunication coupled with a violation involving house rules, I am annotating Shawn's work. I hope this serendipitous dual-format provides for an excellent read.]
Having said that, Team Peduto hurried out this press release in response to some dark money group who had the temerity to exercise their Citizens United-given rights to employ paid political speech, which is protected, as per the Supreme Court, by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
[Of course the ad's genesis is interesting. Why an anonymous group? And why one connected both to Ravenstahl and to Republican campaigns like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, in this Democratic primary? Its authorship does not entail that its contents are false, but certainly entails we must approach with a high degree of skepticism.
[The ad's sweeping theme merits making explicit: "Peduto doesn't like African-Americans and poor people." Peduto has cast a truly massive quantity of up-or-down votes over 8 years as a City Councilor, and the Committee has cherry-picked four of them, devoid of any context and described in reductive terms, to illustrate that point. Fair enough as far it goes, but we must weigh even these charges if any of them pass muster against Peduto's entire body of work.]
First up, new senior housing in Homewood.
The single most important rule I've learned as I've worked for candidates and on campaigns is something an old political hand shared with many, many moons ago:
"When you do opposition research, the FIRST person you do opposition research on is YOUR OWN CANDIDATE. Don't ever assume that your candidate's memory is as good as a trip down memory lane courtesy of Lexis-Nexis. Or Google. Or even the Post-Gazette's website."
Some outfit called "Pittsburghers for a Better Pittsburgh" accused Bill Peduto of "being the only Council member who voted against using $12 million dollars in funds given by the state's Housing Finance Agency to build senior-citizen housing across the street from the East Busway in Homewood."
In fact, Bill Peduto WAS the ONLY Council member to vote that way.
Councilman Peduto wants you to believe that after speaking to DOZENS of Homewood residents, he concluded that there wasn't enough "community engagement."
Wow. Because spending 4 years, $100,000 in taxpayer funds and bringing in the best design firms in Pittsburgh (Studio for Spatial Practice, Rothschild Doyno) didn't indicate the City's interest in REAL community engagement wasn't sufficient, there is also THIS and THIS:
Here's what Elwin didn't mention: The community started this process in 2008. Every community group in Homewood and Point Breeze North was brought to the table. The City didn't select the consultants, the community groups did. The City didn't didn't oversee the process, the community groups did. That's why it took four years, because, yes, community consensus does take time. (this is a large document.)
[Shawn links first to a post at Elwin Green's Homewood Nation in which residents in 2010 "were informed" about Bridging the Busway, and then another post in 2012 in which he notes to one of his commenters that plans were not in fact "secret". Very good. I can attest to the fact that a large-ish number of area residents constantly brought forward grievances relating to gentrification... yet I'm sure that others did not.
[More importantly we realize that "community processes" and "engagement" can mean a lot of different things. Green readily admits the organizers "did fall short" publicizing meetings, and allows for the possibility that the plans might be seen to have issues. Personally I wonder if the whole initiative was top-down and coerced through, or bottom-up and responsive to input in any serious respect -- and Peduto reminds us he is a "strong advocate for community-based development." I hope Elwin chimes in to our discussion for his take both on the merits of the specific dispute, and on his sense about Peduto regarding these issues in general -- his community having been requisitioned by the mysterious Committee as ammunition.]
One of the stated goals, from day one, was that we were going to protect our most vulnerable population. Yes, our seniors.
So the state shows up with $12 million dollars and says, "You can have this money if you build senior-citizen housing right THERE."
[I often wonder who gives the state these specific ideas, that are always presented as one-time only ultimatums; use it this way or lose it all! We encounter so many. Surely this is some function of how the Administration operates, perhaps most administrations.]
The community said, "Okay, we have a plan for that."
The Zoning Board was no pushover. Despite 4 years of meetings, meetings and more meetings, they demanded yet MORE community process before granting the variances. Even after the Zoning Board granted the variances, the City still had to defend the process, successfully I might add, in Court.
[Nine variances, right?]
Only after all of that, at the final step, did Bill Peduto try to derail the community's wishes.
[I don't know anything about time-line. It seems like a decision Bill made, and is defending. Moving on...]
Don't be fooled by campaign talking points.
Next, Peduto was accused of voting against the City's Living Wage Ordinance in 2002 as a rookie Councilman. Also true.
Now I know Peduto wants you to believe that all he did was vote for legislation that took a law that was set to go in effect in a few days and say, "Unless County Council passes the same law, ours won't take effect." But this is the same logic that was employed with the City's Campaign Finance Ordinance. You know, the one that the County said they couldn't enforce because County Council refused to even take up the matter.
In fact, the easiest way to pass a law in City Council that will never take effect is to condition it on the County doing the same.
Here's the rub: In 2006, the state Legislature passed a law updating the state's Minimum Wage. That law stated that ANY municipal Ordinance in effect on the day of the passage of the state's Law was legal and enforceable. So, because of Bill Peduto's vote, our Living Wage law wasn't in effect, and as a result, cannot be legally enforced even if we removed the County provision now, despite Bill Peduto's statements last year that he would now vote to remove the provision.
What was his stated reason for this? That it would hurt the business community, of course. You know, the same reason Ravenstahl gave for his opposition to the Prevailing Wage Law Peduto holds up as a defense.
Speaking of Prevailing Wage...
Why was Luke able to kill off Prevailing Wage on New Year's Eve in 2009? Because Peduto can't read a calendar. If you pass a law with less than ten days before the end of the session, and the Mayor has ten days to decide whether or not to veto it or sign it, you leave yourself at the Mayor's mercy. Seems to me like any member of Council with 7 years on the job would factor that into the equation.
[First of all, Peduto fought for what seemed like ages and ultimately passed the Prevailing Wage ordinance, which raises wages in service and other industries to a certain standard on projects that are underwritten by taxpayer subsidies. As Shawn notes, this benefit was opposed vehemently by the sponsor of the commercial we are discussing, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. I really don't care who plays calendar games better, Bill Peduto triumphed, working class families in Pittsburgh are owed more stability, and taxpayers would be getting a better bang for their buck... if the commercial's sponsor, Luke Ravenstahl, wasn't being obtuse in holding up implementation.
[To be perfectly honest, I don't understand any of the machinations behind city's dormant Living Wage efforts. I can tell you despite the rhetoric of a hundred thousand pious Democrats, we still do not have it. Jack Wagner's spokesperson pointed out that the candidate recently said he supports "a" living wage and "the" living wage, but I'm still not clear on whether that refers to mere moral support for higher wages generally, or amending or enacting any specific City law. *-UPDATE: Wagner "supports current law" on both Living (as dormant) and Prevailing wage, spox tells Comet. By the Identity Property then it appears Peduto and Wagner agree on living wage, making this accusation doubly hypocritical.]
Not that he learned that lesson. Less than 2 years later, he tried to amend the City's Home Rule Charter with a referendum that would take the City's Drilling Ban Ordinance and make it a part of the Home Rule Charter. The problem? They waited to pass the bill until 8 days before the deadline. Ravenstahl just sat on his hands. He had ten days to do it. Bill had only 8. Luke won, again, because Bill, after 8 years in office (and 6 as a staffer) still hadn't learned how to read a calendar.
[Thank you for reminding us that Bill Peduto is against natural gas drilling in dense urban environments like Pittsburgh, doesn't care who knows that we feel that way, and is not going to be among the abundant surplus of industry cheerleaders in government.]
Oh, how could I have forgotten?
The Pittsburgh Stimulus Bill?
Yes and Yes.
In 2011, Bill Peduto introduced a law that would extend the tax breaks on commercial construction in the City. He even told Joe Smydo that it was his intention for there to be NO cap on annual savings.
[Clearly the central thrust of this section's accusation is that Peduto has been robbing poor neighborhoods in order to give stuff like this to the district he has represented, parts of which are more affluent. But note even in the "give" column, the bill's benefits were to be applied citywide. Peduto had led a tax-abatement proposal which the Mayor took as his own and expanded a bit during what was... uh... their "last contest" in 2007. It passed and was very popular. This other bill might have spurred even more development at a time the economy was still pretty clunky. It did not pass. I assume some economic development project in his district may otherwise have benefited, along with the others across the city. Peduto may have to wear that for the rest of his life, but I doubt he'll be ashamed of it.]
In other words, if some billion-dollar corporate entity, like say, PNC, decided to build a $400 million skyscraper Downtown, that they could save 100% on their tax bill.
ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-MILLION DOLLARS over 10 years. You read it correctly. Bill Peduto introduced a law that would have given PNC $150 million in taxpayer money to PNC. That PNC not only didn't need... but didn't even ask for.
So I guess that's pay-to-play, only in reverse. Instead of the developers paying politicians for preference, he's paying the developers for preference.
[This stuff about a Downtown development wasn't even in the ad. This is why reporters should take a pass on working through Carter unless it's actual Burgess business. He always provides more disarming answers (and if it must come to it, more fluid misdirection) than the actual people and offices you are writing about. Then when you're done talking to him, he'll advise all your follow-up sources on what to say before you get to them. You will get better quotes and develop more important stories working through persons who are more directly accountable for the subject matter of your investigations.
[I can only guess since the bill that is being criticized by Shawn got nowhere fast, a historical footnote, it probably didn't receive the kind of vetting and tune-up that would catch things like unexpected $400 million Greenormous skyscrapers.]
Well, obviously, City Council called #%^&*() on that one. They refused to give billionaires that kind of money, so Peduto revised the legislation to only give a few million dollars to developers that, in his own words, "needed that money to complete developments in Oakland."
More if I get another crack at this...
[Possibly. This is what's up. Stay tuned, ask around, and keep doing your own research.]