Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is not a political candidate, but his administration continues on without apology nor so much as a nod.
Their very latest gaffes have included an insistence on the public office needing to handle campaign travel arrangements. Previously it was an insistence on a casual attitude towards expenses. Previous to that, it was the illegitimate use of legitimate expense accounts, together, of course, with revelations about illegitimate and illegal expense accounts blamed entirely on indicted ex-Chief Harper.
While the Controller and the Finance Director and then the Controller and former Controller in the Finance Department argued briefly and cordially over which one bears more of the blame for failures of oversight, and the mayoral candidates then-and-now debate whose leadership can best help to restore confidence, City Public Safety Director Michael Huss has been finding it comfortable not to comment on "what did you know and when did you know it?" type questions -- although he did sharply and specifically deny ordering or creating the accounts.
|Thomas Moeller, Trib|
At the frequently embattled Housing Authority, a move to both privatize and philanthropically steer the business of maintaining Authority property has resulted in doing business with a newly formed and seemingly deeply under-qualified entity, Pittsburgh Property Management, brokered by a personally troubled and politically highly-connected intermediary.
And at a mayoral debate in Highland Park this week, three candidates for Mayor -- Bill Peduto, Jake Wheatley and Jack Wagner -- castigated the poor performance of the city's Bureau of Building Inspection. Wagner went so far as to say he would fix this problem by hiring a permanent Director for BBI, since it has been for years without one.
Now, fellow Opinion leaders, please indulge an instinct with this blogger. You see, this week will mark five years since the City and Lamar Advertising backed down after pretending for months that rules did not exist or did not mean what they indicated -- and agreed to revoke an improper permit and "restart" a lengthy open-door process in which they indignantly pretended that those rules either did not apply to them or could be ignored, all so City leaders could give some of their close friends and/or stalwart supporters an extremely lucrative chunk of City business on excellent terms. That mummer's farce was widely credited with triggering much of the intractable acrimony we've seen in City Hall since. So I feel like I have a decent nose for locating trouble, even if I don't fully understand what it is.
|Press material; PghComet|
Is it something about inspecting buildings, that we fundamentally do not like?
Is it something about issuing citations?
BBI seemed guarded even about providing basic information.
Who does one talk to about persistent failure at a critical function such as BBI? It is Directorless, seemingly, by design. And it is not as though trash collection and street paving are constantly fallen apart, so this is special. For all its foibles, the administration is still famous for "getting it done." Whatever "it" happens to be.
The Director of Public Safety is a possibility in terms of satisfying this need to know, but he is a notoriously busy man, and besides this sounds like either a policy or a structural issue. The Mayor would be ideal -- but as we know he is exhausted with being Mayor, has more important things on his mind these days, and was rarely that personally invested to begin with.
|That's Church; Yarone Zober|
And who is answerable if we mean to be truly unfortunate, and ask about the pattern of entitlement and casual patronage on display in the Mayor's office, in Market Square, at the Housing Authority, through the top of the Police Bureau and evident in the billboard follies? How can we not be suspicious when we see a legacy of problems at development-patrolling BBI, or any new development or civic proposal that is controversial enough to begin with? For how long must we be servants to the occult artifacts of an old fakir?
Speaking of politics, Jack Wagner is emphasizing that he is going to fix Pittsburgh by using his leadership and his accountability. He is joined in this effort by seemingly all of Mayor Ravenstahl's noteworthy backers, as the P-G's Jim O'Toole noted with admirable perspicuity.
It is noteworthy in our context to mention that one of these prominent Wagner backers includes the City's Director of its Department of Public Works, a Democratic party ward chair in his own right. That support was probably inevitable as result of data from Peduto's office about the distribution of public works and the occasional feud that manner of civic engagement engendered. But given Public Work's almost hackneyed reputation as a political carrot or stick, I was a little surprised to see support form a Departmental supervisor so overt.
Bill Peduto meanwhile has proposed putting GPS units in snowplows so as to increase efficiencies and discover new ones, and "professionalizing" street paving by collecting and making universally accessible the present state of roads. He also thinks it crucial to make all employees "more accessible" with e-mail and to free data generally. *-UPDATE: The Peduto team has announced this will be "Education Week": six education policies will be rolled out in six days.
Special favorite policy papers of the Comet's own have included a courageous call for traffic calming measures (after all, people enjoy the ability to drive very swiftly) and a courageous call for greater competition in taxis (after all, there is probably a taxi company or car service or two this gives indigestion).
Jake Wheatley, however, also presents himself as "the most extreme form of change," and though he does not ooze confidence in this race he will not be seen as a spoiler. He has spoken in debates thus far as a persistent if non-specific advocate for distributive equity, and is described by allies in the Legislature as having leadership skills and financial acumen. This Saturday will see voting in the first Pittsburgh Black Political Convention, an event potentially rife with meaning if it is well-attended, popularly acclaimed and indeed if its community "agenda" is any solid indication.
Did you hear the one about UPMC's tax exemptions? Wheatley has reportedly indicated he would still rather negotiate than litigate, Wagner has indicated he supports the Mayor's current strategy, and Peduto has called the challenge of UPMC's tax exemptions "a good start" but would also take a look at Highmark and perhaps the most profitable others, out of basic fairness.
There are a few labor strategists who would rather apply these legal avenues as screws only to UPMC, perhaps to win other valuable concessions. Sophisticated and tricky. But perhaps the way they should be thinking is: can we really carve out special side-deals for our own interests like this, without subjecting ourselves to the whole lot of them? Who do you think is ultimately going to have the advantage in a government that operates that way? The working man? Really?
Rather, how can we build a sustainable coalition of wholly justifiable pressure? That shouldn't be so hard.
Hope you enjoyed this one. Spend some time with it. It's non-linear.