Monday, April 15, 2013

Your Guide to 'Burgh Drama, Ep. 4: Whiners, Hypocrites and Spite-Filled Things

New Season starts in 35 days

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
Records show that a Market Square valet amenity initiated and arranged by the Mayor's office has given one service provider, owned by the politically active Democratic party committee member Mr. Robert Gigliotti, access to more parking spaces, special access to and treatment from then-Chief Harper, an arrangement erupting in use of a URA lot, at least one confirmed case of illegal car towing, misinforming the public, claiming turf beyond even its generous allotment while marketing itself overly aggressively.

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
The Bureau of Building Inspection has been in abject chaos since September 2007, when Ravenstahl fired then-Director Ron Graziano -- not for nothing, on the emphatic recommendation of strategist John Verbanac -- and has had trouble filling that role ever since. It has been roundly and soundly criticized by everyone from the Mayor himself to the ICA to the City Controller to every candidate standing for public office and most residents, for waste and mismanagement. Every step of the journey.

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
Is it McKrell? Do we ask Paul McKrell? That doesn't feel right. He's a messenger. Who is answerable for what has been our consistent policy at BBI: to keep it leaderless and ineffective?

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.

Wagner and these officials have gone to certain considerable lengths to describe Peduto as variously vindictive, petty, ego-centric, arrogant, all talk, unaccomplished, a know-it-all, and unable to forge relationships; and, of course, his candidacy as doomed, running scared, suffocated in its crib, and hopelessly elitist and somehow "baseless."

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).

Adam Burch
Recently, Peduto sat down with the Tribune-Review to explain how he represents a "new coalition" that is arriving to sweep away "culture of exclusivity" in city government, and suggested even some firings or replacements might have to occur -- particularly in order to capitalize on City parking assets, so that state fiscal oversight might be shed "for real" by 2018.

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.


  1. Since Lukes people all came out for Wagner, what will his staffing be like? Jack seems vague about business as usual. Are all of these insider endorsements a Pittsburg promise for the same players to keep the status flow? I like the idea of Bill cleaning house! Why shouldn't Bill keep score? These backstabbers have been in that smoke filled room for too long.
    Clean out that rat hole on Grant St.

  2. I'd thank you for the comment, 9:02, but you dropped the "h" in Pittsburgh so I'm afraid you're trolling somehow. I like "status flow" though.

  3. Sure glad Luke ain't running!!!

  4. Liked your article today.

    Not a Peduto fan; but, I did like his television ad. He stayed positive an on message. That is a big plus. Much better than the typical "pick me because the other guy is bad" campaign that so many politicians resort to nowadays.

    Kudos to the Peduto team on this one.

  5. If nothing changes, nothing changes. C'mon Pittsburgh, let's try doing something different.

  6. Quixotic, a tern not used yet to spread the done deal mentality against the challenger.

  7. Pitt News editor fired after endorsing Peduto

  8. Don't be silly. He was fired for endorsing a fellow Druid for student government president.

  9. Even I can see this brings the question to the fore, is Peduto a druid? So many things fall into place.

  10. I thought he was a Wiccan?!?

  11. As long as we're already speculating about Druid membership in Internet comments, I have a salient old rumor to pass along that has some substantiation:

    In the P-G's piece on the Housing Authority and Pittsburgh Property Maintenance:

    "Mr. Caputo represented S Bar, a South Side establishment at which Fontana has been general manager, according to court papers. S Bar is owned by a firm incorporated at Mr. Scott's house.

    The proposal submitted to the authority by Pittsburgh Property Maintenance lists a phone number that is now disconnected. The address provided was that of The McQuillan Group, an accounting firm. A receptionist there said Pittsburgh Property Management used that address only briefly, and she provided S Bar's phone number and confirmed that Fontana was the contact person for the landscaping business.

    Fontana could not be reached at S Bar Thursday or Friday. Calls to Mr. Caputo's firm weren't returned.

    City Solicitor Dan Regan used to work for Caputo & Caputo. Regan dropped out of the race for judge yesterday, the day this article hit newsstands.

    Councilman Kraus had a specific problem with Regan's connection to the S Bar because of its possibly improper expansion -- but it is also worth knowing that Ravenstahl has been rumored to have been a regular in the S Bar VIP area since 2007, 2008, 2009. In internet comments certainly, persistently, commonly.

    So in addition to doing a former employee at the Housing Authority and conspicuous favorite at ALCOSAN during an era of corruption (Fontana) a favor, we may or may not have done a favorite mayoral club manager & involved participant (Fonanta and Scott) a favor on a higher levels.

  12. And the beat goes on.

    (Inhale breath...) Even if we assume at least a distant familial connection between our aggressive valet service provider (Rob Gigliotti) and our convicted "job-buying" / "job-selling" former State Rep (Frank Gigliotti), one can't leap to a "connection" in the present case because if Fontana had informed on Frank, and had wound up with government jobs all this time in the interim, how could we expect them to still be palsy-walsy?

    I think this is just what happens when you write about bad dudes. But I'm interesting in learning more about what job dealing in Alcosan looked like. That might be instructive anyway.

    And I'm wondering how this is good for the business climate on Carson St., in Market Sq., among the community of contract bidders, and what this says about the deal the Pens are getting in XFinity Center or whatever the jive trash.

  13. Why is Wagner painted with the brush of corruption when it is Peduto with the connections to Ben Woods, Brimmeier, Kramm, Guy Costa, Twanda Carlisle, Mike Veon...etc.

  14. I understand that long time Peduto loyalist Khari Mosley is
    now supporting JACK ! Mosley is married to jacks niece but is highly respected inthe AA community as an independent thinker. He will makehuge inroads for Jack.

    Stuck at 30-33% , the Peduto Brain trust is currently in a state of High Anxiety. Jell-O shots for everyone!

  15. @Anon April 16, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    "...connections to Ben Woods, Brimmeier, Kramm, Guy Costa, Twanda Carlisle, Mike Veon...etc."

    Links please, EVIDENCE, it should all be out in the open if Peduto has been involved in ANY underhanded or nefarious dealing that smacks of corruption. Please back up your assertions.

  16. @ Helen that's the problems with political shenanigans . They only come out with the indictments!!

  17. Anon 2:17 - Khari? You're touting Khari? Now I know for sure JWags is running scared of this!

    Me and Mos are going to share a laugh about that one day... I wouldn't turn down Ward Chair and Jack's son-in-law Khari Mosely's support in any contest, but I draft perhaps Justin Strong a couple rounds higher.

  18. Anon 2:06 - "Why is Wagner painted with the brush of corruption when it is..." What does Wagner have to say about the persistent pattern and the need to "clean house"? Has he "analyzed" it yet? Is this acceptable? Does anyone need to be held "accountable"? Or is accountability entirely in the hands of the US Justice Department, they have to clean up every little contract at Market Square and in the Housing Authority, and watch every zoning board meting involving the S Bar or Blush?

    What is Jack's take on the need to "clean house" in some places? Is it all about "leadership"? Doesn't "leadership" sometimes mean making hard choices?

    Helen - As near as I can tell, those are all folks Peduto went to a campaign event with, or perhaps even in some cases endorsed. Later, they were taken down for corruption (except for Guy Costa, who, it must be admitted, comes from a family with many public officials, I don't think any of which have gone down for corruption or even really had it suggested. If you want to sully Guy Costa in an "Oh, by the way" kind of way, go ahead and do it and put your name behind it). I've never heard that he's done any business with the others, and -- this is key -- nothing suggesting any layer of Bill Peduto's involvement was suggested in the presentments. I think with one of them, one of Peduto's former staffers went on to work for another one, and that one got swept up in Bonusgate.

    That's why no links.

  19. @Anon-slur-mous - got anything more solid to reply with?

  20. Sadly, "it" doesn't have to be true to be believed, just repeated.

  21. There's a book I loved as a kid, A Wrinkle In Timewith a nefarious, disembodied brain called IT that fed off both negative emotions and conformity to "group think."

    Let's fight "IT"!

  22. All of my whispers are shouts, and they're backed up by Rich Lord and Jeremy Boren. The stuff about S Bar was garbage until this report.

  23. Lord and Boren are as solid as they come, at least in my reading experience...

  24. Fontana brought down Joe Cusick.

    Where is Cusick today?

  25. I mean, just more background: Jack's brother Pete Wagner, sounding like the important one in this article, feuding with the Gigliottis over a turf war between Caliguiri and Lawrence.

    It's appropriate the machine is finally coming together.

    Anon 4:44 - I've turned up nothing yet...

  26. I think it speaks for itself that the attacks on Peduto are Internet comments with no links to actual, you know, evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever. OMG he was nice to Twanda Carlise that one time. OMG he knows Ben Woods. Is that seriously all you've got? Show me how he steered a Housing Authority contract to Ben Woods or allowed Twanda Carlisle to illegally build an expansion on her house and we'll talk.

  27. I think's about time we make that one guy happy and start talking about North Shore lot 6. An incalculable giveaway, completely unnecessary, the extent which was covered up... for Steelers tickets, essentially. Lestitian and Peduto got booted not because of her vote (it passed 4-1 anyway) but because of the questions they raised.

    If you're going to investigate the School Board's decision to close Schenley High School, investigate the SEA board's decision on Lot 6... Wheatley and Masloff were both in on that, arguing construction jobs now now now. Like it's the only project in town.

  28. What Anon 6:54 - raises is worth a look:

    It doesn't seem remotely criminal, just criminally unwise in the way that it seems peoples' heads were turned around. It sure puts the focus on board member Wheatley, though. A whole lot of good could have been done with a higher asking price, if we re-bid out a hotel partner.

  29. If we begin talking about imprudent land deals, especially those made in back rooms, we will need a whole separate blog for that.

    I am thinking that perhaps those involved don't even think of these deals and activities as corrupt. As an example, when Darlene Harris, on the SEA board, voted for tearing down the Civic Arena, she seemed content to go with the flow rather than raise any questions. As did all the rest of the board members. Which of course did not include Bill Peduto, as the Mayor had ousted him from the board, which is why I use this as an example.

  30. Uh, as far as Ben Woods goes he is definitely Bill's main man on the NS. That ain't rumor, that is fact.

  31. Flyblylight, That is a great example of how Bill works because when the Arena was in front of council he voted against tearing it down while telling the Penguins, if you really need me I'll be there.

  32. Well at least you can finally admit Bram that this blog is nothing but an arm of the Peduto campaign. Got a cushy job or appointment lined up?

  33. Anon 4:52 - The Peduto campaign is an arm of me.

    And folks like me. Who are legion.

    I'm doing the same thing I've done since I started over six years ago. DeSantis. Dowd. Acklin. Kraus. Rudiak. And doing so while exposing that the fraudulent old boys' network has low standards for government, and few concrete aspirations besides climbing the ladder and taking care of their own. Shoot, I did the exact same thing for Burgess and Lavelle -- I didn't anticipate their getting their heads turned around by the Admin, but that's what happens when you don't have the Mayor's office. Hence the current focus on that.