|Beyond My Ken|
By Bram Reichbaum
The two leading candidates in the Special Election for City Council District 7, Deb Gross and Tony Ceoffe, are politically similar within the broad spectrum.
They both believe strongly in civil rights and social equality, on the duty to invest in public transportation and education, on the need to inject tax fairness into our "Eds and Meds" economy and in the advisability of public funding for the arts. One is the Democratic nominee, the other retains significant support in the Party, and both have been local Democratic committee members.
Where the candidates differ distinctly on policy is the direction they would take the City -- and who they would take with them.
Gross supports remaining with Act 47 for now, has not called for a larger police force, and is allied with a future mayor and a County Executive who aim to cooperate on the shared provision of services.
Ceoffe favors withdrawing from state oversight as well as a call for the hiring of 130 new officers, and has been pointedly critical of the prospect of "mergers" with the County.
The Comet has already addressed the imperative for continued financial discipline favoring our pension crisis using Act 47. It should be obvious that the hiring, training, care, feeding, maintenance and supervision of a police officer is one of the most expensive long-term investments a City can make (besides which, now seems like a time in the Police Bureau to focus on leadership, vision and strategies). And there are so many broke units of government in our region destined to continue performing similar services, that any way in which the City and County can begin collaborating just to show it's okay is at the very least highly interesting.
In light of that, formally withdrawing from Financial Distress status, an eagerness to hire more "boots on the ground" in the neighborhoods, and alarm over City-County collaboration sounds less like a strategy for long-term civic stability than like a formula for giving away ice-cream cones: to the public-sector managers and workers most desirous of greater resources and control and disproportionately active in politics, and to fearful residents unaware of the extent of the City's continued financial straights and suspicious of outsiders.
That analysis confirmed my bias going into this race: that Deb Gross has long supported Bill Peduto, Patrick Dowd, and the "progressive" movement in local politics which takes as its mission curtailing patronage and transforming government to run more efficiently and responsibly, whereas Tony Ceoffe by in the past supporting Jack Wagner, Luke Ravenstahl and Len Bodack has been more representative of that "old school" more likely to protect the status-quo and make decisions based on political expediency and voters' immediate gratification.
Now is when we have a real duty to examine those biases.
Tony Ceoffe Jr. is experiencing his own special kind of purgatory.
He has published a photo of a Democratic party ward chairman / Citiparks employee allegedly "campaigning for Gross during City hours of operation".
He blasted the participation of "professionals" from Public Safety, Public Works and City Planning in a roundtable organized by Gross on Oct. 21st on the topic of "City Services".
He claims a tweet by the Gross campaign was at first tweeted mysteriously by a certain public official's Twitter account, before it was deleted there... and that nobody said anything.
And, of course, he argued unsuccessfully in Court that he was narrowly cheated out of the Democratic nomination, and besides which that various Committee members were threatened or promised things from Democratic leaders in exchange for supporting Gross.
Tony tells the Comet he sees a lot of bias in how his own accusations are being treated by various media -- or rather, ignored by it -- given the electricity such accusations have garnered in the past.
The Comet thinks it entirely likely Tony has a point here. Not that long ago, the Democratic party's machinery and Bill Peduto's own "progressive" coalition were at odds in most local elections. Once Peduto won the Party's mayoral nod in May, the two mega-factions must have had to begin planning a Shotgun Royal Wedding.
City politics has been unscrupulous in the past, old habits die hard, and this Special Election to fill a vacancy forced the newlyweds to begin working together without an adjustment period. If Ceoffe feels like his candidacy is being ill-treated by a powerful new coalition, an entrenched establishment and 3rd-party media observers all at once, that is probably is because it is.
Other sources of bias impact the race.
|Rocky IV - Training Styles|
The Comet perceives four models on how to get into politics:
- Be born into it. Learn by watching your family work.
- Work to become a politician's right hand, and wait your turn.
- Get active in community groups and "squeaky wheel" organizing, liaising between your neighbors and government.
- Develop skills and contacts through your profession and other public-spirited pursuits.
Each of these are legitimate paths into public office. City Government can boast representatives from all four. Each tend to entail certain advantages as well as certain disadvantages at the polls and in office. Deb Gross comes from Source 4 and perhaps a bit of a Source 2; Tony Ceoffe comes from Source 3 as well as Source 1.
One uncomfortable truth is, if you hail from a challenging socioeconomic status or class, Source 3 is likely the most accessible pathway to you. But its advantage is, those stemming from Source 3 will be able to make a strong case that community group work is the best qualification for public office because they roll up their sleeves, are visible and know what's really going on.
Yet one thing candidates from each "Source" are equally capable of is acquiescing to short-sighted or self-satisfying pressures, even the arbitrarily political ones. Pittsburgh needs to elect candidates with the right instincts, no matter where they hail from -- who act in fidelity to all the facts of what's "really going on".
Tony Ceoffe Jr. tells the Comet that he has identified the funding to hire 50 additional police officers, and that "obviously the long-term funding issue is something that would have to be worked through with the community at the [Council] table" for the remaining 70 he now seeks. He has signed on with Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith's legislation that attempts to "trigger" a hiring process when the count dips below 900. He also maintains that although crime statistics have risen of late only in line with the seasonal norm, it's the intensity of incidents that seems to have increased and what is causing residents' concern.
Ceoffe clarifies that he would "never sign on" to something like sharing city RAD parks services or management with the County unless the hydraulic fracturing issue was disposed of at the Council table (a legal mechanism by which a services agreement makes City fracking more likely than otherwise is unclear) as well as the critical issue of "what happens to those jobs" (sources close to Peduto say any excess staff would be transferred to other overworked functions, rather than laid off.)
Finally, during an interview with GLTV, Ceoffe claimed he had high regard for Patrick Dowd as a "great" prior Councilman who was visible in the community, who is doing an honorable thing now by making a transition into education advocacy, and whom he will miss... but at the same time that he ran against Dowd in 2011 because he felt Dowd would not stick with the the job and always had his eye on something else. When the Comet asked Ceoffe to clarify this seeming contradiction, Ceoffe responded by confirming he "was not surprised" Dowd left office early, and reaffirmed that was the very reason why he ran for office in 2011.
Dowd narrowly won office in his own right in 2007 by unseating then-Councilman Leonard Bodack with a fiery campaign targeting "Patronage" and championing "Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability." Today, Ceoffe's campaign war chest, less than a third as flush as that of Deb Gross, boasts a $500 check from Friends of Leonard Bodack, for whom Ceoffe had worked as a youth. We couldn't get Tony to open up too broadly on that race and dynamic, but he says Lenny donated to him this year because he "knows that I do good work out in our neighborhoods."
I feel like I've examined my biases as thoroughly as I can. Although Pittsburgh's "Old School" candidates are getting a lot smarter, more passionate and more progressive than in the past -- which is phenomenal news for the City -- there is still a "School Whose Thinking Is Old" with regards to a visceral resistance to internal transformation, efficiency and collaboration with others. Natural skepticism of transformative designs is a healthy commodity, but Pittsburgh already has it in abundance. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and you've run field tests on it to mitigate against duck bias, then it is probably destined to be a force for unnecessary friction, obstruction, and retrograde spin. At least until a little more restorative time is spent in the political wilderness.
Meanwhile, Deb Gross comes with excellent recommendations and varied experiences, demonstrates both intelligence and a fidelity to sound policy, and for a long time in local politics has been on the righteous side of history. She seems to me like the safer bet. What are you going to do?