Friday, May 3, 2013

Jack Wagner = more Luke. Quit the nonsense.

Why is it not considered an objective fact -- and a really important one -- that Jack Wagner took over Luke Ravenstahl's campaign?

Here is an easy-to-see list of Wagner endorsers who previously (who in past campaigns and in this very race!) supported our wonderful, wonderful Mayor. The list also comprises all of Jack Wagner's significant support.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo (reappointed by Ravenstahl to URA board)
Council President Darlene Harris (appointed teenage Ravenstahl to Dem committee)
Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess
Administration #3 Official Paul McKrell
Director of Public Works Rob Kaczorowski
Fraternal Order of Police Local 1
Firefighters Local 1
Operating Engineers Local 66
Greater PA Regional Council of Carpenters
Steamfitters Local 449
IBEW Local 5
Former mayor Sophie Masloff

Does this sound like change anybody is supposed to credit as actual?

And now Luke is running literal swift boat ads against Wagner's sole significant opponent. And Wagner thinks he can just innocently criticize them both for being "immature".

It's insulting to every Pittsburgher's intelligence.

It's a scandal.

(Sources:,, Early Returns, P-G)

"Fair Share Pittsburgh" playing political games with Ravenstahl and UPMC?

Union Review

We here at the Comet realize UPMC and other large aggregators of non-profit wealth must contribute a fairer share of their immense profits to municipalities and school districts -- or else these institutions will cease functioning and be unable to maintain conditions for innovation and research to thrive.

We cannot center an economy around transactions we cannot tax.

But Pittsburgh already has several movements working on that in regards to UPMC, so what the heck dark sorcery is this??

Though SEIU Healthcare affirmed its link to Fair Share Pittsburgh, there's little else known about the group. The mayor, whose picture and words are featured prominently in one of the fliers, did not know for certain Thursday who was behind the campaign and said he assumed it was SEIU.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo and city Controller Michael Lamb, both members of Make It Our UPMC, also said they didn't know anything about the group.

SEIU Healthcare offered only this statement about the group:

"Fair Share Pittsburgh is a project of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania that has been informed by the many voices of healthcare workers, patients and taxpayers who believe that it's time for UPMC to start acting like a real charity by paying its fair share to support transit and schools, ensuring healthcare access regardless of economic or insurance status, and creating good, family-sustaining jobs for our community," Neil Bisno, who heads SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, wrote in an email statement.

He did not respond to follow-up questions.

The group's glossy, multi-color mailers, professional website and Facebook page point to a pricey campaign. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Twelve impolitic thoughts on this:

1) Political Pittsburgh is far, far too small for nobody to have any knowledge of this campaign. Who does everyone think they're kidding?

2) These mailers with the Mayor's picture on the front are going out before an election. We know our mayor enjoys pictures of and references to himself.

3) We know the Mayor is actively campaigning in this election.

4) Ravenstahl was long and notoriously against inconveniencing UPMC in any way before he dramatically came out for a legal challenge of their nonprofit status only this spring.

5) We have been given to suspect that many local labor organizers would like to see Ravenstahl's lawsuit settled out of court, in such a manner that the healthcare giant will agree to allow certain of its workers to unionize -- while its profits remain tax-exempt.

6) SEIU Local 32BJ is supporting Councilman Bill Peduto for a variety of stances he has taken in City government. However, SEIU-PA with its statewide spin-offs is officially "neutral" ... though it has excellent personal relationships in the Mayor's office.

7) Ask literally any former Occupier: Of all the wonderful unions that were part of that grungy "We Are the 99%" jag, SEIU-PA was always the one whose organizers employed the most guarded talking points, nervous control over events and the most complex agendas. Eventually they developed a reputation as a "very staff-driven union" as opposed to a "worker driven" one. By the time we Occupiers learned enough to distinguish among unions and understand SEIU-PA organizers' professional predicaments, it was always great fun to debate politics, tactics and strategy with them until they'd grow pale and silent.

8) Councilman Bill Peduto seems to be clear on the point that if any enormous enterprise fails the HUP test, by law it should be paying taxes to support public services, public infrastructure, public schools and public transit. He says UPMC and Highmark are clearly "in the same category". Meanwhile, true to form, Jack Wagner seems to be clear on little besides supporting the mayor's strategy at the moment.

9) Dan Onorato now works for Highmark.

10) Luke Ravenstahl will be looking for a job soon.

11) Ravenstahl may desire to build the political capital to seal this "deal" with UPMC (a tax giveaway in exchange for SEIU organizing) as a lame duck before handing over the reigns of his administration to a new figurehead.

12) It's the lack of openness and transparency that's getting to me about this "Fair Share Pittsburgh" campaign. And only potentially, the lack of solidarity.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ka'Sandra Wade is Dead

by Helen Gerhardt

But there are plenty of women, men, and children who are still alive in our city who will face domestic violence. If there is a gun in the house, then the possibility of their murder will increase three-fold. 

These still-living Pittsburghers deserve full attention to their concerns and their safety from their elected officials and staff, over and above political battles during election time, no matter how well justified the mudslinging seems to be. Yesterday, the legislation intended to address inconsistent application of "zero tolerance" of domestic violence by City employees was not properly introduced to facilitate fair and aboveboard community engagement and full discussion by Council members. My own position is that full airing of those circumstances would be in the public interest. The reactions on both sides could well help damage progress on well-crafted domestic violence legislation which is far more crucial to potential victims of violence than the political fortunes or future employment of the men and women who have a responsibility to work together on this matter right here, right now.

Echoes from the past

"He dishonored ... the people he served with. He just sold them out."

This is how George W. Bush won a second term in office. More on John Kerry: Link

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Ravenstahl Offensive: Bad Medicine

While the Comet processes various current events, here is my favorite observation so far:

Mayor Ravenstahl must be somewhat disappointed that two Facebook comments of others regarding his "dark money" Republican-connected campaign committee are receiving more "Likes" from the P-G online audience than his own...

The gold medal and107 FB Likes so far belong to Ravenstahl nemesis former Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields...

The Pay to Play crowd in Pittsburgh, so well served by Mayor Ravenstahl (as documented by the P-G’s “the Network” series by Rich Lord), is desperate to keep some sort of hold on the the public's purse no matter how tenuous it may be. As we know, the Ravenstahl Camp packed up en masse and ran to the the Wagner Campaign for shelter. In return for this support, there will be some form of consideration to retain those who served us so poorly in a possible Wagner administration. These ties that bind, that have lead to scandal after scandal in Pennsylvania, will remain in place.

The appropriate response by Mr. Wagner would be to immediately disavow Mayor Ravenstahl’s vengeful intrusion into the people’s electoral process and demand that the "Swift Boat" actors unmask themselves. Saying nothing and benefitting from this is a de facto acceptance of Mayor Ravenstahl’s endorsement and tacit acknowledgement of the “Newtwork’s” support. That is an unacceptable arrangement. In Mr. Peduto I find integrity in his character and new broom that sweeps clean in his hand.
The silver medal goes to Justin Strong...

You can tell the race is heating up, with the Mayor chiming in on the PG boards (hi5 for that). The city has been on a roll over the last decade gaining national and international attention. I've seen it first hand with the role of the Shadow Lounge and AVA. I may not agree with all of Luke Ravenstahl's policies and/or actions over the years, but having a young face in the mayor's office has done wonders on the "We're old as ish" category. It's help change the perception of the city and region. Going forward, Bill Peduto adds quality strategic policies with the young face. And I have nothing against Mr. Wagner (I'm friends with some of his fam). I think Mr. Wagner would make a good mayor; but I know Mr. Peduto will make a great one. This is that Good to Great I'm sure I'll start getting those "anonymous" noise complaints from Zone 5 again...sike nah. Hopefully in 2014 everyone can come together like Voltron.

The mayor's Facebook comments on the subject of "'haters' who preach about the law and following it" merited only a bronze.

Today, Bill Peduto's campaign talked about a new iBurgh app that will offer traffic, weather and public safety info, operate as an electronic 311 hot line to submit and track complaints, and provide customized alerts.

On the bright side, now we know what the mayor has been working on. And I think we can all agree: shame on Bill Peduto for making Luke Ravenstahl hate him this much.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Artist: Demi Lovato

The moment: Interesting.

Meanwhile, many Pittsburgh African-Americans already sold on Bill Peduto

Shirley says she appreciates how deeply the Councilman from the East End gets involved with all city communities like hers'.

I bet that also has something to do with his travel outside the City of Pittsburgh. It hit me recently how many of Peduto's policy papers include ideas he has picked up from other cities. Nice to think of a mayor who is always on the hunt for what's working. It's another part of making a city capable of true transformation, qualitative transformation.

State Rep. Ed Gainey has a couple of great testimonials out...

...and you have all viewed Justin Strong's testimonial already.

That the new president of the city's School Board, Sharene Shealey, is also on board with Peduto is another indication.

Remember, for what it's worth, Peduto almost tripled Wagner's showing among participants at the Black Political Convention, which utilized a whole variety of tools for evaluating the candidates. Rev. Thomas E. Smith writing for the New Pittsburgh Courier points out that black voters may have no obvious mass favorite yet, but at least Peduto showed his community notable respect.

Keystone Politics has some theories:

The Swiftboat folks went with a message that could tie all this unrelated oppo research together – that Bill’s politics are too parochial, I guess. But is that something voters actually think about Bill? Does that describe his actual record? No, it doesn’t. Bill’s got good attainable ideas for all the different neighborhoods. He cares about regional issues. Calling him a parochial politician just isn’t believable.

Here’s my prediction: the main thing Democratic voters will remember about this ad is that the “Swiftboat” people made it. The Jack Wagner shadow campaign hired a notorious Republican firm to do a nasty Republican-flavored ad hitting the guy that every progressive politician and advocacy group you like is supporting.  And one reason Democrats are going to remember that is because it feeds right into the negative message that the Peduto campaign has already developed about Wagner – that he’s too much aligned with the Republicans. Reading about the Swiftboat people’s ad in the news will reinforce Wagner’s negatives more than Peduto’s. (Jon @ KP)

Post-Gazette Early Returns confirms the anonymous anti-Peduto TV ad's genesis with a GOP firm associated with the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth and to former US Senator Rick Santorum. And of course to Mayor Ravenstahl.

The results of this election should be interesting.

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.]

It's Close. Peduto flirting with 40%, gains Possession Arrow.

Philly Philms

New public poll:

Current Councilman Bill Peduto leads former Auditor General Jack Wagner by two points, 38 percent to 36 percent, which is within the margin of error of +/-4.89. (via KeystonePolitics)

Wagner at 36 is actually down a titch from Keystone Analytic's last poll. Peduto has moved up eight points.

Best news yet: to read KP's analysis, KA's poll's model might be skewing unfavorably against younger demographics -- indeed, relative even to recent elections. And you've got to figure if this is being considered, either Wagner or Ravenstahl is convinced the prospects for Peduto look good.

PRESCRIPTION: No change. Letters to the editor. Yard signs. Buttons on shirts and bags. Conversations with friends and new acquaintances. Positive visions. Sound science.

FEARFUL OF ATTACKS?: Set your mind at ease.

ChoicePGH: New Partners, Political Reactions

Peduto coalition event

There's an excellent article on the mayor's race in Urban Media Today under "features":

[PA Sen. Dem Leader] Jay Costa says he has worked closely with Peduto on a number of issues during the past 12 years. “I’ve never seen anyone make such a commitment to seeing our city grow. We look forward to an ongoing working relationship with Bill Peduto and a city administration that participates in the conversations we have in Harrisburg to advance the city of Pittsburgh.” (UMT, Nancy Hart)

Councilman Peduto here attributes many of the problems in City government to an inherited, legacy regime that has grown too insular, arrogant and stagnant -- where only a few interests have grown out-sized, and many others not seriously represented.

Jack Wagner, meanwhile, attributes problems such as years of theft and agenda-mixing in the Police Bureau, favoritism in contracts and services, a BBI that hardly functions, and obtuse resistances to transparency and open communication largely to a City Council that does not play nice enough among itself. To hear Wagner tell it, Peduto should not have criticized the "leadership" of Mayor Ravenstahl over the years, which thereby forced Ravenstahl's yes-men on Council to take constant pot shots at him in return -- fomenting just the kind of "bickering" meant to distract from holding a Mayor's administration accountable.

That much is still going on. Business as usual.

Speaking of Ravenstahl allies and favoritism, it's a shame that shots-fired detection cameras aren't already set up today across Pittsburgh -- they might come in handy -- but Councilman Ricky Burgess is applying one of his full-court presses to allege we're all murderers if we don't rush to purchase these cameras, today.

Doing what Mr. Burgess proposes might get the devices in place more quickly, but it would subvert the competitive bid requirement. There are already too many local examples of government contracting abuses -- scandals involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the city's own police bureau are among the most recent. (P-G, Edit Board)

What does the Rev think this is, his Housing Authority?

In terms of making a significant reduction in gun violence in poorer Pittsburgh neighborhoods, ShotSpotter surveillance cameras might be a part of the puzzle -- but the Comet would prefer universal gun purchaser background checks paired with enforcing "lost and stolen" gun regulation any day. And neighborhood-by-neighborhood policing strategies. And universal early childhood education. And community-based planning buoyed by a land bank aided by skilled apprenticeships. And, and, and...