Friday, April 6, 2007

We're Just Saying

We can feel the news cycle inexorably moving forward, but our minds are stuck on these selections from a Jeremy Boren article dated April 4:

Ravenstahl also will stop officers from arranging off-duty side jobs for their colleagues and taking their own cut, Skrinjar said.

"The whole idea is to bring this under the control of the police department, without any freelancing by individual officers," said Skrinjar, who added that all off-duty assignments will be tracked by computer.


"This would make if fair so that everyone can bid on the same jobs," said Jim Malloy, president of police union Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.

The way we see it, either the Tribune-Review needs to issue a correction, or else the Mayor's office needs to explain what happened to change "the whole idea" so quickly.


Thank you for joining us. We expect to have a very special interview posted by the time you wake up on Tuesday morning. Have a nice weekend. Look alive out there.

T.G.I.F. Odds & Ends

We know what you're thinking -- what ever happened to that Agent Ska business? You would think that after the first two days, if Mayor Ravenstahl failed to summon Marty Griffin for a confessional, there must be nothing to the story. You would be wrong.

Although things may not lead to the Sundance Film Festival as originally envisaged, the trail is not exactly cold. No less than two city beat reporters from a major local newspaper are continuing to make inquiries. Sources indicate that at least one of these reporters is "totally cute."


City Planning Commission meetings, if you haven't figured it out already, are just super. They're better than whatever you're likely to find on reality television; they are, in fact, your reality television.

The next major Planning Commission meeting on the PITG development is scheduled for early May. Can we tailgate on Ross St? We could park RVs, grill, drink, and pop discreetly in and out of the meeting room. Hope to see everybody there!

Comet Totally Interviewed

WPXI news reporter Andy Gastmeyer stopped us on the way to work yesterday, and asked us about the new Downtown evacuation plan. Fortunately, we were blissfully, totally ignorant of this story. He asked some leading questions, obviously wanting to elicit the response, "How can we not have an evacuation plan already? I am outraged!" We tried to give a measured, nuanced response; we were fairly certain that the different authorities Downtown must have their own evacuation procedures.

We were sure Gastmeyer would take us out of context -- this happened to us once before with KDKA's Mary Robb Jackson. However, Andy selected a very neutral and representative clip from our interview: "I did not know we don't have a formal evacuation plan." He could have done us worse. He left it to another passerby to deliver the stinging indictment.

Then again. As we parted ways, we were left thinking, "It has been six years since 9/11. Why don't we already have an evacuation plan?"

T.G.I.F. Spectacular: Three Pairs

The P-G's Rich Lord reports on a perplexing meeting between Hill District leaders, and Ravenstahl, Onorato, Ferlo, Wheatley, and Payne. Marimba Milliones and the Rev. Johnnie Monroe are demanding a lot, but there are considerable questions as to whether they represent a community consensus.

P-G columnist Tony Norman blames our population decline on a "lack of dynamism and elasticity of spirit." And also machine politics.

The TRIB's Andrew Conte has Mark Hart of the Steelers saying they had a "cooperative but very frank and forceful discussion" with Majestic Star representatives about traffic. The discussion included the metaphor of a cannonball fired down North Shore Drive, and not hurting anybody.

The TRIB editirial board is handing out its Laurels and Lances ... and they're all out of Laurels!!

UPDATE: We are fairly certain those wily purveyors of supply-side economics reconnoitered their Lance / Laurel designations since this post went online. (You know your names.)

The Courier's Deborah M. Todd reports on endorsed Democratic candidate Ricky Burgess promising "credible, competent, community-focused leadership" for District 9.

Debbie of the Courier also provides a heads-up on the need to find a new favorite Japanese restaurant.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Planning Commission Shelves Casino until May

A heated procedural discussion broke out among members of the city planning commission, just prior to its adjournment on Tuesday evening.

The commission had heard PITG Gaming's presentation of its master plan for approximately four hours, and had heard public comments from the Steelers, the Science Center and many others for another two.

During the final few comments, there was already a lot of shifting and whispering in the room, like when the class knows the bell's going to ring soon, and teacher is wrapping things up. The last few public speakers all joked about everyone's exhaustion.

Finally the Commission chairwoman made it solemn again, underscoring the massive importance, and massive complexity, of this development. She said six hour meetings aren't common -- asked the other members if they remember any -- and said it indicated the profundity of the whole undertaking.

The Chairwoman pretty much begged and pleaded with the parties -- Barden, the Steelers, the Pirates, the Science Center, the Riverlife Task Force, the University of Pittsburgh, the North Side / North Shore Leadership Conference, the Pittsburgh Design Coalition, and Mr. DeSantis of West Allegheny -- to work out their own differences, at least as much as possible, before the next meeting in May. Because then, time really becomes a factor.

Another lady on the planning commission, named Mistick (any relation?), offered a stirring speech about the possibilities and opportunities that good compromise will achieve. She also echoed the Chairwoman's urgings that the parties to reach out to one another, take initiative in solving these problems.

Shortly thereafter, another woman on the planning commission moved to speak. One could just tell it was going to get dark, and it did.

She suggested that with the special awesomeness of the undertaking before them, and with the undeniable time pressure, and with the major parties so very far apart -- maybe this Planning Commission should hold an extra meeting or two.

The Chairwoman started to speak dubiously of this idea, and as she spoke she scoped out the room, and saw everyone scowling a bit. Mistick was like, no thanks. This was a heavy six hour meeting, and these lawyers are costing people money, and you can't just keep jerking the multimillionaire around. (Actually, Mr. Barden and his people did not seem to fidget or mutter at the suggestion).

Anyway, the Chairwoman politely and firmly shot down this other woman's suggestion about amping up the Commission in light of this once-in-a-decade city planning conundrum. The moment the meeting adjourned, the woman, clearly showing frustration, reservedly stalked out of the room.

Editorial comment: We obviously don't know the players involved, but we found ourselves identifying with this last woman. After a six hour (very good!) meeting, the idea of scheduling a whole new meeting is always a tough sell. We acknowlege that the Planning Commission is busy with other things.

Yet we hope, as the dust settles, that all members of the City Planning Commission, including its chair, reconsider the wisdom of making this kind of extra push, during this most especially critical period in the history of city planning. Although Mayor Ravenstahl, and the task force that he chairs, are charged with forging these compromises over the next month, perhaps the attentions of the Planning Commission would help focus everybody's minds on a superlative outcome.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Wednesday Quick Skim [More Updates]

Mayor Ravenstahl says he will add a $3.85 per hour cost-recovery charge to police secondary employment gigs. (Rich Lord, P-G)

The new plan includes a concession to the union -- allowing businesses to use entrepreneurial officers as "designated schedulers" rather than getting officers solely through the Police Bureau's events office. The bureau spent $30,950 in 2005 on software for scheduling the jobs.

Nonetheless, there was much rejoicing. (Burr Reporr)

(Pictured: James Malloy, police union president, c/o P-G)

UPDATE: Also Jeremy Boren, TRIB.

The Rich Lord selection above appears to contradict the Jeremy Boren selections below. Please advise if we are missing something:

"The whole idea is to bring this under the control of the police department, without any freelancing by individual officers," said Skrinjar, who added that all off-duty assignments will be tracked by computer. [emphasis added]

Police Lt. Thomas Atkins, who privately arranged for officers to work Pirates games, said he would abide by the city's decision. "I'm a team player," he said. "Whatever they tell me to do, that's what I'll do."


Councilman Koch & City Planning Commission: No new liquor licenses within 150 ft. of any two other licensees. Only for business districts of 7,100 ft. or more, that is, just Carson Street. (Ed Blazina, P-G) The Trib's Mike Cronin has a slightly different take on that last point.

P-G Editorial Board calls elected sheriff's office a "political patch," would rather have seen referendum ending it. (LINK)

Dowe's on 9th bankruptcy and closure dispute going to court. (Ron DaParma, TRIB)

TRIB columnist Eric Heyl gives the Ravenstahl campaign the Eric Heyl treatment.

UPDATE: The Admiral is back!! (LINK)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Steelers Slam Barden's Traffic Studies...

... while some in the community bite the Steelers right back.

We attended PITG Gaming's presentation of its master development plan to the city planning commission. We arrived just as PITG was wrapping up its end, and just before the public comment period.

Two attorneys spoke for the Steelers: classic good cop and bad cop. They questioned the very seriousness of PITG's traffic and parking data, and presented their own forecasts, based on 30 years of experience and deep study in the area. They conclude that additional volume will create nightmare scenarios for events patrons -- think eight mile traffic jams.

However, both Mark Fatla of the North Side / North Shore Leadership Conference, and John De Santis, resident of West Allegheny and Home & Garden Show director, testified to PITG's great demonstrations of cooperation. Both the Steelers and the Penguins were chided for failing to be so open and collaborative during their own developments, and it was suggested that PITG can not be held responsible for the Steeler's own problems.

Don Barden himself briefly took the mic to point out that while looking forward to working with stakeholders, he at least is building a massive parking garage, and he is already getting "taxed" for the new hockey facility. On this point, several of his entourage were heard to mutter, "Mmm-hmm!"

The Carnegie Science Center added some concerns about foot traffic and bus access; a surprising number of school buses cycle through every day. They also raised lighting concerns: the Heinz Field lights themselves, when lit, already ruin the Observatory.

Another meeting is scheduled in about a month. The commission strongly urged all parties to collaborate over that interval, and work out as much as possible in advance. Responsibility for facilitating this negotiation appears to reside with the Mayor, and with the new city task force.

The Money from Roddey v Mistick

Mistick: Mitt Romney has more money ... and less wives ... than any other Republican candidate.

Roddey: That's despite the fact that he's Mormon.

Roddey also gave an impassioned defense of sel-- um, leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private interests for 99 years, for $16-$18 billion dollars, for the purposes of constructing sorely needed new bridges and roads.

Editorial Aside: You know, Pittsburgh? We're set for bridges. How about we ask for our share in public transit?

Also, host Chris Moore dropped the word Congestion Tax, like it was some kind of secret ninja policy idea of his own.

From the Courier

Christian Morrow gets in-depth with the Oak Hill Development compromise.

Apparently, the Black Political Empowerment Project put the heat on Mayor Ravenstahl, and in turn the Mayor stuck it to the University of Pittsburgh.

“It was an exhausting, up-hill battle, but after 18 months we finally struck a deal and it worked out well for us,” said Resident Council President Eloise McDonald. “Pitt got Robinson Court, but we got everything else. The residents are very happy.”

Note to our friends: Robinson Court, apparently, will involve a soccer field!!

Morrow also gives a behind-the-scenes account of Rachel "Winnie" Cooper's removal from the District 9 ballot.

Deborah M. Todd covers the 3rd Annual African American convention, at which Dan Onorato gave an introduction, and casino owner Don Barden gave the keynote address.

Money quote from K. Chase Patterson: “It was a fantastic event, but not all young people are down for galas.”

Last Chance City Paper

Chris Potter gets his big sit-down with Bill Peduto.

It was presented in an innovative 2+ page format, that provided the impression of shock and awe: ATTENTION!! THIS IS A SPECIAL CITY PAPER INTERVIEW EVENT! GET OUT YOUR GOOD READING GLASSES, AND HOLD ON TO YOUR BLADDER! Money excerpt:

Potter: Why is that?

Peduto: Because I'm a bad politician. Good public servant ... ba-a-a-a-d politician.

Meanwhile, John McIntire does a non-victory lap in which he prays we all "wake up"; and Charlie Deitch reviews the process of challenging and striking names from the elections ballot.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Interview: Leah Kirkland

"With respect for the process ... and with respect for the headquarters ... and with respect for Jim Burn ..."

Leah Kirkland did not care for the decision to open the District 9 party endorsement up to a second vote. The first vote found her in second place, to a disqualified candidate. She saw the ruling as a sharp break with precedent.

"Not only that, but it's very hurtful to the candidates -- we're all back to square one." Candidates for council had been courting the same pool of committee members and ward chairs since January; the election is fast approaching. She was impatient to focus on the community at large.

Kirkland met us late at night; she was wearing a tracksuit and a Leah Kirkland for City Council tee-shirt.

The following afternoon, she would once again finish second, this time to Ricky Burgess -- but not by much, and well ahead of incumbent Twanda Carlisle.


The District 9 of Leah Kirkland isn't described by wards -- or even neighborhoods. She goes by streets. Derry figures prominently, as does Lincoln.

"I remember back when kids would play in the street ..." she stops herself and smiles sweetly. "Yes, I'm only 25. But I remember kids playing, and adults watching over them, out on the porches."

She recalls many aunties and uncles keeping an informal, effective Neighborhood Watch. She couldn't quite define what happened, but she wants to use the office of city councilwoman to bring it back.

"The last thing we need are new empty community centers" she insists. "We have enough of those." She describes a very service-oriented office, that connects and harnesses existing community assets.

For example, Kirkland has been active with a young preservationist society (unaffiliated with Preservation Pittsburgh) that is reclaiming on Apple St. what it describes as the First Negro Opera House in the country. She also helped to bring a Family Dollar store to a problem street corner, and continues to crusade against nuisance bars.

She says her community is tired of broken promises and pipe dreams; there's been no development in her community, she says, in 20 years. Economic development tops her list of priorities along with senior citizens, children and youth, and crime prevention.

When asked about policing, and the use of the BEAR, she said "It leaves a sweet and sour taste in my mouth." She readily concedes that there is a war in the streets, but "we can't come in like we're in Iraq. You're going to get that defense mechanism, you don't get that trust."

"You don't see them on foot patrol" she says of the police department. "You don't see that friendliness. There's a lack of a relationship."

When asked about city finances, she said there is certainly no "one cure", but we must get more efficient, and we must make sure more money is coming in than going out. She favors some kind of system for those who simply work in Pittsburgh, and enjoy its many services, to make contributions.

So, you mean a commuter tax? "Yes."

She says she has nothing against Carlisle, whom she describes as "a wonderful person," but she politely demurred when asked about Burgess.

The New Arena

Yesterday's P-G Mark Belko article made the forthcoming cathedral of hockey sound just fantastic.

From a glass atrium that will span some five stories and offer views of the Downtown skyline to open concourses at each end that will allow people to catch the action below while buying a hot dog, the goal is to provide a "cutting-edge" experience for fans, Penguins President Ken Sawyer said.

Seating is improved, for both the super-boxes and the plebes. Design goes out of its way to court media -- all kinds of technical and creature comforts, the better to facilitate the action into America's livingrooms.

The innovations inspired from Lemieux's hockey playing career are just adorable:

The players will be able to go directly to the locker room from the bench without having to cross the ice. There also will be a small theater in the locker room where coaches and players can watch tapes of opponents and other film.

Remember our arena can host all kinds of other events, as well.

Mr. Sawyer said the Penguins also want to work with Pitt and Duquesne to bring the NCAA men's basketball tournament back. The city hosted the early rounds in 1997 and 2002.

"Clearly with college basketball being so significant here in Pittsburgh, I think we would be a great host city," he said. "We'll now have the capacity to do it."

But don't expect the National Basketball League to be part of the action. Mr. Sawyer said he doesn't believe a market the size of Pittsburgh can support professional basketball and hockey.

"It's just not possible," he said. "The NBA just wouldn't come here. The market's not big enough."

Editorial Comment: Wa-wa-WHAT? Nay-saying! Such blatant nay-saying! Think about it -- another major league sports team for the city! Won't somebody please think of the children?

Two-Hit Monday

The P-G's Rich Lord reports on city EMS minority recruitment.

[EMS Chief Robert McCaughan] said he doesn't yet know when the impending minority recruitment drive will start, nor who the training provider will be. He said the push will look something like a 1991 effort in which the city recruited 15 African-Americans and women, and provided free paramedic training, plus a modest salary. Most finished the training and went on to become city paramedics.


He said the problem with the 1991 effort was that it was a one-time thing that only temporarily boosted diversity. He said the bureau should ensure that this time, it's a sustained program. "That way the numbers would even out."


"Let's start these conversations today. Let's Save our Transit."

Thus concludes Joan Ellenbogen, board member and finance chair of the Port Authority, in her P-G Op-Ed.

She identifies unions, the business community, and state and local government as three groups that "need to step up to the plate." Unions in particular have been "obtaining the best of everything for their members."

What I would do as soon as possible after today, if I were a union leader, would be to follow the lead of our new CEO, Steve Bland. In an unprecedented move and at great personal cost, he voluntarily gave back present and future benefits that were part of the contract he negotiated before moving here last year. Steve Bland is a true leader.

Editorial Aside: Is Steve Bland pressuring the rest of management, past and present, for benefit cuts?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Review: Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter is a lot like Rodney Dangerfield. Rodney delivers round after round of punchy jokes about I get no respect. For Coulter, it's Liberals are godless traitors.

Too much of her material, especially towards the beginning, was about the Jersey Girls, the widows of 9/11 who demanded public congressional investigations. That part was a snooze, and uncomfortable for everyone.

She claims her assault on the Jersey Girls is generating massive controversy, but charges of godlessness and treason are met with silence ... so obviously liberals are happy to concede that they're godless traitors. What she fails to account for is that no one much listens to her when she's not going to the extremes of attacking widows of terrorism, or using ugly language.

She was at her most engaging during her Jimmy Carter bit, and maybe World War II.

Only once was she booed outright -- when she said there are no liberals in the U.S. Armed Forces. First there was just some consternation in the audience, but then she said, "Well, there aren't!" and so she got loudly booed.

Visibly taken aback, she said, "I didn't realize there were so many liberals in the audience!" That should be taken as a measure of everyone's great civility. The University of Pittsburgh and the Young Republicans did an excellent job setting the tone.

A little hecking broke out toward the end of her talk, but Coulter was warmed up enough to go back and forth. She then answered maybe a dozen audience questions. Shorter answers included, "First, I'd deport all the liberals," but longer ones, like about the supposed effete wussiness of liberals, were actually more interesting.

She was asked about illegal immigration, which she deplores, but she focused very narrowly on its illegality. She said that a system which accepts immigrants based on their willingness to break the law is untenable. When someone shouted "Then change the law!" she actually said, "Fine. We just can't have it illegally," which got a strong round of applause.

Coulter took that opportunity to give a jolly wave goodbye, and everybody left smiling.