Friday, May 11, 2007

That Was Fast

The Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board met for just under half an hour today. Acting city solicitor George Specter was on hand to assist this first meeting of all five members.

(UPDATE: See also the Trib's Mike Wereschagin: "They came. They met. They set another meeting date.")

The first order of business was electing a chairperson. Sister Patrice Hughes was nominated, and quickly won unanimous approval. She quipped that her unopposed election was "in the tradition of Mayor Ravenstahl and Onorato," ha-ha-ha.

Kathleen Buechel was elected vice-chair.

The board discussed whether or not they should employ a stenographer, which led to some inquiries to Specter about the board's budget, including a broader budget for the investigatory requirement in the handbook. His careful answers seemed to satisfy them.

The board then decided to meet on the second Friday of each month, so the next meeting is planned for Friday June 8th.

Chairwoman Hughes brought up the issue of the city Redd Up crew, acknowledging her awareness through media reports that the mayor intended for the Board to address this during the present meeting. Hughes asked if anyone knew of the mayor's office providing some direction, outside of what was heard through the media. Nobody answered.

A board member said that they were under the impression that Specter would take the lead on that issue today. Specter indicated that was not the case.

Moving forward, the board talked more about process: how to launch investigations on their own initiative, and how to select independent parties to handle them. They were curious to discover the "best practices" of other government ethics boards. Someone suggested that an "ethics cheat-sheet" be put together, which is an oxymoron, ha-ha-ha.

The meeting adjourned, and Rich Lord ambled over to Specter and the rest of the gang for comments.

Morning Rush

* The Buchanan Ingersoll PAC contributed one of those daunting $12,000 checks to the Ravenstahl campaign (h/t Early Returns). The Mayor's new selection for the Ethics Hearing Board, Penny Zacharias, is an attorney for Buchanan Ingersoll.

Noteworthy, but we don't really see a quid-pro-quo here. It's not like having an "in" on the Ethics Board is worth that much to the Downtown law firm, besides being an honor, is it?

* That ethics board? Totally meeting! Today at 11:00 AM in council chambers. (h/t Busman)

* P-G editorial calls Redd Up shenanigans "Pittsburgh to the core"; Trib editorial crowns Ravenstahl with a laurel for prudent discipline.

* Jeff Koch returns some of those corporate contributions; while doing so, he criticizes his opponent Bruce Kraus for accepting donations from out-of-state. P-G: Lord. Trib: Boren.

* PITG Gaming and the Steelers: Still not neighborly. P-G: Belko.

* P-G editorial board endorses William P. Mullen for sheriff as the urltimate consomme professional.

* Comet influence unquestionable: our street is getting repaved on both ends, and around the corner where we park our car. We were not even aware of any disrepair!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jeff Koch and Justice

Our experiences with the criminal justice system have been limited (thankfully) to a few visits to Traffic Court, and one to Housing Court.

Not only did we get to plead our own cases, but we got to listen to those of everybody who came up beforehand.

As a general rule, defendants who say, "Yeah, I did it, I'm really sorry, it'll never happen again" are quickly offered reduced sentences and lower fines.

Their Honors greatly dislike people with lists of excuses, and other people to blame. They especially hate failure to express remorse. These sad sacks usually wind up facing more charges, and more punishment than before.

Jeff Koch has yet to express any serious contrition, or offer any personal apology, for having gotten a city Redd Up crew mixed up in political corruption. Insisting he was in no way responsible, he appears content to allow Ray Sansone to take the fall.

For having worked the phones for his reelection bid on the public dime, he squarely directs all blame at Eileen Conroy.

And for accepting financial contributions directly from corporations, which is a clear violation of election law, Koch pleads that "sometimes, we make mistakes because we don't know." He says if there's a problem, he'll return the cash.

Nevermind that every other politician in the city has managed to avoid that mistake.

Tonight, we plan on shoplifting a toaster. If we get caught, we'll just give it back!

We are not the judge of Jeff Koch. Yet in light of his continued stubborn defiance in the face of all this wrongdoing, why not just fine him the full $10,000 for the ten counts of accepting illegal campaign cash, and then throw him in prison for a year, as the law allows?

Dan Onorato: In the News

County chief Dan Onorato says RAD money is "off the table" to help the Port Authority (P-G). This will be a relief to some cultural and arts organizations who depend on these funds.

Meanwhile, the P-G editorial board delivers one hell of an endorsement for Onorato's reelection.

Not only do they dismiss his opponent Rick Swartz as a well-intentioned lightweight, but they hail Onorato as a capable leader who knows when to build community consensus, when to hammer out back-room deals, and when to go it alone.

Still not convinced? There is a debate tonight at the Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Hill District from 6 to 7 PM. Call 412-758-7898.

Speaking of community consensus and/or/if/but back-room deals, we caught Dan Onorato on WQED's OnQ a few nights ago. He was joined by the Rev. Johnny Monroe and Marimba Milliones, and it was just fascinating.

A lot seems to hinge on development outside a certain key 28 blocks of real estate -- and whether or not Mayor Ravenstahl and the Sports & Exhibition Authority are going to be on board with that.

The Rev. Monroe was extremely frank about his community getting "a piece of the action." Onorato fully supported that sentiment, comparing it to what he did for the North Side as a councilman during stadium development. Reflecting on the Civic Arena, Onorato said, "You don't often get a second bite at the apple ... we can actually do this right this time."

Meditations on Signage

If you lose PittGirl, you really need to clean house in your PR department. Instant teh CLASSIC!!!

But now that you mention it, that USX Tower is starting to look like a fine place to hang the Heinz sign that used to grace East Allegheny. (P-G, Ervin Dyer)

Read to bottom of the article -- they are also funding a children's asthma center in a green building, public schools, libraries in struggling communities, and much more.

A couple of years ago, they even provided a modest kick-start to the local high school ultimate frisbee scholarship, and we think continue to provide matching funds to the kids' own fundraising initiatives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Public Safety Surge

"We're trying to send a strong message that we're serious, and we're sick and tired of what has been happening in our communities."

This is from Mayor Ravenstahl, appearing at a church in Homewood, announcing a response to the increase in violent crime. Five of the already 24 city homicides this year have occurred in Homewood, reports the Trib's Jill King Greenwood.

The Mayor put quite a big matzoh-ball out there, heralding an eight-part plan to quell the violence. He acknowledged to his listeners that "this isn't just a press conference" -- but of course it was. Clearly he and everybody else knows that the hard part starts now.

Many neighborhood residents have heard such promises before, but most seem ready to accept that we all have to start somewhere. Given budget and resources, much of the eight-point plan includes collaborative efforts with the community.

The Comet is not particularly in love with the prospect of video surveillance, an idea the mayor came to admire during a tour of Chicago (P-G, Ward & Dyer). Yet at this point in the crisis, certainly all options should be on the table.

More Endorsements

The P-G editorial board gives incumbent Darlene Harris the nod in District One, over challengers Valerie Coleman and Robin Rosemary Miller. They cited her "decades of volunteer work" and "overarching depth of knowledge about the community and its problems."

Editorial Comment: Fair enough.

The TRIB editorial board endorses challenger Patrick Dowd for District 7, because his opponent Len Bodack "is the epitome of the ward healer."

Comment: What?

The TRIB also endorses Randall Taylor in the race for Council District 9 because he would be "a good point-of-order councilman who would be engaged with his constituents."

Comment: Taylor has been frequently described in recent press accounts as "not campaigning."

Editorial: Right and Wrong

"The conduct of certain Public Works employees (Tuesday) was unethical, inexcusable and unacceptable."

Mayor Ravenstahl was dead-on correct in saying this. It was good of him to take immediate control of the situation.

"I will mete out discipline to the fullest extent of departmental policy."

It was correct to order the five-day suspensions for working out-of-uniform, and it was the right call to refer consideration for further discipline to the Ethics Hearing Board.

Although it was monstrous that the city's Redd Up crew was permitted to become a pawn of political infighting, it would probably be wrong to come down much harder on these city employees.

"I've been in Public Works 29 years; I know better than that. I didn't ask anybody to do anything ... Obviously, I wasn't aware of it, because I was in council [yesterday] morning ... (the photos are) political, know what I'm saying?"

This is a gross ducking of responsibility by Councilman Jeffrey Koch. At the very least, he owes an apology.

Koch's own campaign treasurer was the ringleader of this Redd Up crew. His long-established ties to the DPW are well known. The Department does not deserve to become any more sullied by this, in its own right.

He owes an apology not just to his opponent, but to all Pittburghers who hold the city's Redd Up initiative in high esteem -- and to all of us who would like to hold our city to high standards of ethical behavior.

Nobody is asking Jeff Koch to surrender his council seat. He should continue campaigning proudly, telling his district that he is a great councilman, and continues to be the best man for the job.

Which he clearly is not, if he cannot accept responsibility for allowing his reelection campaign to spin out of control in such an unacceptable and thoroughly inexcusable manner.

Rage on Behalf of the Machine

ACDC chair Jim Burn issues a P-G op-ed piece today, in which he informs us of efforts to reorganize the party apparatus by using better tools, technology and training. He is fending off accusations of "machine" politics, and blame in general for an uninspiring primary election.

Controller Tony Pecora, after apparently losing the endorsement by one vote to Prothonatary Michael Lamb, went to court and ended up winning the party endorsement.

Didn't this happen the other way around? Isn't Michael Lamb the endorsed Democrat? Isn't Tony Pokora's name spelled wrong?

At any rate, the author leans heavily on the fact that since candidates work hard to win the endorsement, and sometimes drop out after failing, all must be right with the process.

It would have been illuminating if The Allegheny Democrat were still around to issue a rebuttal, but the site went on lock-down mere hours after its discovery.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


From the Post-Gazette. Rich Lord reporting.

UPDATE: Also the TRIB's Jeremy Boren.

The Director of Public Works says the crew will be disciplined for working out of uniform.

For politicizing the late Mayor O'Connor's popular Redd Up initiative, the workers have been "chewed out."

The manager of Redd Up had at one point threatened to summon the police against the man whose photography exposed the corruption, for his "harassment" of the city workers.

What A Day!!

Check out The Allegheny Democrat, published anonymously, and no doubt subconsciously, by a certain T. Durden (h/t the Burr Reporr).

A sampling:

Governor Rendell threw this state to the wolves last year when he put his foot down at State Committee and insisted that Catherine Baker Knoll, as senile and mean as one old lady can get, remain our Lt. Governor, forcing Valerie McDonald Roberts to pull out before the vote. And Only he, Joe Hoeffel, and God know what the hell he promised Joe to get him out of the race with 24 hours of his campaign announcement.

Also, a comment on the contents of this post: "Integrity" and "Experience" we are willing to swallow. "Diversity" however, seems like a really hard sell.

A Look At D9

Rich Lord of the P-G delves into the District 9 council race today. Money quote, care of Leah Kirkland:

You have a community that just looks like it's in so much disarray that it's kind of a turnoff.

That's pretty much been the consensus, unfortunately. At times it can be uncomfortably like reading this guy: LINK.

Most of the candidates get a plug in, except Twanda Carlisle, who continues not to respond to media inquiries.

Buried way down low, Lord condescends to report on the anonymous negative e-mail campaign being waged against Ricky Burgess, and on the substance of its claims.

Shadowy anti-Burgess activity is not limited to the internet, we would like to add. Ricky Burgess for City Council yard signs have recently gone missing -- wait for it, wait for it -- from the home of Burgess's own deputy campaign manager.

Good Stuff

This morning's edition of Early Returns is all that, and a bag of chips.

A lot of it has to do with a fresh look at the campaign cash. Lamb and Shields sit head and shoulders above the pack for controller, and council districts 3, 7, and 9 all are teed up for deconstruction.

Note this excerpt:

Members of the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club are pointedly noting to Early Returns that they opted not to endorse Mr. Ravenstahl for mayor, even though he is unopposed in their party's primary. The feisty group in the city's biggest ward is backing Mr. Lamb for controller and Rev. Burgess for council.

Lamb and Burgess would be the two ACDC endorsed candidates for their two races, in a combined field of 13. It will be hard to paint the 14th ward as revolutionary cranks.

In other news, Patrick Dowd sent out press releases to call attention to the $2.12 he recently paid in back taxes, plus $0.02 in penalties.

On the Dowd campaign website, he emphasizes his intentions to use "incident data" more effectively to improve public safety. We wonder if he might describe ways this might impact the most violence-plagued neighborhoods in our city, and more of his ideas for trying to help these failing neighborhoods save themselves.

Spiderman, Schmeiderman!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Loved The Black Pearl. Dead Man's Chest was a little disappointing. At World's End looks awesome:

None of the news yesterday looked that interesting, sorry. Tiger Woodsgate was pretty classic: LINK, LINK, LINK, and LINK. Also some good PG-13 satire: LINK and LINK.

Look for fissures to start opening up within the Moving Forward coalition.

Everybody stay hydrated.

Look alive out there!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Journalists Roundtable

James O'Toole, Rich Lord, and Chris Potter all appeared for the full hour on the PCN weekly panel discussion Journalists Roundtable.

We watched it mostly out of dread that they might claim political bloggers are ruining journalism, not to mention America. So we were relieved that this was the only mention:

Q: How do you know what issues people care about, if there isn't much of an election?

Potter: That's a really deep question. (Giggles.) I just read the blogs.

So we expect more City Paper features on 1980's hair-metal bands and space-opera cartoons.

O'Toole explained the juxtaposition of our Most Livable title, and our population decline, by describing an "urban space that's not stretched," and "infrastructure built for a much larger city," and it just cold clicked! From a Hobbesian perspective, what could be more "livable" that a place with abundant resources, but scarce competition? Welcome to Eden!

To combat both our population and diversity issues, Lord called upon our civic leaders (seriously, we think) to market our city as a "destination of choice for illegal immigrants." Wonderful, we thought, but we could do even better. Why stop at Mexicans, when we could also cater to Sudanese, or even Americans displaced by Katrina? What happened to City of Asylum?

To illustrate the political impossibility of that proposition, Potter related a story of the last small immigration scandal in our region, in which union protesters anxiously wondered "Who knows what kind of diseases are coming in?" He said something about Pittsburgh still having "some cultural work to do."

On other matters, O'Toole slammed Onorato's base-year property tax assessments as good politics, but bad policy. Potter advocated the resurrection of 19th-century Henry George ideology on property taxes. (Potter was, in fact, shrooming balls the whole show. At one point, he accidentally reconciled with his family.)

All were extremely pessimistic about Harrisburg coming to the Port Authority's rescue, and all agreed that nobody from around here seems to know (yet) about the state's own looming budget crisis.

All bemoaned Mayor Ravenstahl's lack of necessity to commit himself to campaign promises; Lord even suggested that Luke himself would have preferred a proper fight. No one defended Peduto's decision to drop out, to put it mildly.

Somebody dropped the stat that in the coming primary, the average voter will actually be 64 years of age, and even that voter will only turn out at an 18% clip. We believe it, but we're still curious about the sourcing.