Friday, June 15, 2007

The Friday Firings

Just the facts, as lifted from KDKA:

In a press release, the mayor asks for letters of resignation from the departmental directors in the city along with the board chairs of the Pennsylvania Water and Sewer Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

Ravenstahl said in a statement that he was "not satisfied with the condition of city government" and that he was not satisfied with the quality of service in some areas (P-G, Team Effort). The mayor also invited these employees to reapply for their jobs, as part of a nationwide search.

Bill Green wondered aloud on OffQ why Mayor Ravenstahl decided to make this move so publicly.

Blurghosphere speculation ranges from a desire to divert attention from the Oakmont story, to a need to cleanse his administration of disloyalty prior to the general election, to a compulsion borne from insecurity to underscore the fact that he really is the Mayor, and ought to be treated as such.

Pittsburgh Comet senior political analyst Morton Reichbaum says that the motivations behind this shakeup are probably more nuanced, and indeed much closer to the Mayor's stated purposes.

"Ravenstahl, basically, he wanted to do it for a better Pittsburgh ... for a more, you know, aggressive Pittsburgh."

Broad issues of professional culture and management style likely played a strong role.

"I don't think he really liked a lot of the holdovers. I think it's a generational thing."

URA Declines to Allocate Land for Hill Benefit

The Trib's Bonnie Pfister has Hill District leaders shouting in anger, while URA board chair (and Ravenstahl chief of staff) Yarone Zober banged a gavel to maintain order.

The P-G's Mark Belko has State Rep. Jake Wheatley calling the Board's decision to move forward a "slap in the face."

The Penguins won the right to develop 28 acres of land adjacent to the Hill District and the new arena, without yet having accepted a Community Benefits Agreement. The Penguins argue that the 28 acres was a central tenet to their decision to stay in Pittsburgh, and any delay could foul up their bond issue.

This argument was not convincing to Wheatley, who called it "totally bogus," nor to One Hill CBA Coalition spokesman Carl Redwood, who claims the Penguins have been "twisting the arms" of the city and county to get an optimium deal for themselves.

Zober said that such an agreement with the community can be revisited at the City Planning stages of the process, and circulated a letter from Ravenstahl, Onorato, and the Penguins recommitting themselves to such an agreement.

Tonya Payne seemed to be in a difficult spot -- representing the Hill District as a city councilperson, but as a URA board member, supporting Penguins claims to these development rights without yet having negotiated a CBA.

Someone explain to us this quote, which seems fraught with meaning:

"If the community wants me to go to the Penguins to ask them for a CBA, I will do that," Payne said. "But I will ask them to support only the One Hill coalition -- no other terms, no other conditions."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Larimer Fire

In a post entitled Where are Pittsburgh bloggers on the fire in Larimer?, author Sue of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents writes:

Does the intersection of race and poverty have anything to do with this horrific tragedy or can we simply lay it at the feet of two African-American women and call it a day? We have no way to know until more information comes to light. But I'm saying that a 25 year old mother of four and 20-something mother of three need some support to parent well under the best of circumstances. What kind of supports did these women have that they chose to leave their children alone? What kind of supports even exist in Larimer?

House fires are typically a little "Live at 5" for us. Yet in this instance, five very young lives from two separate families were claimed, and it must be a significant trauma to everyone close to them.

Continuing coverage by the Trib's Jill King Greenwood and the Post-Gazette's Haynes, McKinnon, and Silver all reveal that details, as it were, are emerging. Or not emerging.

We at the Comet are in no rush to use the latest macabre headlines to push for sweeping changes, as there is a danger of allowing our preconceived world-view to distort our view of real events, perhaps doing more harm than good in the process.

Maybe the concern we all feel will bubble up in the halls of government. Maybe some individuals will take it upon themselves to pull some data, take one more look at response-times, resource allocation, or whatever. Maybe they'll find something that can be tightened up a bit, or maybe they'll figure out a new way of doing something.

In the meantime, maybe best thing we can do is give these families space to grieve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

This Aggression Will Not Stand

P-G columnist Barbara Cloud sounds off on Canada geese, and the considerable inconveniences they cause. She writes:

I'm not sure there is an answer, beyond destroying unhatched eggs, which is now being done.


Since the age of big pointy sticks, humankind has always found ways to dominate the animal kingdom. The Pittsburgh Steelers are now using recorded goose "alarms" to manage their affairs on the North Shore (WTAE).

Well-regulated hunting remains an option. We are omnivores; waterfowl ought to be a bit wary of us.

However, violating the sanctity of the nest -- overpowering a protective mother and destroying her unborn offspring -- is surely the cruelest and most invasive thing we could possibly do. It can not be good for the geese, or for their attitudes toward men.

The reason we suddenly have all these geese is because our city and our rivers are finally clean. Life has begun to return. Let's not jinx it.

Wednesday News and Notes

Comet senior political analyst Morton Reichbaum does not expect the Tiger Woods / Oakmont Country Club story to generate any kind of measurable, near-term political impact.

However, it does conform to what he describes as recent trends.

"The bloom is really off this ... this Ravenstahl." he says. "People are starting to wonder."


Signs of life from the City Planning Commission, which voted to reject UPMC signage on the U.S. Steel Tower. Calling the proposed sign "overkill," the ruling was a defeat for Board Chair Wrenna Watson. (P-G, Ann Belser; Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Animal Rescue League is back at the bargaining table; keen to train DPW workers in how to handle euthanisations. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Jim Rohr flags the region for high business taxes, government fragmentation, poor airline service, and an unskilled workforce. He chairs the Alllegheny Conference, and he did not return any public money. (P-G, Dan Fitzpatrick)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tuesday Data Cloud

The Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a statewide smoking ban. (P-G, Tom Barnes)

Mr. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) has been fighting for smoke-free workplaces for 10 years. Getting a full Senate vote on the issue is the most progress he has made so far. "I am concerned about broad amendments that would basically gut the bill," he said. "There are three important lobbying groups [against the bill] -- the tobacco industry, casinos and bars."


Locally, the casino scene is a little choppy. (P-G, Team Effort)

Members of the city-county Gaming Task Force yesterday agreed to improve communication between subcommittees by becoming more familiar with who is doing what and exchanging, via e-mail, the minutes of their meetings.

Across the Commonwealth, people are getting psyched about Texas Hold'em. (P-G, Team Effort)

Now that Wheeling, W.Va., has legalized table games, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese is forging ahead with a bill to legalize blackjack, poker and roulette in the Keystone State.

DeWeese also wants to switch out your property taxes in favor of sales taxes. Nice guy.


The Mon-Fayette Expressway: Dead? Hooray?? (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

Getting a private company to build the rest of the 100-mile toll highway between Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va., and Pittsburgh appeared to be the project's last hope.

The Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce and Regional Business Alliance is/are still thinking. We see this one ending like a David Chase series.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Interview: Bill Peduto

The councilman was chatting with an acquaintance just prior to our interview -- someone he had not seen apparently in months.

Peduto said things are fine now, but back then?

"Honestly? I was miserable. I was snapping at people, I was ..." He sort of shook it off.

Sitting down, he tells us how much he is looking forward to this summer, which he has mockingly proclaimed the "Summer of Bill."

He signed up for two hockey teams. He plans to do a lot of hiking, and some rock-climbing.

He is a big fan of Al Gore, whom he hopes will make a presidential bid. He may get pretty involved if that happens.

Meanwhile, the phones have been ringing off the hook about cat-licensing legislation, and he's steeping himself in the data. And crafting a few zingers for the council floor.

"Sorry, Mr. Motznik, but I got cat class. And I got cat style."


It is springtime for reform at the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, so we broached the subject of what kinds of reform he would recommend.

"Open primaries: there is no endorsement process."

The other "reforms" they are discussing, he says, are "greater punitive damages. Not reform, just more ... Soviet-era ... big brother control."

Party endorsements are "one of the main cogs" in the machine, he insists -- a machine that dates back to the 1880s, that converts votes into jobs, and then back into votes.

That may have been necessary in a different era, but Peduto contends that fewer and fewer parts of the country operate like that. He says it discourages independent voices -- voices that really belong in the Democratic tent.

What would be the role of a committee person in a post-endorsement world?

"Inform the voters. Work to help the candidates in the general election."

What does he think about simply raising the endorsement threshold, to maybe a 2/3 majority?

"It's accepting half-measures."

What does he think about being so frequently at odds with the party leadership?

"They have to remember that the committee does not equal the Democratic Party." He then gave a brief history of his own efforts to build the local Democratic party, often with a weather eye on presidential politics, considering Pennsylvania's importance as a swing state.

Back in the early 90's, in his first month in office, Peduto was leading something called the Young Bloods -- the first of many successive campaigns to reach out to new constituencies, getting them voting and involved, and getting many dozens elected to the ACDC.

His campaigns have seen a steady stream of volunteers becoming staffers, and then staffers becoming consultants -- or else establishing themselves at places like the League of Young Voters, and beyond.

Nationwide organizations like Democracy for America, MoveOn, and the National Hip-Hop Conference all help to inspire new initiatives on the local political landscape, and Bill Peduto has frequently played a supporting role.

"There used to be just the 14th Ward, and the Gertrude Stein club. And this was only ten years ago!"

He credits a 1999 project with Pat Clark called Ground Zero for establishing the framework behind a lot of the progressive percolation we see today.

He also credits the Internet, which he does not claim to have invented, but does use to political advantage. Instead of a think-tank ("I don't know where my mind was at!"), he now speaks of a "web-based policy action committee."

He recently collaborated with Justine Ezarik, a web/graphic designer and "lifecaster," who broadcasts her life as an Internet channel. They took a Just Ducky Tour of downtown Pittsburgh, streaming the whole thing live, in what might have been the unveiling of a new web-based initiative.

He is keen to emphasize that his party-building approach, at every step, has been non-confrontational -- always inclusive. Yet it has been indisputably effective. "No one has done more for this party," he contends.

Dramatic pause. "And a lot of them know that."


"The core issue comes from economics" he begins, when asked about saving our failing neighborhoods. "Does your solution affect the root, or cut it off at the stem?"

"Or does it score a quick headline?"

The answers can be as simple as providing an opportunity for a G.E.D., he says, but also include having good community development plans. Not just for casinos, he points out, and not just for sports teams, but for universities and hospitals as well.

UPMC is doubling the size of its cancer center, for example -- which he says is "wonderful" -- but we lack initiative at City Planning to require community benefits agreements, and workforce development training. Similarly, we lack such requirements when we award TIFFs.

"We lack a lot of things," he sighs.

Back to the neighborhoods, he acknowledges that violence is also "spread by drugs: crack, cocaine, and heroin."

He was very proud of Parole Patrol, a pilot-program he got to lead with CDC Bloomfield under Mayor Tom Murphy. It emphasized police officers patrolling right alongside probation officers.

He said "it helps the police know who they are looking for," helps them "police smarter" and "eliminate profiling."

He also spoke of tapping into faith-based institutions and neighborhood organizations. He cited the Afro-American Music Institute, and its music-training programs, as one example. He mentioned two different basketball programs.

"What about hockey?" we asked.

He took no pause. "Hockey in the Hood."

Yes, but how does he contend with the yawning cultural chasm? The war in the streets? The icy distrust between the black citizens of these neighborhoods and law enforcement? How can these well-intentioned little programs possibly thrive?

He shot us a look that we cannot describe -- except to swear it was the exact the same look we got from Ricky Burgess, when asked the same kind of questions during the race for District 9.

Peduto simply rehashed his examples: basic education assistance, job training, community benefits tied to new developments, improved policing, and the fostering of new community organizations.

He cites East Liberty as a partial success story. We ourselves mention the continuing success of the Shadow Lounge, for example, as an encouraging sign.

"The Shadow Lounge? Ask Justin who stood up for him back when the police were trying to shut him down."


Getting back to politics briefly, we mention Mark DeSantis. "No, no, no. I'm not getting involved."

Peduto had told us earlier "it would be hypocritical" for him to come out and support Ravenstahl, considering his recent opposition. Yet that was not what we had in mind.

We asked if it wouldn't break his heart, if he had to watch some of his strongest supporters, his web-based policy-action committee and his progressive reform network, come out in favor of a Republican for mayor.

He had to think about that for a few beats.

"Would it break my heart?" he asked. "No. Not in a non-presidential year."

Monday Excitement

Oh no, he didn't! (P-G, Rich Lord)

Good Downtown news: Smithfield News to double in size, offer groceries (P-G, Mark Belko)

Good North Side news: Garden Theater to host legitimate theater starting July 1 (Trib, Bonnie Pfister). Also:

Other development under way in the North Side includes a branch of the Carnegie Library on Federal Avenue; a branch near the Children's Museum closed in April 2006 after being struck by lightning. Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said a fall groundbreaking is planned.

At its meeting Thursday, the URA board is to consider the final design and financing of Federal Hill, a 60-unit mixed income housing development nearby.

This is all going to cause a traffic nightmare!!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Previously on The Pittsburgh Comet...

"We absolutely have to recognize there is a big cost to this," said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline.

The former real estate broker and county councilman said the assessment problems across the state have been building so long, Wettick's ruling might have been necessary to fix them.

"It's such a controversial issue, people just ignored it and hoped it would go away. Judge Wettick is making the issue move."

(Trib, Mike Wereschagin)


The city ethics panel intends "to better define what political activities are banned, and educate workers on what they can and can't do" in the words of the P-G.


The Busman reports on the other shoe dropping in the case of the People vs. Cyril Wecht: Mary Beth Buchanan goes medieval on Wecht's attorneys.


The AMA, the AAP, and the APA agree: the kids of same-sex couples seem to do just fine. (P-G, Mackenzie Carpeneter)

For the most part, the organizations are relying on a relatively small but conclusive body of research -- approximately 67 studies -- looking at children of gay parents and compiled by the American Psychological Association. In study after study, children in same-sex parent families turned out the same, for better or for worse, as children in heterosexual families.