Friday, December 19, 2008

The Names Change, the Band Stays the Same

Michael T. Livingstone, 35, of Mt. Washington is accused of defrauding the city of $17,775 by conspiring with five others to rig the auctions at the city tow pound, police said. (Trib, Boren & Kerlik)

Well, that's unfortunate.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Tom Flaherty, a former longtime city controller, said he hired Livingstone, in part because he knows Livingstone's father, Donald "Red" Livingstone, a Democratic committeeman in the city's 19th Ward, which covers Mt. Washington.

The Democratic committee is what is frequently referred to as "the machine" (though the Comet has an even broader working definition of Pittsburgh's political machine that we will discuss in the coming year).

Committee members vote to "endorse" candidates for public office. An endorsement from the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) or "the machine" brings with it a considerable amount of party money and human capital well in advance of what the rest of us call "Election Day".

A common objection launched at the machine is that its members can pressure elected officials to grant special favors in exchange for continued political support -- up to and including preferred treatment in city hiring, for themselves and for friends and relatives.

If true, this would lead to even more machine influence in the functioning of government, as well as to greater insularity and lessened of diversity in the workforce -- and eventually to some employees feeling specially entitled, protected or emboldened while on the job.

But that's a matter of debate. Some on the Democratic committee are known to loudly eschew such political hustling, and its influence may be greatly exaggerated as folklore. More to the point, there's no way of telling whether the machine was especially responsible for the hiring and harboring of this scoundrel at the Controller's office, who wound up bilking taxpayers out of tens of thousands of dollars in a car-auction scheme.

Or is there?

"I was really shocked when I heard about this," Flaherty said. "But it's just an allegation. I knew his father, and I knew Mike (Livingstone). Red was always involved in politics, and he was active in Irish fraternal groups."

It sounds like then-Controller Flaherty is willing to vouch for the initial decision to hire him. Where have we heard that name Flaherty again?

But if Democrats continue to have a party chairman in the mold of Mr. Flaherty, their luck can't be counted on to hold. Mr. Flaherty, 54, is an old pol beyond his years, one of the Dino-Dems we have railed against for years. Among that crowd, he is Hackosaurus Rex.

He harkens back to the era of the smoked-filled room, the political favor and government as employment agency for friends and relatives. As party chairman, true to form, he fought row-office consolidation, which has always threatened to bring the gravy train to a stop. (P-G Edit Board, 2005)

Party Chairman is as high as it gets in the committee. Not to kick a man while he's down (and we are glad it sounds like he's okay), but there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that the machine and its ways have suffered a black eye with this arrest.

Whoa. "Hackosaurus Rex." The P-G editorial board was like a blog back then!


  1. One thing about the Democratic Committee is that it seems to have influence over if not control, in the primaries, over the same voters that push the "D" button in the general. Which is to say the Committee endorsement appears to very often be an assurance of victory in the primary. Which is why I would love for Bob Mayo and a camera crew to be locked in a cage with Jim Burn (or Burns or whatever his name is). Just ask the question, how is Luke Ravenstahl the best choice for Mayor?

  2. It is a curious coincidence that after quite a long time without being in the public eye, Tom Flaherty's name hits the news on one day with two stories.

  3. There was really no reason for Tom Flaherty to make any mention about the Committee. Not sure why he exactly said that. It only made himself look bad.

  4. What is the Committee, like Fight Club?

    What's the first rule of the Committee? "Don't talk about the Committee."

    What's the second rule of the Committee? "Don't talk about the Committee!"

  5. What's really a coincidence is that his honor was hit by a car purchased at a city auction only days before.

  6. Or, it would be a coincidence if I hadn't just made it up.

    P.S. MH is not Matt H. Sorry for any confusion.