Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday: NewsTracker 2750

Buon Giorno upsets its neighbors (P-G, Mark Belko)

But Mr. Gargani said he has no plans to build a stairway from the courtyard. He pointed out that he has all required city approvals, including that of the Historic Review Commission, for the deck.

If the deck really does cut in front of other businesses and encroach upon neighbors' mojo -- then that is something. Possibly a miss by the old Planning commission.

"The concept of a deck and people being able to interface with Market Square from two levels, I think, is a neat idea," he said. "I think it will really activate that corner, absolutely."

Needless to say, that is the voice of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, a major underwriter of the improvements. C'est la vie.

The LED story goes stealthy
(P-G, Team Effort)

Pittsburgh City Council has canceled a closed-door meeting with Solicitor George Specter on a resolution that would direct Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to put a six-month moratorium on the processing of sign applications.

The Comet is guessing -- guessing -- that council keen to avoid contributing toward any possible broaches of conduct involving conflicts of interest attorney-client privilege.

Curiouser: the P-G Edit Board whips out its editorial approval already.

Somewhat Related: Pierre 4 Pittsburgh.

Area mayor to marry some dudes (P-G, Anya Sostek)

The ceremony, which has no legal or religious significance, will take about three minutes to perform, but has been generating controversy for more than a month.

Mayor Welch is saying, "Bring it On." Problem is, will this bring a sense of urgency to the wily purveyors of the state marriage amendment?

The Obama has landed. The Obama has landed. (Trib, Team Effort)

Obama will travel to Hempfield after an 11 a.m. campaign event at Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. Doors open at 9 a.m.

They're probably lining up right now. How will he possibly live up to his advance hype?

Special Note:

Ed Rendell was on Charlie Rose last night. We will not embed it to the blog nor link to it, because frankly, he's too good.

One thing among many he wanted to impress upon us was his version of the expectations game. A 20-point win for Hillary, he said, would be colossal, inconceivable, of historic proportions, fuhgetaboutit. Hillary will be seen to have dealt a resounding blow if she wins by 10 points.

Ten points. That is 45-55. Adjusting for the malarkey factor from our Governor, whom we are guessing in this would want to get away with the biggest, boldest possible bite, the Comet is presenting a rational spread of 16 points.

42/58. That's not the game, that's gospel.

In other words, if Clinton gets up into the 60's, then Obama is in some actual, legitimate trouble -- but if Obama claws his way above 45 (bearing in mind the Pennsylvania terrain), then Hillary's situation in the whole race becomes completely untenable.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday: Bingo Bango Bongo

1. Northside United would like you all to be aware of a major meeting tonight at 6 PM at Northside Common Ministries, 1600 Brighton Road.

2. Excellent column by the P-G's Brian O'Neill on the energy we put into remedying "the grand mistakes of the past", and a plea to restore the street grid ... in Allegheny Center. Killin' me!

3. Absolutely exquisite article by the C-P's Chris Young, representing not only a great opportunity to catch up, but to wake up and smell Paul Coffey. (See, Mark Belko, you're not the only one who can lead with hockey puns!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Samantha Power: The Monster Lady

Most of us know Samantha Power as the Barack Obama staffer who called Hillary Clinton a "monster," then asked that the remark be considered off-record.

It was not.

Samantha Power was Obama's chief foreign policy advisor, or at least one among several, depending who you talk to.

Power was a frequent guest on the Charlie Rose program,which is how we got to know her as the Genocide Lady, for her writing and reportage on the global genocide beat.

Here is Power most recently on 02/21/2008:

Here is Power on 09/19/2002 (There's that year again...):

Elsewhere on YouTube is footage of Ms. Power, apparently stopped on the street by a reporter, apologizing profusely for her comments about Sen. Clinton. She describes herself as a "political rookie" who is very sorry.

We really enjoyed a blog post by Time Magazine's Joe Klein on Time's blog, Swampland.

Now, here is the meat of the post. Here is Samantha Power in earlier, happier times, rooting and roaring for Barack Hussein Obama at a rally on Feb. 2nd 2008:

She gets better as she goes. By the end, she is making the strongest case for Barack Obama, and one that should strike fear into the hearts of neoconservative swine everywhere -- a working legislative majority.

New Pens Arena Design

This image was sent to us by an anonymous jokester who attended the latest presentation of the new Penguins arena, apparently along with us.

Click to enlarge:
The Comet has been hesitant to criticize the actual, physical design of the building, preferring to focus on the design of the street grid, and other issues of community involvement.

Our "city watcher" sums his / her indictment of the design up in one word: an embarrassment. At least for an urban design. By comparison, he / she does have some kind things to say about the new Columbus arena.

For now, to read about the latest breaking updates in the arena design, see this P-G Mark Belko joint. Quick thoughts: Was height ever an issue?

New Concerns About LED Appeal (Update x3)

A memo from mayoral chief of staff Yarone Zober fell off the back of a truck and bounced into our inbox.


The concern arises due to the nature and timing of the filing by these four members. On the afternoon of March 12 after the closing of the zoning counter and locking of the office doors, which are open to the general public only until 3:00, four Council members and their legal counsel arrived at the zoning offices at 4:15, knocking on the locked doors to file their appeal after the official close of business. Staff, recognizing the significant (and unusual) occurrence of Council members seeking to file late, reopened the office and the counter to register the appeal.

There are concerns that Council, whether intentionally or not, may have used undue influence and a possible abuse of power to enter into a legal proceeding by filing an appeal after the close of business, possibly in violation of the law. These concerns are being reviewed to examine the potential legal issues presented by the situation, the significance of the late filing, and issues related to the use of Councilmanic authority to file legal documents that members of the general public would not have had the same opportunity to file after the close of business. In general, in matters of law the processes in place for the general public do not allow for the late filing of documents in legal proceedings nor the use of power or authority to change those filing deadlines.

While abuse of power and undue influence issues need to be examined further, those matters are not what drive me to write this email today. Rather, we, the City, are concerned about the process followed...


It has been suggested to us that this line of argument belies a desire not to have to argue the case on its merits.

The Comet is a little more generous towards this. If we ever found ourselves arguing before a quasi-judicial body, we also would use any and all legal arguments that might be our disposal.

UPDATED: Via the P-G's Rich Lord....

Mr. Shields called Mr. Zober's communication "a very disingenuous attempt to disallow the representatives of the people access to their legal options." He said City Planning Director Noor Ismail allowed the 4:15 p.m. filing. "What are they afraid of?" he asked of the administration.

In addition, City Solicitor George Specter requested a closed-door meeting with council to discuss something having to do with the matter that for now falls under the category of "threatened litigation."

The Comet's assumption for now is that Lamar Advertising warned of a lawsuit against the city if its permit application gets reversed at the Zoning Board of Adjustment or the Court of Common Pleas. Specter would then be trying to impress upon council members that their appeal may harm the city.

In this scenario, the plaintiffs on council would have to make a judgment call as to whether or not Lamar's potential lawsuit has merit, and if so, the severity of the consequences in the case of a loss -- which would be another good thing to take to a Council Solicitor. As we know, many on council currently hold the opinions of Cat Specter in somewhat higher regard than those of her father George.

UPDATE x2: Somebody needs to photoshop a sassy beret on George.

UPDATE x3: To the extent that we are having fun at the expense of Mr. Specter (by all accounts an excellent legal mind and a classy guy) we are only doing so because of issues involving the organizational chart...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We All Knew It Would Come to This

Pittsburgh Councilman Jim Motznik introduced legislation today to slash council's staffing and its practice of tapping leftover funds from prior years and transfer $310,000 from its accounts to a public uses. A colleague said it reflects a threat made by the mayor last week. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The mayor either really wants to protect what he views as encroachments by council upon his administrative domain, or he is really upset that council took away his friends' free vehicles, fuel perks, auto maintenance and auto insurance.

Or both. Let's be fair.

The mayor said he simply challenged Kraus to curtail council's spending under the provisions of Pittsburgh's five-year financial recovery plan created under state Act 47 -- the same provisions Kraus and other council members used to justify reducing the number of take-home cars from 61 to 29. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

There is some question as to whether or not the reduction of each council member's staff budget from $82,000 to $61,000 annually represents the current requirements of the Act 47 oversight boards.

If state overseers had previously waived these reductions during negotiations, the council could surely vote to resist these cuts as political retribution. They already paid their dues today for having enacted the take-home vehicle legislation, in the form of having their own mileage reimbursements stripped.

If Ravenstahl however has them on the facts, it would be hard for council to justify a double-standard when it comes to obedience to Act 47. This would mean council staffs would be slashed by 25% -- resulting possibly in some layoffs, and almost certainly some veteran staffers moving on to greener pastures.

However, such a move by Ravenstahl would involve "reopening" the current budget. Once the budget is opened, it is opened. Once opened, that enables this new council to curtail ballooning spending in the Mayor's own office, as well as the Finance department and others, that previous councils had not the independence to resist.

"The reality is if you're going to live by the sword, you're probably going to have to deal with both sides of the sword," Motznik said.

What we are dealing with is more like the 12 edges one encounters on a set of tri-tipped sai daggers.

Additionally, at today's meeting Councilman Ricky Burgess stated that the Administration lacks the "masculinity" to make changes to the take-home vehicle policy, and stated that Councilman Jim Motznik is the Ravenstahl Administration's "hammer." (Burgh Report)

The temptation is to bemoan the self-destructive seeming childishness of this on all sides -- but for the time being, the Comet is absolutely in favor of the melee.

City government has been erring on the side of unitary command and profligate spending for far too long. If it will take some real-life, messy lab work in order to figure out where the real zones of control and balances of power are, then that is what it will take.

It is far better than the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach, which is not why anybody was elected to anything.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dave Fawcett: Changing Teams

Our mystery politician referred to in the last post is Dave Fawcett, former Republican at-large member of County Council. Described as a moderate Republican, or even a liberal Republican, but certainly a lifelong Republican, Fawcett switched registrations to Democrat an hour ago.

At a small press conference at the Allegheny County Dept. of Elections, Fawcett said that we have three great candidates for president to choose from. However,

"In my mind there's only one who's truly non-divisive, who can bring unity, and who can -- who is proving themselves to be a true statesman, and that's Barack Obama."

Without mentioning any specific instances during the campaign (though he was given the opportunity), he repeated several times his statement about being non-divisive, and about unifying the country.

When asked rather aggressively and repeatedly by one reporter how he can explain his support for someone with ties to the Rev. Wright who has been photographed with Louis Farrakhan, Fawcett could only laugh it off. "I'm not voting for the Rev. Wright, I'm voting for Barack Obama." He went on to say that he found Obama's speech addressing the whole subject very impressive.

In answers to other questions, Fawcett confirms that he is now a Democrat for life, and that he is not running any election interference on behalf of Rush Limbaugh or other Republicans. "Nobody who knows me would think that of me," he said.

Monday: Use the Schwartz!!

Comet sources report that a "prominent former elected official" will change his or her party registration from Republican to Democrat at 2:30 this afternoon, and will make brief remarks endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for President.

QUICK NOTE: Matt H, Char, et al: Little help on the whole Obama thing? We got Republican operatives coming at us from one side, and Run Baby Run to contend with on the other. Thx.


Post-Gazette in Favor of Saving Money (P-G, Edit Board)

Under the proposal that won tentative approval Wednesday by a 4-2 vote, the mayor would retain the authority to decide who gets these 29 cars. This is a fair compromise. The rest of council should see the prudence of this proposal and get on board.


Historic Preservation Annoys Developers (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

In three recent cases, neighborhood groups with an affinity for historic preservation relied on protections bestowed by Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission to alter and sometimes prevent developments they don't like, said Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

City Planning commission member and Walnut Capitalist Todd Riedbord is fond of putting it even more succinctly: "We don't like when historic preservation comes in at the last minute."

To which we can only respond, #1) Who's 'we'? and #2) Unfortunately, it is difficult to be fully aware of what one has, until it is about to be lost.

"Historic preservation almost never makes sense at the moment that somebody's standing in front of a bulldozer," [Rob] Stephany said. "But almost always, over the long haul, it has huge economic value," he said, citing preservation efforts in Highland Park and in the South Side.

We still haven't gotten our heads around this cat.

Lou Lamanna, president of Bentley Commercial, has said he paid $266,600 for the bank building, also known as the former ARC House, at a sheriff's sale last year with preliminary plans to demolish it and build a $5 million retail development. He declined to be interviewed.

This is on East Ohio St., near the Veteran's Bridge. Rumor has it he wants to put up a McDonalds on the property.


Allegheny County May Privatize Parks (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Oglebay serves as a model for privatizing park services -- the buzz-words phrase is "public-private partnerships" -- for Allegheny County, which formed its own nonprofit in September to pay for projects and maintenance on 12,014 acres in nine parks.


"It was a system where they utilize their assets to raise revenues instead of just tax dollars," Onorato said. "My goal is a broad goal. And, that is to dust off that report written six, seven years ago, showing deferred maintenance at our parks. ... The goal, simply, is to take that report and start raising private money."


"Systems across the country are not going to be able to survive on the property tax roll," said Joseph Wynns, parks director in Indianapolis. "Park systems are going to have to go to that (public-private) model."

No matter where we come down on this, it's another data point along the story arc that Allegheny County may be straight-up broke or worse.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Clinton vs. Obama on Iraq: When It Counted.

Sen. Hillary Clinton on October 10, 2002, stating her intentions to vote for the Iraq War Resolution.

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al-Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence in his involvement in the terrible events of September the 11th, 2001."

"Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first, and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a U.N. resolution, and will seek to avoid war if at all possible.

"Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely -- and therefore war less likely -- and because a good faith effort by the United States even if it fails will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded after careful and serious consideration that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation."

"I come to this decision from the perspective of a Senator from New York, who have seen all too closely the consequences of last year's terrible attacks on our nation. In balancing the risks of action versus inaction, I think New Yorkers who have gone through the fires of hell may be more attuned the risks of not acting.

"I know that I am."


Eight days previously, Illinois state senator and aspiring United States senatorial candidate Barack Obama gave a speech as well.

"Now let me be clear. I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man, a ruthless man, a man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent or direct threat to the United States, and in concert with the international community he can be contained -- until in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

"I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

"You want to fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda..."


Now, for a third opinion on the Iraq War Resolution from that time by a Democratic senator, here is Sen. Robert Byrd.

"I think the American people want somebody who stands for something. They are tired of this wishy washy going along, and saying 'We've got to get it over' and 'We've got to put it behind us'. We're not going to put this thing behind us. The President has chosen to make this the battlefield. Iraq. He has chosen to make that the battlefield. His administration has chosen to do that. His chief political advisor Karl Rove advised the Republican members of the national committee in January to do that."

"Mr. President, this is plain and simple a blank check given to the President of the United States. I won't touch it."