Saturday, January 3, 2009

McCullough Alleges Conspiracy

The county has the money to do any critical road and bridge maintenance without cutting other areas of the budget, [County Councilman Charles] McCullough [R-Upper St. Clair] said. He accused the Democrats, including Onorato and council's majority, of massaging budget numbers in order to hoard cash and give a property tax cut during the 2010 election year, when some say Onorato might run for governor.

"All of their numbers are folly," McCullough said. "Everybody's been cutting deals because they think Dan is going to be the man. Everybody wants a part of that, and they're forgetting about the people."

Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto and Councilman Jim Burn, chair of the county's Democratic Party, rebutted McCullough's comments. (Trib, Tim Puko)

Anyone heard this one before? It sounds like a thing capable of happening in this universe.

Meanwhile, county Democrats are warning that a property tax hike may now be necessary to replace the funds that had been inappropriately shifted from the transit taxes.

If it comes to that, city Democrats really ought to demand on behalf of their constituents -- particularly those living in struggling neighborhoods -- that any millage hike go hand-in-hand with property reassessments. If taxes must rise, why must they rise even as they grow ever more unfair with each passing year?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thursday: In With The New

"Let's say you want to oppress a people," Mark DeSantis hypothesized to me once. Sounded like a fun game.

"The first thing you'd want to do is lower everyone's expectations of what is possible."

"I think we've made some significant advances," said Operations Director Art Victor. "The city's cleaner. I think we've gotten more efficient."
(P-G, Rich Lord)

Well. Cleanliness is next to godliness, right?

It would be genuinely interesting to see data on whether or not Pittsburgh city government has gotten more efficient. Too bad there's not some kind of overarching director of all city operations whose job it is to be in command of those very facts, instead of relying on intuition. Oh wait.

"All in all, I'm relatively happy," said Public Safety Director Michael Huss. "The number of homicides concerns me, obviously."

The deadliest year in 15 years, and our Public Safety Director is relatively happy? I hope for Pittsburgh's sake that means he usually suffers from clinical depression.

I know Mike Huss is a professional guy and that everyone respects him, but this is no occasion for somebody in his position to be blowing rose-scented smoke.


The very best case for Pittsburgh 250, I think, is that it was a giant sleight-of-hand: While the region was off enjoying fireworks shows, movers-and-shakers were working behind the scenes, where few of us could see what's really going on, to shore up the economy. No one really wants to see the sausage being made, so we got to watch the cotton candy machine instead. So where's the beef? And why the secrecy?

I know the answer to the second question. Pittsburgh's leaders don't like the sunshine. (And you thought that our cloudy days were a product of nature!) I think that I know the answer to the first one. Pittsburgh is still on a sugar high, with little protein in sight. (Pittsblog 2.0)


Pittsburgh's former development chief has refused to cooperate with an audit that could shed light on how a politically connected firm won a $425,000 city contract. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)


But Lamb said Ford refused to help because his "separation agreement" with the URA prohibits him from making "disparaging or negative comments" about the city or the authority.

Providing facts to a city office does not constitute making "disparaging or negative comments". I can appreciate how certain facts might seem inherently disparaging or negative, but as long as one doesn't spruce up one's account with, "all of which constituted a culture of corruption," I don't see what the problem is.

Lamb this week told [Ford's attorney Lawrence] Fisher that city and URA officials cleared Ford to cooperate with Lamb's audits, but Fisher said he hasn't seen that agreement. He plans to talk to Lamb again Jan. 12.

Lamb wants to give Ford one more chance to talk. "I don't want to create an adversarial situation," he said.

They're stalling so the band can get back together one more time and get their stories straight.

After eight months of paid vacation plus another six months in gratuitous bonus severance, Pittsburgh doesn't owe anybody further courtesies. Out with it already.

UPDATE: Ruminating on the timing of that and this.

Welcome to 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

District 2 Race: Now, Interesting!

We're down to what appear to be the Final Four candidates in the special election on Feb. 3rd. Let us review:

Chris Metz: Republican nominee. No website it seems, so here is an article. I've got no truck whatsoever with Republicans running for city offices, but at age 24, with no website and the election right around the corner, we may as well move on for the moment.

Brendan Schubert: Real-life Democrat now running on the Brendan Schubert for Council ticket. He is a zoning administrative officer in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Department of City Planning who was hired under Pat Ford, so there's that. At age 25, he was rumored at one time to have been Ravenstahl's personal choice for the seat, though that implication fell away well before the endorsement.

His Facebook politician page describes his political views as "moderate" and says his interests are "Moving Pittsburgh City Council District 2 status forward and bringing people together."

Theresa Smith: Democratic nominee, endorsed by the Committee, so there's that. She had a prominent role on outgoing incumbent Dan Deasy's election campaigns. Her website has no Issues material per se, but the homepage says she intends "to develop programs to unite communities, maintain a strong police presence and reduce neighborhood blight."

Smith's bio shows her to be the president of two community councils and to be a coordinator or committee member for many others, including Weed & Seed and Moms & Cops. She also created the South West Enhancing Environment Program (SWEEP) and the South West Eco-Evolution Team (SWEET).

Georgia Blotzer: Real-life Democrat now running as an Independent. A special ed teacher and activist in the special ed movement, a member of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation, and a Democratic committee person, her website has an Issues section that fleshes out her thoughts on Safe Streets, Viable Housing, Responsible Development and Campaign Finance Reform.

Blotzer links to a letter she had published recently in the Post-Gazette:

Confidence Breaker

As a taxpayer and a candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, District 2, I am very concerned about the way business is done in our city, as explained by Rich Lord in his Dec. 7 article ("Political Contributors Both Give and Receive").

Mr. Lord explained that dozens of businesses that make large contributions to campaigns of city politicians receive large contracts in return. The most troublesome example was the $10.5 million aid package for the Bakery Square Project awarded to developer Walnut Capital Management, whose executives gave $69,606 to city political campaigns between 2005 and 2007. That is an excellent return on a modest investment. But what is the real cost of allowing a small number of well-off individuals and corporations to, in some cases, fully fund candidates for public office?

Barry Kauffman, director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, states that this practice undermines public confidence. I believe also that large financial contributions to local races create the perception that influence can be bought and favors will be granted to the highest bidder.

As a candidate for City Council, I will work to eliminate this perception by adopting the limits imposed on candidates seeking federal offices, specifically the $2,300 cap on individual contributions and a $5,000 cap on political action committee contributions.

Mount Washington

Did she just kick off her campaign by calling out Walnut Capital? Looks like we have a favorite.

Her website also contains tabs to contact, volunteer and donate, just in case you feel like we do.

Tuesday: Peshat, Remez, Derash and Sod

Photo: The City Law Dept. researches the correct interpretation of Home Rule Charter § 321: Submission of Legislation to Mayor and Veto Power. (P-G, Bill Wade)

We tried to get Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum engaged on the subject of Vetogate, but he wasn't interested.

"You know who I'm starting to get tired of?" he offered instead. "That Dan Onorato." It was for the same reasons taken up by PghIsACity.

"First he says the drink tax money is for transit, and now all of a sudden he's changed it to something else," was Mort's take.

Now out of nowhere there's this:

Where are you on this one Mr. Onorato? Where is your leadership? You want to be our next Governor but you can't even protect county residents from dirty restaurants on McKnight Road in the North Hills. Why haven;t you made a public statement on this? What are you hiding from? (Pgh Hoagie)

Me? I'm still sore about Goose Auschwitz, but no one cares about me. My point is, he doesn't seem to have his "backyard" locked up, as it were, which makes life challenging for a candidate from Western Pennsylvania. It might be time for the media to provide a real think-piece about this Wagner fella who's been out of town on business.

We like options.


Council President Doug Shields said council should vote on any agreement, and that it's appropriate for the ICA to oversee the fund.

Mr. Lamb said the draft agreement wouldn't meet the city's goal of using the $45.3 million now to take later-year debt off the books.

"The whole point was to lower our debt -- and truly lower our debt -- and this doesn't do it," he said, echoing the opinion of the city's hired accountants, Maher Duessel. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Sounds like this one has matured past the Quixotic Patrick Dowd Jag stage.

MORE: The Slag Heap flags the ICA for inconsistencies.


Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents has caught a cybercold (cured!), but they were on to another very interesting story. From an e-mail Sue circulated:

Pressure is mounting from the right wing on local “conservative” County Council districts (probably the AFA of PA and their ilk with the usual fear mongering) to withdraw sponsorship of the legislation [to extend anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation]. Please pay attention to this story. More will unfold this week.

Turns out the American Family Association did stick their beaks in, and got three council members to withdraw their support. For you Facebookies out there, a group has begun Councilman Michael Finnerty Needs to Hear from you on Gay Rights.

Might as well do this one up. The last one (remember Blog for Equality Day?) went real nice.


UPDATE: All kinds of interesting: Trib, P-G.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Only not quite, but maybe, sort of, he tried to, it's close, we'll see.

This is not the whole story.

FINAL UPDATE: Having counted the votes, the Council elected to acknowledge the vetoes and override the controversial ones (attorney, video software) 7-1 with Motznik in dissent. Burgess moved to sustain the Mayor's veto of his own 5-year plan legislation for to take it back to the drawing board.

CONFIRMED: Sources say attempted vetoes were "not timely", by a period of either two minutes or one full day, depending.

UPDATE: This is most of it. x2: This also.

THOUGHT: Council is "politicizing" this? It's a veto, narrowly targeted against stuff Council needs to better do its job. And it's being justified by the unit of measurement "police officers"? That's politics.

Monday: Tip Sheet [w/ Correction]

This is the best article we've read about Pittsburgh politics in some time, though technically it has nothing whatsoever to do with Pittsburgh politics.

We'll write a rambling post on it at some point, but meanwhile I'm curious what it leads other people to think.


The "mostly administrative" "emergency" meeting of the ICA on the topic of the $45.3 million revocable fund somehow garnered more media coverage than the entire city budget process -- leading the evening news on at least one station -- despite the fact that it was called with almost no notice. We are left to assume that somebody genuinely important grew alarmed / concerned / irritated enough for some reason to initiate a big show of action.

Even still, according to Councilman Patrick Dowd, who attended the meeting, no further insight was offered on how our $45.3 million will turn into $51 million, where it is going to be deposited, under what terms, whether that will be a government account, and if there will be any fees applied.

The sole fact that emerged is, according to ICA executive director Henry Sciortino, that "the ICA will have control over these matters."


Proposed ethics legislation that has been crafted by an intra-governmental working group and was forwarded past the Ethics Hearing Board on November 14th does not yet appear to have been introduced* in City Council. The new rules are distinctly unlikely to receive any form of public airing until after the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 18th.

* CORRECTION: The legislation was in fact introduced on 12/9 and held for public hearing and post-agenda on 12/17, though it was not significantly discussed and these meetings have yet to be scheduled. The Comet regrets the error, and has learned to search for the word "conduct" in lieu of "ethics" when it comes to amending the city's Code of Conduct.


Tomorrow, Mr. Peduto plans to introduce legislation to spend $9,000 to study turning a freight line that runs from Hazelwood through Oakland to Lawrenceville into an artery for people. The study would lead to a proposal, submitted to U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-forest Hills, in the spring, for federal funding for the project. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Why not just try giving the people what they've been clamoring for, huh? Sounds intriguing. Our first question: did Rich simply forget to mention that the line can be made to continue into Downtown, or is that not possible via this channel?

After all, Downtown is turning into a hotbed of activity, according to a couple of Downtown real estate agents. (UPDATE: CB is more credulous on this point than me.)


In Democrat-saturated Pittsburgh, government functions much as it did in the old Soviet Union. Just about everybody is members of one big happy party. That may explain why there's been little public outcry, even on City Council, about large political contributions that go to the mayor or other candidates from donors who have or get lucrative city contracts. (A Fine Point, Tom Waseleski)

You know what struck us most about the big article that kicked off this round of fist-shaking? Sure, it was another story about how political contributors tend to get work. Big deal, right?

But it seemed to me the story had a shining star:

Shadyside-based Walnut Capital's generosity to city campaigns includes $27,500 to Mr. O'Connor's campaign, $16,000 to Mr. Ravenstahl's, $11,906 in checks and non-monetary help to Mr. Peduto's bids, and smaller donations to nearly every council member's coffers. Its total was exceeded only by the state Democratic Party's largesse.

"We do almost 100 percent of our work in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region, and we're happy to support people who want good development," said Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital's vice president and a member of the City Planning Commission. Mr. Ravenstahl, in particular, "has really understood what it means to move the city forward."

The firm's Bakery Square office, retail, housing and hotel complex in the East End received an unusual boost from the city. Late last year, the $111 million project won a $10.5 million tax-increment financing, or TIF, benefit in which the Urban Redevelopment Authority borrowed money to back a parking garage and infrastructure improvements, to be paid off using future tax dollars from the site.

Under a city ordinance approved in 1999, TIF-backed hoteliers have to try to come to terms with unions that want to organize their workers. But URA lawyers ruled that a hotel at Bakery Square was not subject to that rule, because it would be built in a specially created tax parcel in the air above the site.

That would all be extraordinary even if Mr. Reidbord didn't disgrace himself at 2008's most important meeting of the City Planning Commission.

It's one thing to manage dealings with a high-powered local developer with political connections -- but why do we tolerate this brash practitioner of banal yinzer corruption having an actual seat at the public table? He should be gone already. He should be an issue until he's gone.