Tuesday, December 29, 2009

To: Daniel Lavelle, Theresa Smith *

From: Bram Reichbaum
Subject: Council Prez

Hi folks! I hope you've both enjoyed the holidays immensely, and trust you're both very well-prepared for your first full terms as council members.

I'm addressing this to you both because according to the recent Rich Lord article, you are the two remaining undecided votes for Council President -- the "swing votes" if you will -- and I see no reason why I shouldn't take that at face value, at least for the purposes of this blog post. As you'd expect, I have some heartfelt convictions on the matter that I hope you'll both find constructive in organizing your own thoughts.

First, let me get something out of the way:

"I have issues with both [declared contestants], to be honest," Councilwoman Theresa Smith said yesterday. Mr. Burgess seems too close to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, she said, and Mr. Peduto seems too far away. (P-G, ibid)

Wow! Theresa, it looks as though you're open to arranging a "surprise" compromise scenario in which Mr. Dowd -- whom you complimented effusively last week as terrifically helpful in joining your coalition working with the non-profit community -- emerges as President. Frankly, I'm impressed. You two share a lot of the right things in common, and in truth a world with Council President Dowd would be far from a disaster. However, let me put this as plainly as possible:

Trust me. Abandon ship.

Let's continue looking at this decision as what it is:

On its surface a contest between Councilmen Ricky Burgess and William Peduto, it is also an opportunity for council to declare either a more collaborative approach to the mayor's office or a more independent stance. (P-G, ibid)

You both realize that is fine grist for the pundits and the hoi polloi, but nothing more. Regardless of which one wins the Presidency, the same nine individuals are going to be on the Council, and they're all going to get to voice the same opinions, at the same volume levels and with the same personality quirks, either way. The math doesn't change. The arguments won't change. The degree to which a majority of you pull it together to either cooperate with or collectively resist Mayor Ravenstahl in any given situation won't change.

Which is not to say the vote doesn't matter, obviously. I think we can acknowledge what's really at stake here: with Dan Onorato likely to be moving into the Governor's mansion this time next year, Luke will be exceptionally well positioned to make a run for County Chief Executive in the ensuing special election. And if he is successful, by rule the Council President then becomes Mayor. I think we all have that scenario in the back of our minds.

And to that point, I can't really influence you; it's not like I'm going to change your politics here. I guess I could argue that Mr. Peduto is an eight-year veteran on Council who before that was chief of staff to member Dan Cohen for like five years, so not only has he earned it but he could hit the ground running without missing a beat if need be. Rev. Burgess is finishing his sophomore year in city government with some distinction, but I honestly don't think there's a comparison to be made there. We can't afford to be cavalier about these decisions anymore, there's a city out there to think about.

It also leads me to my main argument, and if you've been skimming so far (which would be understandable) you'll want to stop here and read this. The real reason a Council President matters is not how often they agree with the Mayor, but how well they get along with the other members of Council. Or more to the point, how they run a meeting, how they grind through a discussion, how they comport themselves during a good-faith disagreement.

And on this point, I've got to say: these past two years at least, Bill Peduto has been composed, contained, civil and fair to everybody on that Council, every day, hands down. I guess I haven't watched each and every council meeting, so maybe I shouldn't overstate the case, but man. He takes some abuse from the other side of that table, right into his face, and not at all veiled or circumspect or anything. And through it all he just sits there, gavel relaxed in his hand, with a neutral expression, slightly glazed over but bearing the patience of a saint. And when it's finally his turn, even during very heated discussion in which he holds a very hot position, he hasn't been taking chip shots at other members and waging verbal drive-bys on people. I think that gets back to experience -- he's been there, done that, and had it drilled into him that it doesn't work.

Which brings us again to Mr. Burgess. If I'm on Council, man do I want him as an ally. Smart, eloquent, knows the rules, knows politics -- but if I wind up on the opposite side of an issue from him, and he has that gavel in his hand, do I trust how that meeting is going to go? When he has the floor -- and Presidents will give themselves the floor an awful lot -- is he more likely to engage an argument, or to disparage the fact that someone is trying to even have an argument, shame the folks on the other side, and move on as fast as possible? And is he more likely to increase or decrease the emotionality of an issue? Compared to Peduto? Two years would be an awful long time to be stifled and disparaged, is what I'm thinking.

It all just gets back to seasoning, to experience. Burgess could stand to get rapped gently on the knuckles for the rough spots in his game, give him something to dwell upon until next time. For Bill Peduto, this is his time. He's been where you are, and next year wherever you are he'll still have been where you are. I'm not asking you to pledge your allegiance to him, but I am asking you to trust him to run your meetings. I think you'll be grateful that you did.


Participants in those meetings said that if Mr. Peduto wins, he has pledged to give the high-profile post of finance chair to Mr. Kraus. Mr. Burgess is said to have promised that job to Mr. Dowd. (P-G, ibid)

Wow, if I didn't know better -- and I'm not sure that I do -- that sounds like some "blogging" right there boy.

I don't know if that's as done a deal as it sounded, but let me give a shout-out: PATRICK DOWD FOR FINANCE CHAIR. That's your unity-government move right there, you guys might want to suggest it to Bill if you haven't already. Dowd brings passion and energy to spare, he brings a demonstrated interest in financial minutia, and lord knows he has the desire. I'd honestly love to see what he could do with that gavel, at least on days when the votes don't count much.

Frankly, if I'm Bill Peduto I don't know what I'm gaining by pledging Finance Chair to Bruce Kraus. He's less likely to vote for Burgess than this moldy piece of pizza crust that I need to throw out. Kind of a politically dunderheaded move of Bill if you ask me, but that's why we love him. Of course, I'm sure Kraus would make a very capable finance chair also -- great, now I'm sure he's going to clobber me next time he sees me, while Darlene holds me in a headlock.

Anyway. Congratulations on your respective victories once again. If you'd like to discuss the political future in greater depth -- yours, mine, ours -- maybe we should organize a retreat sometime soon, at the Embassy Suites in Murraysville. They have a bar next door that does karaoke, and I have a coupon.


Whatchu talkin' bout, Delano?

Let me get this straight. Payne, an incumbent with the party endorsement and the Mayor's support, just lost an election to Lavelle. Now Ravenstahl is promising to ride to the rescue of Whealtley, a state-level incumbent who will have the endorsement, from this challenge by Payne? Danny, let's say this is true and Jake is really influencing you to do that. Now let's say this is you once and for all demonstrating your boundaries vis a vis Jake n@, and call it a day.


  1. "Luke will be exceptionally well positioned to make a run for County Chief Executive"

    I know this seems to be the conventional wisdom, but do you really think Luke has a chance in the county? My highly unscientific polling results in general laughter when the mayor is brought up in conversation.

  2. @ anon 9:17 - Ditto. I'd be astonished/ashamed if Luke could take that seat, even despite the aging population within and beyond city limits.

    As for this finance chair business, how much water does that rumor hold? I'd be fully behind Peduto if someone could tell me that Kraus business is untrue.

  3. I like Kraus, but Dowd should be finance chair. More that any other member of council, he has shown a willingness to understand and question how the city spends our money.

  4. First, Tom Corbett will be governor this time next year due to PA's political landscape whether we like it or not (I dont, I want Hoeffel but thats too good to be true amongst PA voters). Second, if Lukey wants Dan O's old seat in 2011, what is his platform going to be?? Fiscal responsibility?? Lets try to keep recent college grads in Allegheny county with a different version of a tuition tax?? Third, this is a man who basically admitted that he put politics/ambitions first over his wife and child-how will that look amongst voters (ooops, excuse my ignorance, I forgot that Pittsburgh voters forget all mistakes that elected officials make)!!!

    As for Teresa Smith, does she believe the same to be true amongst the other 8 council members when it comes to ties with the mayor???

    If Motznik had been voted in as president, the city would be florishing right about now (now the 19th Ward magisterial district will serve justice with him sworn in as the judge--CRINGE!!!!)

  5. Third, this is a man who basically admitted that he put politics/ambitions first over his wife and child-how will that look amongst voters

    This is an excellent point, but there should be a "/" and another item after politics/ambition.

  6. This is an excellent point, but there should be a "/" and another item after politics/ambition.

    let me add another ... politics/ambition/oat sowing

  7. Anon 9:17 - Hmm, do I really think that? Well, let's say that Luke pulls off this parking garage and parking meter privatization without a hitch and delivers a healthy cushion for the pension fund. That strikes me as the kind of thing that would impress among county-goers.

    Assuming an Onorato victory (I think that may be the hiccup) and assuming little to no drama, I think the rest of the Democratic field wouldn't be a huge hurdle for him. Now that I think of it, that brings us the intriguing possibility of Ravenstahl / DeSantis II...

  8. Hey, Bram, 2007 called: it wants its dream of a progressive-governing coalition with Dowd and Peduto working together back!

  9. seriously! Did you miss the memo-- Dowd's a Ravenstahl suck-up now.

  10. Ha! That's good stuff.

    If Dowd is a straight suck-up, he did an interesting job of it this past spring, standing on a street corner calling Luke a rat bastard. Obviously he's more in the mayor's orbit once again, which makes him more of a politician than a toady.

    Which brings me to my hesitancy regarding this post -- if we really really want to change the "math" on Council, does it make sense to promote Peduto and Kraus? Maybe if the present "suck-ups" on Council were empowered, that would give them the stage and the motivation to assail the mayor. Because what else would they have to do, if they wanted to make headlines, have an impact? Playing 6th and 7th fiddles to a bunch of more stalwart/prominent reformers isn't a tempting role, and it means there's only more candy available on the mayor's side. Meanwhile put those same people in a leadership role, maybe they get ambitious and rambunctious.

    That's why I put the politics aside here and dealt with important things like experience and legislative temperament. It's a more important conversation. If Burgess wins maybe I go home and mutter "Aw man, the mayor won again!" but there'd be no cause to go ahead and play the Oh NO video I've been saving.

  11. Bram,

    I'm surprised to hear you say that Patrick Dowd is still alive. I thought he died (or, at least, had a terrible case of laryngitis) after he lost in the May primary. Same with Peduto; curiously silent from the springtime until, oh, about November 10th. For all their supposed righteous indignation, their spines (despite my personal inability to locate them) are apparently easy targets for the whip of party discipline.

    Shorter: they're both worms, and no amount of tweeting G20 updates/going to Kelly's (Peduto) or screaming about trash cans/living in the hipster part of town (Dowd) will change that, all young progressive hope to the contrary.

  12. 1. Corbett will win
    2. Kraus may lose in 2011
    3. If Onorato wins its Mark Flaherty or Lambs to win
    4.In a compromise its Smith or Dowd
    5.Sala is involved now

    Just stating the facts

  13. Smith REALLY does not want it and I hear she is REALLY pushing for Dowd, Kraus, Harris, Shields...anyone but herself! Why does she not like the rev? Does she not like the Rev or is there a problem between the two? Dowd is saying he does not really want it either, sheilds is taking himself out...who is left?

  14. She does have lots of time to tell us how much she does not to do...

    But what the heck has she done?

  15. You need only watch to know ms. smith is still learning but has come a long way and seems to have caught on quickly. Her demeanor is almost presidential.

  16. Ok, So tell us how much Mrs. Presidential has done then?

    3 things.

    Spell them out. I'm dumb.

  17. Experience in terms of being on council means nothing, really. There are lots of ways to get bad experience.

    Funny to hear that one's talk of being civil, fair to everyone and general attitude being of high value and still injecting Mr. Kraus for anything other than what role he is in presently. Kraus is in a good spot now with public safety. Keep him there. That's safest and most contained.

    BTW, Onorato might take Luke with him. That's a better vision than Luke in as ACE.

  18. wawaita-waita wait---

    WHO is skimming WHAT?

    I'm down with the Murraysville retreat, but I'm gonna need a ride. The lady wantsa drink.

    Mark R., again, shares a pearl of widsom. I see 'em in little Thing One and Thing Two (jump) suits.

  19. You're very polite about Burgess... From the handful of council meetings/hearings I witnessed this past year, he's arrogant, belligerent and rude. Not the kind of material good Council presidents are made of. I hope Lavelle and Smith resist any pressure to vote for what the Mayor wants... that's the last thing this City needs, and as a resident of District 6 it isn't what I expect from Lavelle, who promised us some changes from the old boys' network...

  20. 3 things... name em.. Because you can't. Smith is worthless.

  21. Just another anon here about to drop some science and state facts.

    1. Corbett will be governor.

    2. Luke's chances at being County Executive are slim, but Bram makes some good points. If Luke can eliminate Pittsburgh's debt, he positions himself well for consolidation and next CE. Politically though he needs to start mending some bridges and get better management on Grant Street.

    3. Burgess would be terrible.

    4. Peduto might be worse. Peduto is much smarter, but Bram, you don't see what goes on behind closed doors. There is a reason he isn't a shoe in - he treats most other council members like garbage.

    5. Dowd would be a great choice. Probably the only true independent on Council.

  22. 3.Burgess would be terrible.

    Politely said. Burgess may preach a good sermon every now and then; however he is not a good politician. Don't trust the preacher turned politician that states everything he says begining and ending with "I"

  23. "Luke will be exceptionally well positioned to make a run for County Chief Executive in the ensuing special election."

    County voters would never allow him to win.

  24. I don't even know MH, but someone should revive the MH Exposed blog. That was pretty fun. What a dork.

  25. I love all these politicians act they aren't influence or bought off just because they didn't get money from Walnut Capital. Just do some research in Open Book Pittsburgh. You will see that Rudiak took thousands and thousands of dollars from the SEIU and other unions. Anyone care to take a stab at tracing the debt weight that hangs around Pittsburgh's neck? How much more can we give away to the unions?

  26. How did Burgess become a player?

    How did Dowd become such a loser in all of this?

    And after all these years, Peduto is still behind on votes to become Council President? Even after helping the candidacies of Kraus, LaVelle and Rudiak, he's still behind?

    Dowd was once thought of a kind of building bridges progressive. Hell, he used Kennedy's branding in the mayoral campaign. But throughout his city council career, he's been nothing but a thorn, tearing down relationships.

    Voting for council president based on a leadership role doesn't sound very progressive to me and doesn't sound like the man a neighborhood group he once belonged to groomed him to become.

    As I see it, this may very well become a draw, and Smith may be the one everyone agrees for the time being to vote for until they can make up their minds later--sound familiar?

    She's not very controversial, seemingly no pictures with John Verbanc and the Mayor, no major agenda she pushes, not in the news every day, on the board long enough to know the process, but not too long to get comfortable with her role . . . I could go on.

    She's a "perfect" place keeper, unless perhaps the mayor is indicted and for the second time in a row, Peduto, et al makes yet another boneheaded mistake.

  27. Interesting piece, Bram...

    Republican will take Harrisburg Mansion. Not saying Corbett, however...primary will be closer than most think.

    Maybe it's wishfull thinking on my part...Dowd President, Smith President Pro-tem and Burgess Finance Chair.


  28. My Picks And Why:

    I got a really good deal on beer and brats….City would be wise to listen to venders other than lowest responsible bidder. Can't figur out why Kazoroski did not clear my driveway.(sigh)

    My explanation is such: in regards to New City Council picks.

    Doug, serves us better from trenches than HQ. Most experienced on Council and most valuable as advocate of regular ‘Burghers.

    Harris is in Stannizo (ICA) pocket… Local 154 money funded her campaign. Same Union that bombed Alpark Terrace Mobile Home Community. Don’t need another North-Sider.

    Krause, no Gene Ricardi…short lifespan.

    New Council Members are voters not yet players, but breath of fresh air that is much needed.

    Peduto is Peduto …quit when numbers did not support.

    Dowd…did not quit.

    Smith is pragmatic.

    Burgess, the Reverend, is no Reverend Dwayne Darkins... unfortunately.

    But he is not Milliones or Udin…

    As Finance Chair and Reverend he could be instrumental when plate is passed to Non-Profits.

    Did I miss anyone?



  30. harris for harris and kraus is for kraus

  31. My hope is that the vote goes something like the vote for Pirate King in Pirates of the Caribbean 3-- everyone votes for themselves except Johnny Depp, who votes for Keira Knightley. She'd make an awesome council president.

  32. "How did Burgess become a player? "

    He's not. That's why he can only get Dowd to vote for him and Dowd is only doing that because of his sour relationship with Peduto and Shields.

  33. That's a nice one, Carol. I'm imagining it'll go more like the vote for Emperor of the Skeksis in the Dark Crystal -- Peduto and Burgess taking whacks at a rock with swords.

  34. "He's not. That's why he can only get Dowd to vote for him and Dowd is only doing that because of his sour relationship with Peduto and Shields."

    But how would you really know? No one talks to you anymore and you can't even get trashbags from public works for a litter pick up event. Even Smith cut you off and no one will work with you if they know it's you making the request. That's what I heard.