Friday, January 23, 2009

Get Out! The Black & White Reunion and More...

First of all, I'd like to once again plug the 11th Annual Black and White Reunion, tomorrow from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Right, maybe this is reminder is arriving too late to be of any use -- but based on past experience I give this event my highest recommendation.

Try to make it for the early shift for food, opening lectures, and old-timers sharing their stories on the microphone. If you arrive later you can still attend your pick of any number of themed workshops, or just schmooze through the hallways and try to hit up random organizational leaders or elected officials and candidates. I'm pretty sure there's a significant closing lecture as well.

Remember, these folks have been doing this for ten years already, so they have it down to a science -- it won't be time wasted. And if nothing else, you may get an idea how to put things together in support of your own causes -- got to figure the Queer and Straight Reunion can only be about 13 months away, for example.

Now, on a related note: it's time to start attending stuff like this and a variety of other large and small events. The Comet hopes to keep a respectable calendar together and maybe start doing "The Week Ahead" posts on Mondays.

It's also time to start reaching out to those candidate's committees which may intrigue you, and seeing what's up. They say the pen is mightier than the sword but take it from me, the shoe-leather kicks the ass of both. You're going to see a lot of great blogging from all comers in the coming months, but that's only one tiny ingredient. Now if you'll only make some calls for me, if you'll knock on doors for me, if you'll get in your friends faces and blahbity blah blah, you know the drill. You know it works, too!

Multiply yourselves. Change never occurred because somebody thought it seemed inevitable.

Risky Business: Lamargate Moving Forward

Just take those old records off the shelf; I'll sit and listen to them by myself.

Last month, the zoning board nixed the sign, on a tie vote that has the effect of denying Lamar's request for special permission to build a bigger- and higher-than-normal billboard where new signs aren't usually allowed.

Lamar's appeal argues that the permit was properly granted based on an established vinyl-for-digital swap process, and that the company relied on it when it spent well over $1.3 million on the unique, curved sign. The case hasn't been assigned to a judge. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Lamar Advertising is near-certain to lose this appeal of the Zoning Board ruling, because its case for any lawfully granted permit is awful. Just awful.

However, there remains $4 million worth of custom-built electronic billboard hanging there on a Downtown street corner. That leaves Lamar three bad options:

It could take yet another wild stab in a higher court against very well-established Home Rule powers. It could sue the City of Pittsburgh for damages incurred due to the erroneous granting of a faulty city permit. Or it could seize the Parking Authority building with private security forces, unilaterally activate the sign, and dig in for a long siege.

Lamar might also leave well enough alone -- just cut its losses and go home -- but I think we have to be realistic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On Where Our Issues Might Ultimately Live


See the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mario F. Cattabiani. [Trib]

Obama Spells Out the Obvious**

There were a variety of things that President Obama wanted to put to bed immediately on Day Two for some reason.

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know.

The Huffington Post has all the details on the day's bloodshed.

The executive order on ethics I will sign shortly represents a clean break from business as usual. As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any other administration in history. If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years. When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am President. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration, as well.

*-UPDATE: I wonder if Obama would be okay with Superbowl tickets being sold to his officials through privileged channels at "face value", instead of the price you and I would have to pay.


The Post-Agenda session of council regarding the fund in the nature of an irrevocable trust, the draft defeasement agreement, and the nature of oversight in the City of Pittsburgh has been rescheduled for Monday, Feb. 2 at 10:00 AM. No word yet on whether ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino is going to elect to, or be required to, attend. In the wake of this adverse ruling, there may be a feeling that this could turn into another one of these circuses.

However, it's easy to interpret that possibly all that occurred precisely because Mr. Sciortino didn't seem to be present at that session personally. This post-agenda could be a good opportunity to set records straight, get a menagerie of festering small issues out into the open, and put Pittsburgh back in a position where it can again invest with confidence.


A must-read from the P-G's Brian O'Neill:

People are beginning to get that we can't have it all. A week ago, I asked Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato whether his transportation priority would be a light-rail link between Downtown and Oakland or completion of the Mon-Fayette to Pittsburgh and Monroeville, and he answered, "I think we need 'em both."

That won't do with a president who says we need to make hard choices. Yesterday, he said if he had to pick, he'd opt for the light-rail extension in Pittsburgh.

Thanks for pressing him!

*-UPDATE: Transit agency leaders say those unforeseen costs added $117.8 million to the North Shore Connector's $435 million price tag and threaten to shut down the project without a bailout from a proposed federal economic stimulus package. (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

C'mon. Really? Or do you just see money on the table and are coughing loudly? Because if this diverts money away from the Oakland spine line or, say, the green restoration of Schenley High School, that would be extremely unfortunate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday: Prospecting

So this is what's going on.


1. The Huddler writes about the Parking for Pensions notion:

The Huddler gives Mayor Luke a big old atta boy! Good stuff. Now we need Harrisburg to fix the law on this one. Mayor’s such as Tom Murphy should not be allowed to give away the house by increasing pension benefits WITHOUT funding them. In addition Pennsylvania has more public employee pensions systems than any other state. With administrative costs doubling and tripling those of most funds. The fat cats are getting rich at the expense of taxpayers, public employees, and retirees. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!!!!! The Mayor has presented an idea here, let’s see where he goes with it?

The anonymous blogger is currently flying a City of Pittsburgh flag, followed by a Republic of Ireland flag, followed by Union Yes banner and finally an iconic Obama portrait with the caption, Progress. If many more like the Huddler are out for justice, the greedy amongst us should be sore afraid.

2. WWVB touched off a storm with this:

Our schools have days when students wear Black And Gold™ and we indoctrinate them so they grow up to be Steelers fans, and - unless they move away to find work - our children grow up to support the taxes, subsidies, and give-aways that our politicians provide to this business. Good little Steelers fans!

Just to be clear, this isn't what the Comet would say.

Yes, most politicians find a way to make good use of the "bread and circuses" aspect of governing, but doesn't mean that Steelers indoctrination at an early age is a bad thing, nor that a lifelong love-affair with a sports franchise is at all bad. It's an entirely healthy and useful instinct which instills solidarity and common purpose, and it can even be used to pass along civic virtues.

The only problems arise in how the teams themselves conduct their business -- and I don't think most Pittsburghers have a problem separating. Most of us hate the Pirates with good cause, are extremely wary about the Steelers as a business entity, and are getting a little bit sick of the Penguins already.

The Pens played on our anxieties excellently -- masterfully! -- to get their 28 acres and exclusive development credits, but on a day-to-day governing basis, I think all these sports teams are paper tigers.

3. Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents wrote a fantastic blog post, and "Franklin King" (among others) wrote a great comment underneath it:

Thanks for reminding us that with civil rights come civil responsibilities. That would include running legal, safe businesses and following the rules when it comes to compliance with local laws and ordinances. We want Allegheny County business owners to play fair when hiring gay people or renting to gay people. Our own businesses have to play fair, too. Equality is not a half-step.

I saw the piece of KDKA last night and my stomach sank. Even if these businessmen were not engaged in illegal activities at their club, it is very discouraging that they used political play to avoid the building inspection. It just reinforces that there's something sordid and naughty about gay sex.

As a white heterosexual male, let me just say that nothing is more gratifying than to hear a member of any minority group step forward and say, "Sometimes, some of us can be a little defensive." Ah, sweetness and peace.

"Henrieta" responding to Franklin's comment on Sue's post:

Such language. Responsibility. Next you'll be asking local gay business owners to demonstrate moral courage.

Let me say another thing. Regardless of what else happens, I think it is important to preserve Club Pittsburgh as a gay and civic amenity. It may be one of the rare and valuable things which makes Pittsburgh qualify as a major cultural center. If they do it in New York and Europe, right?

How can Club Pittsburgh adapt to its civic namesake, and vice-versa? That is an issue for its owners and for our city officials.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Hon. Jim Burn Declares Game On

"If you don't know by now whether you're serious as a candidate, you're never going to know," Mr. Burns [sic] said yesterday. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

What if you're serious as a candidate, but not interested in the endorsement?

For those of you just joining us, Jim Burn is the Democratic representative for County Council District 3. He enjoys the further distinction of presently being Chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

We caught up with Mr. Burn shortly before the public hearing on an Allegheny County anti-discrimination ordinance. Jim was among those lawmakers who had co-sponsored the legislation. He remained on board as the proposal aroused opposition, even though others withdrew their sponsorship.

I asked whether he thought if those who withdrew sponsorship are still going to vote yes. Burn said that was his impression.

I jotted down some hasty notes:

"I think that equal protection is a fundamental right. I think the intent of this ordinance is to encourage that."

"I think there are specific provisions in this ordinance that are causing concerns among some specific groups."

The impression with which Burn left us was one of the current legislation being overlanguaged -- a word we once learned in relation to the first draft of a city billboard moratorium.

Tuesday: Carry it Forward

In June, the [water and sewer] authority's contract with Chester Engineers expired, and it has been continued on a month-to-month basis while the authority figures out what to do. One of the largest city-related contracts, it paid Chester $4.3 million last year, according to documents the authority provided to the Post-Gazette. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Northside United, a consortium of labor, environmental and community groups, has been trying to negotiate a community benefits deal with Continental for months over a proposed Hyatt Place Hotel development closer to PNC Park, but so far has been unsuccessful. Yesterday, the group turned its attention to the four-acre riverfront site that is expected to house would house the year-round entertainment complex. (P-G, Team Effort)

Lamar Advertising has appealed a city of Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment decision barring a half-completed Downtown sign and a proposed "ticker" sign that stirred controversy in city government last year. (P-G, Rich Lord)

In 2006, a jury found -- and the Superior Court this week agreed -- that Mr. Sciortino shifted $244,000 from a joint account with Mr. Johnson into one he alone controlled; that he spent $248,000 in Fairmont funds on things including his home driveway and car lease payments; and that he interfered with Fairmont contracts to the tune of $225,000. (P-G, Team Effort)

With discrimination against homosexuals a hot-button issue in today's society, a gay superhero is hitting television at just the right time. While fighting villains and seeking justice, Creed could very well deepen his viewers' understanding along the way. (P-G, Edit Board)

"I've been very angry about it," Grabowski said. "(Claire) keeps telling me to get over it. But I just look at that list of schools. Philadelphia Community College is eligible. Why is that covered and Grove City, which is 60 miles away, is not? Why in the name of peace would anyone from Pittsburgh want to go to Philadelphia Community College?" (Trib, Debra Erdley)

Margaret Philbin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said today that Buchanan and other U.S. attorneys were asked last week by President Barack Obama's transition team to stay in their positions for now. The request also was made of U.S. marshals. (Trib, Jason Cato)

President Obama is getting to work. (ABC News)

In Any Event, Goodbye to All That!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Federal Holiday In Effect to Honor that One Civil-Rightsy Guy

It almost seems redundant to hold Martin Luther King Day in the middle of all this hoopla over the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama.

Well, I guess if if that's what the people want...

Our own reflections on these matters are turning towards some intensely local leaders, whom perhaps we should start calling modern-day abolitionists.

Too much?

From Wikipedia:

The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for a head coaching opportunity. The rule is named for Dan Rooney*, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league's diversity committee, and is often cited as an example of affirmative action.

Since the Rooney Rule was established, several NFL franchises have hired minority head coaches (including the Steelers themselves, who hired Mike Tomlin before their 2007 season). At the start of the 2006 season, the overall percentage of African American coaches had jumped to 22%, up from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule. Even so, the policy is still debated and no team has stated whether the Rooney Rule contributed to the hiring of a minority.

* - I'm actually unsure whether the Rooney Rule wasn't also named in recognition of Art Rooney Sr. and his own legacy in regards to race relations and pro football.

At any rate, it's all seeming to work out okay.

"They did it tonight the way they've done it all year. This has been a very humble group, a very grounded group, and a very selfless group. And because of that, we're opportunistic." [evankel3]

Sounds like somebody's been hanging out with Troy Polumalu.

Have a happy and inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, everybody, and maybe mark this on your calendar.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Top 6 Things Mayor Ravenstahl Can Do To Win Back Progressives, Part II

For Part 1, see
HERE. Image cap h/t Trib.

4. Replace Todd Reidbord on the City Planning Commission.

He is your(?) Pittsburgh's number one political contributor. Aside from the state Democratic party, that is.

As one-half of the dynamic duo that is Walnut Capital, a firm that has long held a reputation for being aggressive, Todd Reidbord is the foremost developer in the City of Pittsburgh. He sits on the Planning Commission -- the commission with the power to green-light, yellow-light or red-light everything from stadiums and casinos to city streets and walkways to restaurants and hotels.

Although the Zoning Code is the ultimate arbiter in some instances, established case law and past recognized precedents are also extremely important to shaping new policy. Mr. Reidbord, through Walnut Capital, has a vested interest in setting precedents that advance the rights of corporate interests, and stifle the objections of individuals. In fact, he has a demonstrated interest.

I've seen Todd Reidbord at the Pittsburgh Planning Commission many, many times. He likes to speak up. He's not a big one for not moving development forward. He's not even a big one for wasting time discussing it. Only thing he ever spoke up against, it seemed, was PITG Gaming.

On occasion, Walnut Capital itself has business before the city, and at those times Reidbord properly recuses himself from adjudication. On these occasions, he will humbly approach the table from the opposite side, clad usually in jeans, propping an easel up on his lap, pitching exciting development projects to the City.

As such, he is sculpting Pittsburgh's future to a considerable and to a richly deserved degree. We are not banishing him from decent society. If free-market ideology or if the Mayor's position need defending at any time on the board itself, certainly there are board members capable of defending it who are not so conspicuously engaged.

Let the gesture stand as an example: no major conflicts of interest and no excessive politics on Boards, Authorities and Commissions!

5. Demonstrate Clarity and Achievement in regards to No-Bid Contracts and the Governance of the Authorities.

We are given to understand that Mayor Ravenstahl very recently has issued an executive order forbidding all no-bid contracts in the City -- and "strongly encouraging" that city Authorities do the same.

Back in October, in the wake of a minor scandal, Mayor Ravenstahl also announced the formation of a special panel to study city and authority contracting procedures. This panel would be comprised of a few civic titans, as well as council members Ricky Burgess and Patrick Dowd.

The panel was instructed to make some recommendations in June.

First off -- totally understandable if Luke would now like to replace possible mayoral challenger Patrick Dowd on that in-house panel. Not a problem.

Next -- was his more recent executive order so sweeping and definitive that it obviates the need for the panel altogether? Probably not -- though it'd be worth looking at -- so the panel should really begin the process of exploring recommendations sooner rather than later. Let's start now, and let's open it up to the degree that we can.

Finally, on the vague-sounding issue of Authority board governance: the Parking Authority remains without a Council member, which violates the Home Rule Charter and is not good for accountability.

The Stadium Authority and the Sports and Exhibition Authority both derive their Councilmatic representation from the same member (Darlene Harris, whom we love dearly), which also unfortunately violates the Charter, and also is not good for accountability.

It is unfortunate that some members of council insist on maintaining fundamentally uncooperative relations with Our Mayor. However, Pittsburghers as a whole are very fortunate that the city Charter affords them direct and meaningful representation on the Authorities, these hulking "instrumentalities of the Commonwealth".

6. Do Right by the Hill District: Stake Out a Position!

From what we are given to understand, there is a process. There is a Master Plan on the way, care of a board comprised of four One Hill coalition representatives and five political appointees, in accordance with what was arranged in a community benefits agreement (CBA) document.

There is a "drop dead" date approaching slowly at which time the Penguins can move forward with their very own plan if nothing acceptable arises from the CBA board. There is a lot of pressure to come up with something the Penguins will sign off on. The feeling among some is, don't be too demanding!

I don't want to jump ahead of the process -- but I'm not the Mayor. A Mayor gets to clear his throat and make his feelings known. Heck, the Mayor gets to establish ground rules and try drawing some lines in the sand.

At the very least, he ought to crack the whip and make sure things get done right.

Perhaps the semblance of a real street grid ought to be restored with Downtown. Perhaps a significant proportion of the development should be zoned for what we call "mixed use". Perhaps a portion of the old Mellon Arena should be adapted for reuse.

Perhaps the Crawford Grill needs to be a part of this. Perhaps there should be some green space. Perhaps the URA should let loose its budgetary floodgates towards an even further variety of home-grown Hill District initiatives as redevelopment and reinvestment move forward. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Yes, the Penguins have been awarded development rights to that land, bar none. This means they should carve it up however they want, and zone it to yield the very maximum profit?

Let's say the most profitable use turns out to be a slaughterhouse. You know -- hog processing. I'm going to say we stand against that.

We should figure out something about what this part of Pittsburgh needs to be. Part of that needs to be profitability -- but part of that also must be the establishing of healthy flow between two important Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

At least come out in favor of that.


So there you have it. Take me, I'm yours.

1. Recommend a Conditional Use permit for Club Pittsburgh.
2. Green up the City-County Building
3. Tighten up proposed Ethics legislation
4. Ask for Todd Reidbord's resignation
5. End no-bid contracts and improve the situation at the authorities.
6. Do right by the Hill District.

A Quick Note Before Sunday Talksies

First of all, P-G, thank you for publishing my letter.

Second, what a pleasant surprise to appear in tandem with Ed Heath!

Third, although I would have loved it if you had edited my poor grammar in other instances (says/said: verb tenses make me throw up my hands in exasperation), I haz a sad because you edited my first sentence to read, "Yes it can."

Yes we can. We! It was an Obama reference!

Yes we can end patronage; yes we can to justice and equality, to opportunity and prosperity, etc.