Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday: The Week (Or So) That Was

Did you know that Dykes on Bikes is going to change gay consciousness in Pittsburgh? Did you know that droves of queer individuals are now reading and commenting on Sue's blog as though she's an actual community leader? These would be things to know. (Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents)

Lady Elaine has a conspicuously thorough primer on that which Gov. Rendell is contemplating cutting from the state budget. It's a must read if, I guess, you care about the state budget. (View from the BurghChair)

Demolishing half a building is better than not demolishing it at all, right? (The Hoagie)

I think the best part of my D-2 coverage was the candidate forum. I may cease interviewing candidates; they're all starting to sound alike. (The Pittsburgh Comet)

You can't win, Darth. (Have a Good Sandwich)

According to Schultz's push-poll (by which I mean, he's being pushy =)) Doug Shields has pulled ahead of Patrick Dowd, with the caveat that the results are about as unscientific as you can get. (Thoughts on Government or whatever)

Everyone thinks it's over but me. At least if Georgia happens to run and win (or mess with the machine's mojo in the process) we will have demonstrable evidence of tactical blogeriffic superiority. Which is all that really matters. (City Paper Slag Heap)

Check out what the New 2009 Liberals sound like:

Whoa, y’all. I don’t know if you’ve been checkin out this shizz, but yo! The Kyrgyz Parliament is going to vote on Friday to decide whether or not to close a “key” U.S. Military base which could then cause problems possibly jeopardizing NATO supply lines to Afghanistan! WTF, Kyrgyz Parliament?!!! Why? I think you are trying to [redacted] with President Obama. You know that the war in Afghanistan is his “highest foreign policy priority” and you are trying to [redacted] with his stride, [redacted]!!! I see through you! You just don’t want us (The United States of America) to be happy, do you? No. You just can’t let us enjoy ourselves, can you? NO. You are trying to [redacted] with our ultimate mission, but you will not succeed. You are [redacted] with the wrong country now. We have real leader. He can take the Russians just like the Steelers took the Cardinals, okay? We’re on this! First, we won the Super Bowl! Next, we’ll win the War on Terror! DON’T [REDACTED] WITH OUR MILITARY BASE, JAG-OFFS!!! (Gab Bonesso)

Finally, the Radical Middle, which is now loading for the most part at an acceptable speed, is unloading on its commenters as necessary:

You don't need any authority to have an opinion. That is both the beauty and the curse of discourse in a free society. It is also the refuge of people who sling opinions like a bartender slings drinks at a frat party. (P-G, Radical Middle)

Ah, that's goooood watchin'.

Alright, WTC is with titles and descriptors appearing on YouTube still frame embeds? I don't want all my little surprises to get ruwined!

Interview: Natalia Rudiak

Rudiak's reputation precedes her -- Young! Brilliant! Progressive! -- so I figured she'd be the person to ask what "progressive" means.

"I think that on a national level, the idea is there's this Pink-Green-Blue alliance," she said, referring to the peace, environmental, and labor movements. "And also civil rights."

On a local level, she sounded skeptical that such a political brand even translates.

"We have to literally work it out amongst ourselves."

When asked about campaign finance and ethics reform locally, the answers she offered were not steeped in what I'd exactly call progressivism.

"I come at this being a pragmatic, practical person," she said.

"Ethics -- I think those decisions can't be made in a vacuum. We should have various outings for various reasons."

She suggested setting up desks for public officials at some sporting events for interaction with the community. She described the Superbowl as an "opportunity" for our public officials to market the city. However, she agreed there ordinarily would no benefit for a public official ducking in to a private box before a game and slipping out afterword.

On campaign finance reform, Rudiak said, "I do support it. I do like the idea of a county-wide bill. Obviously it's a huge issue, though." She did not want to be pinned down on specific dollar amounts for specific kinds of contributors.

"I grew up in a union family," she said by way of beginning her explanation.


Rudiak is running, like so many others, to bring resources and development to her district. "I believe our neighborhoods have so much potential that isn't being realized."

Isn't that what they all say?

"Our neighborhoods are on the edge of the City of Pittsburgh -- which effects our tax base. Brookline borders on Mt. Lebanon. Brownsville Road is right next to Brentwood." Residents can and often do pick up and move their homes and businesses just a few blocks away when District 4 isn't being all it can be.

Her number one priority she says is the business districts: Brookline, Beechview and Carrick.

"The URA like every other entity in the world has a history," Rudiak began. "I would like to work closer with the URA, to make sure it is planning for strategic development," distinguishing that from what might be called opportunistic development or haphazard development.

For Beechview -- "a wonderful neighborhood", she said, that is under appreciated -- Rudiak specifically argued the merits of focusing on it as a Transit Revitalization Investment District, or TRID.

Her second priority is "protecting" District 4's neighborhoods -- particularly from blight. The Bureau of Building Inspection, she said, needs "a coordinated system".

"When we pass legislation, we have to be sure that it's enforceable, and we have to make sure it's implemented." She made reference to a landlord registry that was never created, and absentee landlord measures that please voters but are tough to enforce.

"I think we pass a lot of legislation in this city that isn't enforced," she reemphasized.

On the topic of "restoring public safety" to District 4, Rudiak mentioned resignedly that "the South Side does absorb a lot of police energy." After stressing the need to get the best technology in all police cars, she said that it's critical that the state come through with more funding for public safety in urban areas.

That brought us naturally to city finances. "I think we need greater cooperation and more communication between Act 47, the ICA, Council and the Mayor's office," Rudiak said two weeks ago. A lot of decisions are being made "without public knowledge."

She said first thing she'd ask is, "What are the goals and the expectations?"


Rudiak serves as Treasurer for one of the southern Democratic Committee wards -- a position that does not get to vote. It wields a little less power, but comes with a few less headaches.

"The Committee serves a purpose," Rudiak began, heading off one of our questions in advance. "Emphasizing Democratic values and why we are Democrats -- whether that's about Wal-Mart and the Employee Free Choice Act or anything else."

As a committee member and as an office-holder, she continually described her role as a kind of community catalyst. "I sincerely enjoy connecting people," she said -- explaining why she'd like to spend her time at Steelers games promoting Sprout Fund grants.

Rudiak attended the George Washington University school of International Affairs. She's been pretty much all over the world, but the whole time she suffered what she describes as "pangs" for Pittsburgh.

"People are real here," she said, referring both to her City and her own hardscrabble neighborhood. "When I think about where I want to raise my family, it's here."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

BREAKING: Blotzer Addresses Issues

District 2 special election runner-up Georgia Blotzer just released a statement. She does not say clearly whether or not she intends to run in the May primary, but she offers what appear to be some clues.

After emphasizing once again her Democratic party bona fides, she adds what I think is an interesting coda:

Mr. Burn had chosen the registration deadline for those seeking the endorsement, to be January 30th. By choosing this date, he disqualified two of the candidates participating in the special election. Why were we disqualified by this date?

The structure of the special election only allows the endorsed party candidates to have their names placed on the ballot. Any other democrat or republican interested in participating in this election had to register as a third party candidate. Thus, the structure forced me to either become a third party candidate, i.e. Independent or forgo having my name placed on the special election ballot.

Because of my change in party affiliation, I was a registered Independent on January 30th and was therefore ineligible to file for the Democratic Party endorsement for the May primary. On the 29th Jim Burn denied my request for a filing extension until after the special election.

Blotzer ends by declaring, "I am once again a Democrat".

City Passed-Out During Financial Summit

Right. What's all this, then?

The mechanics of a debt reduction agreement are the subject of talks between the city Law Department and the state-picked Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. Representatives of both offices were invited to the 10 a.m. meeting, but didn't attend.

Nor did the state's Act 47 recovery team, which works with the ICA to monitor city finances, and drafted an initial debt reduction pact that has been scrapped.

City Solicitor George Specter and ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino said, separately, that they didn't attend because until the debt agreement is done, there's nothing to talk about.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris -- who joined Mr. Dowd and Councilwoman Tonya Payne at the meeting that was skipped by the other five council members -- suggested that it may not be the best time to lock up money. "I believe that [officials] are considering what could happen with the economy the way it is now. That's why I think it's smart that that money is just sitting there right now." (P-G, Rich Lord)

So many places to go with this.

Number one, this meeting of the Council was originally scheduled for Monday, Jan. 26. It was rescheduled during the week of Jan. 19th to Monday, Feb. 2nd at 10:00 AM -- the morning immediately following the Superbowl.

Suspicious minds might wonder whether Council President Shields, knowing the meeting was called by Councilman Dowd to address "his" issues and knowing Dowd to be less of a Steelers fanatic, rescheduled it to an impossible time in order to thwart his political rival.

If that was the case, that would be hilarious -- too funny to likely be true. Mr. Shields is ordinarily more protective of the Council's authority in decision making.

Of greater importance than the politics is the actual issue of what Pittsburgh does with that hard-saved money.

Financial uncertainty "is a part of the equation," Mr. Sciortino said. "We all have the same fears and concerns about the economy. ... We're not going to disregard what is certainly an unprecedented set of circumstances in our world."

Financial uncertainty exists at all times, but I wonder what is the precise reason for keeping liquid assets as liquid as possible during a major recession? Financial advisers rarely recommend money "just sit there", to my knowledge. Quite literally, the City of Pittsburgh gave $45.3 million to an account at the Controller's office almost under the table, under management of the ICA without any actual instructions.

Although a controversial "draft defeasement agreement" was officially rejected, it appears as though it is being respected on an ad-hoc, month-to-month basis. I wonder if a new agreement is even being worked on or not.

It is the ICA's charge to reduce Pittsburgh's debt. If our previous lengthy blog post on ICA director Henry Sciortino did not give you an inkling of some of the issues involved in this business, then read this more interesting article:

Government is big business, and each year contractors, boards and agencies compete for a piece of it. But there are few instances so conspicuous and unseemly as the nexus between politics and business as there is with bond issues and municipal finance. Bond selling and underwriting requires a degree of comfort, expertise and nuance that puts it at odds with public bidding, and most are dealt with through professional service agreements... (Birmingham Weekly, Kyle Whitmore)

Another recent tale of woe involving bond deals in both New Mexico and Pennsylvania can be found here. The PA Governor appoints the chair of the ICA board.

My point is this: there seems to be a bug going around. Recessionary times are tough, but that's all the more reason to make sure Pittsburgh's hard-earned savings are being used for maximum Pittsburgh results. What happened to occur on Monday was not something that inspires public confidence -- I hope it was an aberration. I'm not even sure whether three council members are sufficient to hold an official post-agenda session.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Artist: Jerome Charles White, Jr.

AKA: Jero

Evident translation, chorus:

All alone in Izamozaki
No shelter from tomorrow
Cold winds pierce through the heart
Bitter words fade into the waters
Just as the ocean snow

Quick D-2 Update: Smith Speaks Out

Incoming Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Smith said today that she's not going to try to legislate away the problems of the western neighborhoods.

"I think there's enough legislation on the books already," she said. "It's enforcement that we need." (P-G, Rich Lord)

I think that's an emerging consensus.

"The problem is, we're always depending on government to do everything," she said. "We have to take some responsibility for what's going on in our community."


Wednesday: The End of the Beginning

Dear Luke: Can you pleeeease upload the footage to YouTube? That's all we require. (P-G, Early Returns)

Hats off to everybody involved in the truly massive public safety campaigns and many levels of strategic decision making both immediately after the Superbowl and during yesterday's hastily organized parade.

We complain about certain government offices a fair amount on this blog, but it's no exaggeration to say that obviously in terms of public safety, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have it locked down. If Jack Bauer came here, he would be like oh. These people can take care of themselves. If Warren Buffet came here, not so much.

Note: We should not be doing crap like this, however, or smashing windows and robbing banks. Be on the lookout for a red guy.

Note to Tony Norman: We have a soft spot for bonfires, however. And dancing on buses is -- well, it's dancing! You can dance if you want to.


"Right now, our teachers are on their own," said board member Heather Arnet, who supports a comprehensive program and believes the board should reassert control over the content of sex education. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

The School Board reasserting control of the administrators? That would be great. Tell me why in peace we can't take out a condom and stick it on the end of a hammer. Young people should be offered information and taught how to perform simple tasks.


Gov. Ed Rendell has devised a startling and controversial plan to generate $550 million a year for tuition assistance for 175,000 Pennsylvania college students -- by legalizing thousands of video poker machines in bars, taverns, restaurants and private clubs across the state. (P-G, Barnes and Rotstein)

Those casino operators will be upset -- unless they can switch to table games. Might as well put that in the same legislation.


Democrat Theresa Smith has won the special election to the District 2 seat on City Council by a wide margin. (P-G, Amy McConnell Schaarsmith)


Ms. Smith, of Westwood, won 1,259 votes or 48.5 percent of the vote. Opponents Georgia Blotzer, a Democrat running as an independent from Mount Washington, won 639 votes or 24.6 percent; third-party candidate Brendan Schubert, also a Westwood Democrat, won 450 votes or 17 percent; and Republican Chris Metz of Sheraden won 239 votes or 9 percent.

Oh, hai Amy! =)

Allegheny County Elections Director Mark Wolosik predicted that some 20 percent of eligible voters would turn out.

Ooh, no. No, sorry Mark, it was more like 10%.

The good citizens who braved the cold and the Steelers elected themselves a legitimate council representative by a wide margin, but in terms of the coming primary it was a tossup. Split Smith's 288 straight-ticket Democratic party votes equally amongst Blotzer, Schubert and Smith -- or maybe better yet just between Blotzer and Smith. That would make it 1015-783.

Now even among choosy voters, seeing an [I] next to a name can be off-putting. Swing another 50 votes from one column to the other, then? More?

There was 10% turnout; figure 30% will arrive for a standard primary in sunny May, maybe 40% for a hotly contested Mayor's race. From a predictive standpoint, this special election was well within the margin of error for the coming primary.

That is, if the Chatham Rangers feel it's necessary, and can find a way to use that really fresh data to shake things up.

"I'm very grateful. I'm anxious to get started (today.) I'm confident we can work together to make needed improvements in such things as the infrastructure and (to combat) crime," said Smith, 49, of Westwood. "It's a great day for Democrats." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

It's a great day for hockey.

If the Steelers somehow lose to the Arizona Cardinals tonight in Super Bowl XLIII -- a remote possibility, we know -- feel free to blame President Barack Obama. (Trib Whispers)

Well, good news there.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I successfully navigated my way to Chatham Hall, and from there I successfully found Tramp's, but I just could not find Sammy's Pizza. Now I see it wasn't on S. Main St. after all, it was on Nobelstown Rd. D'oh!

So let me be among the second to congratulate Theresa Smith on her definitive victory this evening. Enjoy your fellow council members!

Newsworthy, I Say!!!

"The only Democratic candidate in this race is Theresa Smith. She is running against a Republican and two third party fringe candidates."

... Jim Burn, ACDC Chairman, political mailer (Hoagie)

If one or more "third party fringe candidates" does better than expected tonight ... 30% would be a coup ... that's newsworthy. I'd like to hear the reaction of such an historic candidate to that.

Good luck, people!

Monday, February 2, 2009

DISTRICT 2: Blotzer, Schubert, Smith. Sure to Keep Us Entertained Through May 19.

Theresa Smith kept a somewhat lower profile at the Elliott forum than the other major candidates. The same held true for our interview.

Several of my questions were answered only off-the-record. Others were answered by a supporter of hers who was joining us while Smith herself remained silent.

"You want to get me to say something bad about the Mayor," Smith would say. "I want to work with the Mayor."

No, I said, I just want to know your position on [whatever].

"Well, all I can tell you is I'm not beholden to anyone. I'm only beholden to the community. I'm gonna do just what I've been doing and put the needs of the community first."

How can I believe you if you don't want to put yourself on record about [whatever]?

"You don't need to . The people in the community know that about me already."

We danced that dance about a dozen times. A lot of the off-the-record stuff sounded very comforting, but unfortunately you all don't get to hear any of it.

Smith said she largely opposes campaign finance reform, because of inequities that would arise when city and county officials square off against one another. It should really be a state issue. She also opposed limits of any kind on contributions from labor.

The same principle, for Smith, applies to ethics reform. "I'm not trying to police the entire region."

In terms of development strategy, a flash point in District 2 seems to be the efforts of the West Pittsburgh Partnership. Apparently there are major development plans brewing, but Smith is leery of the direction it is being taken.

"I think they need to involve the community in their decision making -- they say their meetings are open, but I don't know how they're getting the word out. I would like to see some accountability, some more transparency in that organization."

She would be supportive of the development as long as she could be assured that "everything is above board as far as the funding they receive."

Also: "I don't want to see anyone priced out of the community."

We wound up spending much of the interview talking about her opponents. Georgia Blotzer is a very nice person, she said, but just not well-enough known outside of Mt. Washington. Every vote for Blotzer is really a vote for Brendan Schubert, she explained, and a vote for Schubert is a vote for forces likes the West End Partnership and its opaque way of doing business.

"First of all, I'd like to thank Theresa for calling me a nice person," said Georgia Blotzer, when asked about that characterization of her campaign.

After discussing the McArdle Roadway Barrier Replacement Task Force -- which she told us culminated in the largest earmark appropriation for Southwestern Pennsylvania in that cycle -- she then went on to tout her organizing efforts with the Western Pennsylvania Women for Obama (during the primary) and her Obama door knocking in West Virginia (during the general).

Prior to that, she travelled to Iowa to work for Joe Biden.

"So you see, I do come down off the Mount," she said with some sarcasm. "And I've been door knocking all through her community."

Blotzer readily acknowledged that her own past neighborhood activism hasn't taken her across the whole District quite like Smith -- but she denied her frequent absence at key meetings.

"I went to all the strip club meetings," she said, for example. "I testified before the zoning committee. I wrote my own testimony. I asked my own questions."

Blotzer's website and letters-to-the editor make it clear that she favors local campaign finance reform, so I asked her about Smith's particular reservations.

"You know what? That's like an excuse to continue same-old same-old." No special exceptions for union PACs or for local politicos running for higher offices for Blotzer. "I was the first candidate -- even before the pay-to-play Rich Lord article -- to be against this."

"It just infuriates me when people say, 'This money doesn't interest me'."

On the topic of the West End Partnership, Blotzer agreed with Smith that the organization should arouse some concern. "The board's meeting isn't open -- it's closed. They should be open to the public. Just like in the city, we need to shed light."

As to some other development plan that is currently being shopped around, "You can't develop a strategic plan in the whole community in six months."

When asked about what to do about Pittsburgh's debt burden, Blotzer said, "We have a $45 million surplus this year, and I think that's wonderful. But I'm concerned, who is going to oversee this? Who is going to be making those decisions?" She said she preferred restoring the 15% additional going into to the pension funds, and using enough of the remaining surplus to address needs like housing demolition.

I asked Blotzer whether the endorsement was going to be determinative in this special election.

"All I can say is, [Smith] worked really hard to get the endorsement of the political machine. As far as I'm concerned, she can have it."

Brendan Schubert
describes the West End Partnership plan as in early stages, and the WEECC plan as in perhaps earlier stages. The former will require a change of zoning from R1D&P to RP, which illustrates the command he has of some of the challenges involved. He's not as on top of the WEECC progression.

"I wasn't in the group that was asked to be involved," Schubert shrugs. "You have to be a 20-year volunteer. Everyone talks about what they did, instead of what they want to do."

Schubert says he will bring a hard work ethic and intelligence, and warned that the role of a council member is "not as frequently to legislate as facilitate."

Asked to identify the most pressing need for District 2 right now, Schubert replied, "I think getting the strategic development plan off the ground and funded."

We asked about his perspective on recent upheaval at the Department of City Planning.

"I think there was a lot of confusion with what the Department's role was," he said, identifying the Urban Redevelopment Authority as being part of this confusion. "Time healed those wounds, but we had a sore eye on the department because of ... antics."

Vacancies impacted City Planning along with the Bureau of Building Inspection, though Schubert says many at Planning are now filled. He says there are "two or three" positions still vacant, and identified one very important one: the position of Assistant Director.

As to BBI vacancies and why they persist:

"I think part of it's a quick fix to save money," according to Schubert, but "we need to get people to work."

We asked Schubert about the Hill District, just to get a sense. First he said that he was "empathetic" with resident's desires to form a Community Benefits Agreement.

"It's like they slight you once, and you've lost that trust again."

"I think development in the Hill District is key to connecting -- to getting the other gateway to open." Specifically he said it would be great to develop the Center Avenue corridor in conjunction with a transit gateway between Oakland and Downtown.

On whether the claustrophobic Bigelow Boulevard situation could be abated and a more northerly corridor opened, Schubert replied, "I think there's a possibility of that," but quickly, "I would not be opposed to sitting at the table with people with a lot more expertise."

Schubert unabashedly cites his experience at Central Catholic as a big part of what shapes him. It is "an environment of extreme discipline".

"Our Catholicism teaches us about equal rights, service to others," he says, as well as leadership. "As far as that, that's what makes me."

With her name appearing as the lone Democrat on the ballot, Theresa Smith is the prohibitive favorite to win the special election on Tuesday.

I have sympathy for Smith's inclination that Pittsburgh needs to spend money to make money -- or to run itself efficiently. Maybe Pittsburgh honestly should free itself to invest resources into that which will make us strong. Longevity pay for some positions is a good idea -- perhaps we can trade it in coming negotiations for something less productive.

However, Smith's obstructionist posture towards modest efforts to shoo corruption a little further away from government is discouraging. Her initial aggressive negative campaigning was also a turnoff -- though that has been modulated lately.

Georgia Blotzer worked for the Joe Biden presidential campaign. There is no way I can not recommend voting for this person.

Her forthright indictment of "the political machine" is a breath of fresh air, and her instinct to look to aspects of the East End experience as a model is generally correct.

Blotzer does live in an affluent neighborhood, and her presentation does suggest affluence. I can only remind readers that her background is in special education -- the "teacher voice" can be hard to totally turn off. It is fair to question whether she can relate to and work well with such a hardscrabble district as District 2 -- but I get the hunch she can. Why not?

I think adventuring across the country on behalf of a hopeless Joe and a hopeful Barack speaks very well of her regard for the least among us.

Brendan Schubert's candidacy for me is overshadowed by Pat Ford and a whole host of trespasses against law and open government. Ford was Superdirector of the Department of City Planning when Schubert came aboard. His role at the zoning counter was key from procedural and operational standpoints.

A lot of trust was incinerated during that period. It's tempting to assume that the proper course of action in the face those winds would have been to resign in protest, to get fired, or to stoically abide a handful more years towards the attainment of a pension.

Is a stoic accrual of knowledge and experience also good enough reason for an ardent young person to remain at such a post? Sure, ideally. Perhaps the West Pittsburgh Partnership is really onto something in District 2, and Brendan Schubert is the man to responsibly vet such projects and shepherd them forward to fruition? Could be.

The brilliant news is, this is all practically an audition. These candidates will all come back on May 19th and run for a full term on the Council. They'll all get to run as Democrats. The only difference will be, one of them will have a good four months worth of record to defend.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Update: Willis McGahee

Concussion and a sore neck. "Expected to make a full recovery." Also, Hines Ward can run forward just fine. (ESPN, Stephinia Bell)

34-12. Nope, the Cardinals were a real team. It was 27-23.

The Band: Europe

The performers: The Symphonic orchestra of Liepaja and melo-m