Friday, July 17, 2009

Details on Land Deal Slowly Trickling Out

A casual glance at this week's City Paper story about the Mayor's board appointments makes it look like a rehash of what we've been discussing -- but don't be so casual:

Lestitian says there was considerable pressure to support the land sale long before she was removed. Twice in May 2008, she says, she met with officials supporting the deal: Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, as well as officials from the two teams and Continental. Team officials threatened to sue the authority if their development rights were not extended, she says -- and they promised to put her "on the podium with us" at the groundbreaking ceremony. (The Steelers and the Pirates did not return phone calls for comment.)

Lestitian didn't change her mind, but says another board member -- state Rep. Jake Wheatley -- did.

Lestitian says that all the way up until the vote, Wheatley "both publicly and privately was telling me, 'I'm with the chair'" -- with Lestitian herself. But on Aug. 7, the Hill District Democrat voted in favor of the plan.

"He flipped his vote," Lestitian says. "I would like to know why."

Wheatley did receive a $5,000 campaign contribution from Onorato's campaign on April 17 that year -- less than a week before the spring primary, and the first time Onorato had contributed to Wheatley. But Wheatley contends "Dan never asked me to vote any way on that deal."

"Dan wanted to see Jake get re-elected, period," agrees Oren Shur, Onorato's campaign spokesperson.

Kevin Evanto, another Onorato spokesperson, denies Lestitian's claim that Onorato came to meetings to pressure board members. "He did not intervene" in Stadium Authority discussions at all, he says. (C-P, Chris Young)

Newman! I mean ... Chris Young!

Real quick: if Onorato was that terribly interested in ensuring Wheatley's reelection, wouldn't the contribution have arrived earlier than a week before the election? Early money is like yeast. It's nice to be able to budget things out.

More importantly: notice how the claim made by Onorato's spokesperson in the last paragraph conflicts with what Lestitian tells us in the first paragraph. And notice how the denial was broad and flat: "He did not intervene". Couldn't he have gotten away with, "Sure, he might have sat in on a discussion or two, this is a hugely important development, it's not unusual for our region's leaders to keep one another one the same page"?

I suppose the next question would be what if anything else was discussed during those alleged meetings between Stadium Authority board members, the Steelers, the Pirates, Continental, the Mayor and the County Executive -- and whether any of those folks ever suggested performing a simple property assessment appraisal to figure out how much the dag'gum land was actually worth.

Two Days Later... *

Just two days after the new Zoning Board members were confirmed...

Denied its bid to light up the front of the Grant Street Transportation Center with electronic ads, Lamar Advertising is appealing to Commonwealth Court, and asking to be reimbursed for its investment. (P-G, Rich Lord 1; h/t Null Space)

Here we go loopty-loo.

Lamar is "demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars of the public's money for something they should never have been allowed to do," Mr. Peduto said. "Council has the ability to investigate, and to subpoena present and past employees," if no higher authority will step in, he said. (P-G, Rich Lord 2)

Given both current events and distant history, he might want to very deliberately and respectfully build his case among all nine members before threatening any form of Councilmatic action.

*-UPDATE: Hey, why not:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Northside United Protest Blows Up w/ Arrests **

Early reports are sketchy and no more than 140 characters long, but it appears from the NSideUnited Twitter feed and others that a Northside Mothers demand Corporate Neighbors help stop the violence protest in which a memorial was to be "built" with flowers and teddy bears outside the DelMonte building escalated into an impromptu door-blocking sit-in, with several arrests and detentions.

To wit:

Then read these four in reverse:

And finally:

More on Paradise Gray: LINK, LINK, LINK.

The P-G now has the story online: LINK.

WTAE has raw-style video: LINK.

*-UPDATE: Three of the four who sat-in were charged with obstructing highways or other public passages, and issued summons to appear in court. Mr. Gray, who was not among the four sitting-in but who did come to their aid in response to an allegedly aggressive individual attempting to exit through that doorway anyway, was charged with obstructing public passages and with resisting arrest. He was formally arraigned and released around midnight on $2,000 bail.

**-UPDATE: Gray's side of the story can be found at the Northside Chronicle.

Internet Lukewarm Towards Dan Onorato

Infinonymous is only the latest commentator to suggest that our County Chief's signature accomplishment, "holding the line on property taxes", is actually "immoral and regressive". Yet he/she/it presents one of the best examples, making for one of the most succinct arguments.

Mr. Onorato likes to point out that most of the other counties across the state have been using a similar system, and managing constant reassessments is a burden to them all. However, aside from the fact that the disparities are far more acute right here, he is demanding a state-wise solution without thus far actually suggesting one.

That may be a lot to ask of the average County Executive -- but perhaps not too much to ask of a man who would have folks believe he possesses the leadership skills to run the whole shebang. Certainly not of one who gets in people's faces and demands change when he sees corruption and inefficiency.

Speaking of that campaign letter by Onorato, there may be a price to be paid for being seen to jump late onto a civil rights bandwagon. Sue Kerr from Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents picks apart claims in the letter as exaggerations or worse. While she also maintains he deserves credit for signing the Human Relations ordinance and likely working behind the scenes for its narrow passage, one can't help but think the reception for this new campaign plank would have been more generous had it seemed to come from the heart rather than the noggin.

How deep will that vein of support prove in a Democratic primary, after a conversation about civil unions -- or maybe even about same-sex marriage?

The Comet, meanwhile? You know we're still sore about a certain 272 geese. And we're still troubled on general principle by the Chief's abrupt reversal of a then-only recently stated "no kill" promise and an agreement to properly pursue an effective, nonlethal course of action (see page 13, or download the PDF).

At the very least, it's time again to touch base with the state of waterfowl-government relations. Have progressive steps been taken since that unfortunate occurrence to stay ahead of the gander? Or are we nearing "harvest" season once again?

Then there are the little things. Onorato basically cemented Luke Ravenstahl as Pittsburgh's mayor by standing firmly behind him (literally and politically) immediately after the latter's abrupt ascension, when an argument could have been made that neutrality was in order. A recent $150,000 campaign loan to Pittsburgh's mayor just this year shows that the partnership endures.

The unfortunate side of that political marriage may manifest itself here and there on specific issues. Word around the campfire is, for example, that Onorato played an active role in the fire sale of North Side land to the Steelers and their agents, though that needs to be confirmed.

That's not immediately likely to rile up that many voters across the state or even in Allegheny County, but we're talking about the local Internet's take so here we are. When Mr. Onorato goes a-boasting, it's usually about redeveloping brownfields, which deservedly or otherwise never really excites passions out here.

Should we be talking about the Internet at all? Hard to say. In a contest of this scope, there may be little it could possibly do for Mr. Onorato that his own political skills and organization can't do by itself.

But if the Net were to situate itself in withering opposition, from his own backyard? That couldn't be helpful.

None of which is to say that the Internet has anywhere else to go. Take me, for example. I've been agnostic toward party politics on the local yokel level, but the prospect of a Republican governor terrifies me for a plethora of reasons.

If it comes down to Dan Onorato and some Republican in a dogfight -- even a hometown pedophile-catching Republican like Tom Corbett -- I'll be singing songs in praise of Mr. Onorato on a near-daily basis. Take a look up and down my sidebar, and I bet that will be the case for almost all others as well.

Through the Democratic primary, though? I feel like Jack Wagner needs to reintroduce himself. I feel like Tom Knox needs to introduce himself period. I know the theory goes that Western Pennsylvania needs to beat Eastern Pennsylvania for once, but I feel like that will matter a lot less to average Western PA residents than to the professional politicos and hangers-on.

To average residents, it'll be more important who is the better Democrat. So who is the better Democrat? Frankly, I'm not even sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure I'll know it when I hear it. Not see it, hear it. I know that scrutinizing policy discussions is hopelessly outmoded in the age of fundraising comparisons, key endorsements and managing performance expectations, but I'm looking forward to a great and revealing conversation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Shame On You All For Working"

Oh, for corn chowder already.

Councilman Ricky Burgess warned against too much tampering with the 46-page pact negotiated between the city and Verizon.

He said he suspects that council members "will add countless amendments to the franchise agreement, pandering to whatever interest is their choice" leading to a "prolonged, protracted" process that will "hold the residents of the city of Pittsburgh without choice." (P-G, Rich Lord)

You can't fault him for not being consistent -- at least not since he vacated his chair upon being threatened by city Law Department, only to have somebody else return to it.

Whenever anything gets handed down from His Imperial Majesty -- Act 47, board appointments, cable contracts -- the Rev. Burgess will be there to roundly and preemptively scold his colleagues that any attempts to amend it, improve it, discuss it, delay it, or even look at it can be nothing more than pandering and obstructionism.

What ever happened to Mr. Oversight of the Co-Equal Branch of Government and the New Council? Rumors abound.

How will such devoted fealty to Mayor Ravenstahl play in 2011? Hard to say. One thing we learned this year is that though the Mayor's popularity is a mile wide, its depth is measured in inches and has yet to spawn a coattail.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

City Council Rubber-Stamps 12 ***

Since it was a surprise maneuver, and I don't care for it, would it be too much to call it a Pearl Harboring?

Pittsburgh City Council divided sharply today before taking the unusual step of opting not to interview 12 nominees to city boards prior to approving them. (P-G, Rich Lord)

It's only the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Historic Review Commission. Nothing controversial. ;->

Voting to go without interviews, and then to approve nominees, were Ricky Burgess, Darlene Harris, Mr. Motznik, Tonya Payne and Theresa Smith. (ibid)

So much for those fantasies.

*-UPDATE: F. Dok Harris urges the Mayor to reverse "this dangerous course of action".

**-UPDATE, THE DEUX: Councilman Peduto tweets in righteous indignation:

And as much as I'd like to leave it at that, a full accounting of the record demands that I point out that he tweeted on...

***-UPDATE, THE T'IRD: This is a good commentary by the CP's Chris Potter, and not just because he links to this very post (welcome, Slag Heap regulars!).

But if you're upset at needless delay in the board-appointment process, you're coming late to the party. As we note in a news story on the streets today (online tomorrow), just about every board in the city has at least one member serving an expired term. EVERY member of the Parking Authority has been operating on an expired term. But now, all the sudden, Jim Motnzik is objecting to political "gamesmanship"?

In fairness, all the Parking Authority has to do these days is figure out whether and how to solve the City's entire pensions crisis -- and do so with its unanimously expired board lacking a member of Council as required by law, because -- well, never you mind why we can't let a member of Council on it -- and with Danny's brother Strong Mad at the helm.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Public Works Land: Open Thread

Inconsistency of personnel discipline, accusations of selective enforcement, a lack of any domestic abuse policy -- and of course the end of Guy Costa's roller-coaster ride -- go!

Think there is anything interesting about the timing of the resignation announcement and the raft of investigative reports?

RESOURCE: Busman's Holiday (Oct. '08): "Costa: I feel blindsided"