Friday, November 27, 2009

Oy Vey: Bloggers Do What Now?

The headline reads: Bloggers open the floodgate on mayor.

Read it carefully and with a skeptical eye, unlike most of Pittsburgh is currently.

First of all, everyone who uses Twitter is a blogger? In that case, Luke Ravenstahl is a blogger, Bill Peduto is a blogger, Patrick Dowd is a blogger and Arlen Specter is a blogger.

The article makes it look as though the actual local political blogs are "opening floodgates" of criticism, reveling in the Mayor's familial troubles -- which is demonstrably and honestly not the case. Indeed, it is just a few of us that are bothering to criticize aspects of how the Mayor is handling things -- which Maria does a fantastic job expressing -- but we have all been tasteful and reserved as to the separation.

I should have written this sooner: for the three years I've been at this, the blogs I've read (and I read a lot of them) have shown a tremendous amount of restraint in not ever referencing "the rumors that are out there". So have our commenters, honestly -- more than once I've marveled at how our entire online community has kept it scrupulously dignified, despite many invitations to the contrary and despite our undeserved reputation as a cesspool. On those very rare occasions when an anonymous commenter has floated something sketchy about the Mayor or about Erin, the bloggers have almost always dutifully deleted the comments, scrubbing our spaces clean.

I'm proud to say that Pittsburgh blogs concern themselves with pensions and debt, with development and infrastructure, with personnel matters rather than personal matters, and at our very worst with dot-connecting insinuations about political corruption rather than personal misfortune. The way today's article was framed (never mind that Sciullo piece), the Post-Gazette might as well cradle the Mayor in its loving arms during this trying ordeal for him.


And now, I will get this over with: rumors can be proven true, and rumors can be proven false; but rumors cannot be "proven to be just that -- rumors". That sounds like a nice last-ditch effort to sound as though one is denying a thing, when those who are paying close attention (perhaps too close) can hear clearly that one is denying nothing. Now, I'm not the Amazing Kreskin and I'm not Sherlock Holmes, but from the few facts we have been given, it sounds to me as though the split-up is very likely more his fault than -- as his public story goes -- her fault. The simplest explanation is usually best, after all.

And does that matter? Should I be writing about it? No and yes.

I'm one of those persons who believe marital drama does not matter in my politicians -- unless persons with whom he or she deals in an official capacity become part of the drama. It would be inappropriate, for example, if Mayor Ravenstahl and Guy Costa were discovered to have been having a tryst. Aside from that, I happen to subscribe to Mr. Sprague's advertised ideals on the issue. Yet I recognize that not everybody does, and that nobody has to -- and I would not presume to lecture to those people that they're obviously wrong. For the sake of the many who believe it is important, it is sadly an issue that merits some coverage and reflection by the media.

That is, it would -- in a city that did not reside somewhere between Mayberry, Pleasantville and Pyongyang.

Most importantly, however, if my view is correct and there is some truth to the rumors, it is fully symptomatic of another issue the local blogs have long been covering -- and with good cause. The jet-setting with billionaires instead of 8:30 AM meetings with residents. Commandeering a Homeland Security vehicle to go to a concert. The culture of cigars, scotch and expensive neckties given as offerings of respect. Brashly accepting tickets and admissions to high-dollar events. Setting up good friends with lucrative business deals and allowing them to elude public scrutiny. And the frequent counter-criticism, most often found through anonymous comments on the blogs, that those who are interested in advancing campaign finance reform and cleaning up government are only "jealous", "want to be the ones doing it themselves", are the "have-nots" and "wish they were the Mayor".

This has never been so much a literal "pay-to-play" culture as a "play-to-be-a-player" culture. This has never been a Mayor that has been excellent at resisting temptation. That's an undesirable quality in a leader, as we've seen many times before. This is probably just an indication that rumors of the Mayor's growth on the job have been somewhat exaggerated, if not foisted forcibly upon us from on high.

There. I opened the sluice-gates for a moment, and now they are closed. I recommend it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Dramatic Reenactment of the Creation of #ravenstahlrumors on Twitter

Still going strong.

Wednesday: Stop! [*]

The city is embroiled in another heated zoning debacle involving absent public processes and threatened lawsuits, this time involving UPMC. Bill Peduto, in whose district the activity is taking place, is up in arms. (P-G, Lord and Jones)

On the plus side, the Regional Enterprise Tower has gone solar in a big way. (Trib, Matthew Santoni)

Morgan Stanley, Morgan Stanley, give me the brandy! (P-G, Rich Lord)

I don't know how Jeremy Boren pulls quotes like these, but it's sensational. (Trib, Jeremy Boren; see also P-G, Dennis Roddey) *-UPDATE: See also P-G, Maria Sciullo.

A note on the return of comment moderation today: it's not a Sprague thing, it's a Monk thing. We're having issues. Please bear with us and we'll post comments as we get the opportunity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Joe Hoeffel: "Pragmatic Progressive"

"Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, we have a wonderful opportunity with natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale," Joe Hoeffel emphasized to a room full environmental activists at Panera Bread in Oakland.

"We should use it. It means jobs."

But that having been said, "Growing Greener is running out of money. A natural gas extraction and recovery tax could generate $100 million -- we could use that to plus-up Growing Greener, create dedicated funding for it."

Hoeffel said he was astonished to find, for example, that the state does not own mineral rights to most of its state parkland. An extraction tax could generate the resources necessary to take care of that oversight among others. These kinds of initiatives would go toward offsetting some of the unavoidable environmental ills of economic growth with enviro-benefits.

"It's a very appropriate tax."

Hoeffel boasted of having earned a 95% voting record while in Congress from the League of Conservation Voters -- and is also proud that he had a 5% remainder, to demonstrate that he's no pushover. Later, as a Montgomery County commissioner, he also fought to launch that county's Open Space program. He said it became so popular that after it expired initially, voters overwhelming reauthorized it via a referendum -- explicitly consenting to incur debt for the sake of preserving the county's open spaces.

He calls himself a "pragmatic progressive", being socially liberal and fiscally responsible -- no foe of business and industry. He is on the liberal side of issues such as reproductive choice, gay marriage, environmental support and "minority views", but fiscally moderate.

"I think most Democrats agree with that -- in fact, I think most moderate Republicans agree with that."

Asked whether the term progressive is really just a synonym for liberal, Hoeffel answered point-blank, "Pretty much. I go back and forth on that. I do object to 'liberal spender', 'tax and spend liberal'," which is why he tacks on pragmatic.

"The way I figure it, if George Bush can be a 'compassionate conservative', I can call myself a 'pragmatic progressive'."

He says he was driven to seek the Governorship when Don Cunningham dropped out of the race, and when Tom Wolf dropped out before that. Looking at the remaining candidates as a whole, he wasn't satisfied with the direction the party would have been headed.

Asked whether there was anything to the notion that a candidate in Pennsylvania needs to be socially conservative to get elected, with particular reference to abortion and Bob Casey Jr., Hoeffel answered, "I disagree with that. We probably could have run a hundred candidates to beat Santorum -- we just didn't know it. Of course, Casey probably gave us the largest percentage."

Evaluating his prospects to win the Democratic nomination, Hoeffel pointed to his strength in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs -- his base -- and the same logic went for the November general election. Provided that he activates enough like-minded Democrats across the state to make up the difference.

"I think neither Jack (Wagner) nor Dan (Onorato) match up as well as I against Tom Corbett -- who's very conservative," Hoeffel warned somewhat ominously.

Asked whether Pittsburghers ought to be leery at the prospect of another Philly-area politician taking control of their fortunes, Hoeffel stressed that that is the same challenge he faced as a suburban pol trying to win over urban voters from the other side of Montgomery County. He says he did win them over, which is what happens -- one becomes a representative for one's whole constituency.

In terms of being an effective governor, Hoeffel points to his success in forming a governing alliance with one of his fellow commissioners, a Republican -- to the exclusion of the third commissioner, also a Republican, which annoys some Republicans back home. He also highlit his own experience as a legislator, and his enthusiasm for working with them. "I love legislators -- I really do. I think that's one thing that was missing to an extent with our current Governor."

Dan Onorato has already made government reform a central issue, so we asked Hoeffel what he brings to the table in that regard. He said that the first bill he passed in the State House was in reaction to the last ethics scandal in Harrisburg in 1978, and it mandated 10-day prior disclosure of contributions before the elections. At the time he says, even that was "unbelievably controversial". He co-sponsored all of the ethics legislation generated during that period.

In Congress, he supported the Shays-Meehan bill providing for campaign finance reform and public financing of elections. Then back in Montgomery County, he helped to write the first Employee Handbook which provided for protection from macing, prohibitions on some employees running for office and certain forms of solicitation. Again he claimed there was intense opposition to that, particularly from County row officers who even took him to court.

The environmentalists valiantly rallied to steer the conversation back to their own turf. Asked whether there is such a thing as Clean Coal, Hoeffel answered "No -- but we ought to see, we ought to research, we ought to put some money into cleaning it up."

It was clarified to him that even if the coal emissions can be cleaned up, what happens to the groundwater is a major difficulty. Hoeffel agreed that "We're very careless in PA" about water forced down through the fracking procedure.

"Technology exists," Hoeffel claimed, to ameliorate that difficulty, "but the right plants aren't built."

When it comes to encouraging cleaner energy, he says that "It's an appropriate role for government to say, 'Utilities, you gotta buy a certain amount of wind, a certain amount of solar."

After the meeting, the assembled environmentalists gathered to evaluate his performance. It sounded to me as though they gave him about a B.

"He can be good on our issues," I was told. In their estimation he misunderstood a few points or glossed over some key difficulties with groundwater (as I'm positive I did in this blog post), and that "he could use someone on the campaign advising him" on the environment. All the same however they seemed to be in agreement that he was the most enviro-friendly candidate of the bunch by a good margin.

Monday, November 23, 2009

the news

The interview with Marty Griffin: LINK. / The Busman has statements: LINK
Ed Heath gives it a shot: LINK. / The That's Church take: LINK

Hoeffel: Corbett Should Hand It Off

During a meeting with environmental activists in Pittsburgh, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Hoeffel said that Attorney General Tom Corbett has a "bad conflict" going in his dual role as the lead prosecutor overseeing continuing "Bonusgate" investigations and as candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor.

"It's great what he's doing -- putting crooks in jail," Hoeffel answered upon being asked whether the prosecutions are politically motivated, as some have alleged. "They ought to continue and let the chips fall where they may."

"But he really ought to step aside from the investigations and prosecutions," Hoeffel continued. "Hand it over to a deputy -- with great fanfare."

"He's in a tough spot," Hoeffel allowed. "But when on one hand you're running for the Republican nomination, and then you're looking at Republicans in the legislature -- that's a bad conflict. His two jobs are conflicting."

More from Hoeffel's conversation with Pittsburgh environmentalists later on the Pittsburgh Comet.