Saturday, January 9, 2010

My 2nd Cousin Zack was just Bar-Mitzvah'd...

.. and his haftorah this morning reminded me I never found the right excuse to post this:

Speaking of relevant video, my tweeps know I've been on a major Battlestar Galactica kick:

Sorry about the Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner interlude.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Speaking Of Zappala

There's only one point that I want to make about the whole bizarre hate triangle between Dr. Cyril Wecht, D.A. Stephen Zappala and State Sen. Jane Orie.

On KQV News Radio 1410 the other day, Wecht alleged:

"Steve Zappala said to a state legislator back in 2005 that 'Anybody that screws with me or my family is going to be indicted.' That's a direct quote. A direct quote. And I want him to stand in front of the cameras and respond to you and say that he never made that statement."


"Another statement he sent to me in 2005, through an attorney ... was that if I was willing not to become the chief medical examiner of Allegheny County then quote, 'All of this will go away', talking about the entire investigation that he had initiated and instigated..."

Those are ABOMINABLE, MONSTROUS accusations. That is all they are -- accusations -- but they need to be denied.

Wecht did himself no favors by allowing a foul ethnic slur to escape his lips just a tiny bit later, in reference to somebody who works in Mr. Zappala's office. Zappala in response rightfully deplored that portion and made reference to the fact that Wecht "does not like him" -- but he did not touch upon the substance of Wecht's allegations.

He cannot play "I won't dignify that with a response" with this. It's just too serious. He's the only district attorney we have and we must be assured he's not using his office as a club to advance the business interests or political aspirations of himself or his family.

Now, I disagree with Wecht that what Orie has just been accused of is obviously insignificant. And during Wecht's first trial, I disagreed with him that what he himself stood accused of at that time was "nickel and dime stuff" and also insignificant. I am a hawk when it comes to the people's resources being utilized for personal gain, and believe that if "everybody does" that type of thing then everybody should go to jail, so that everybody who replaces them can learn a valuable lesson.

Then again, I acknowledge that is all easy for me to say from my vantage point. Reasonable people can disagree in regards to the relative seriousness of using government equipment, government time and government personnel to make political phone calls and write political letters. I don't think I've ever held a job where I did not send an e-mail or make a few calls for extracurricular purposes. Furthermore I don't think I've ever met a political staffer who would not take a bullet for his or her boss without even being asked. I still think it's clearly wrong and am confident the law agrees with me -- but in other atmospheres I can understand someone holding a different opinion.

But there's wrong and then there's absolutely heinous.

To threaten people with criminal prosecution as political leverage -- no, not political, but personal, entrepreneurial leverage -- and to dangle the possibility of eluding prosecution if others do as one demands is several orders of magnitude worse than anything of which Wecht, Orie, DeWeese or Perzel has ever been accused. It's in a league of its own. And although superficially similar to what Attorney General Tom Corbett's detractors have suggested about him, it is far more specific and serious in terms of the quid-pro-quo arrangements allegedly sought after -- and has been met with far greater silence.

So did our District Attorney make those statements or statements like it? Well? Allegheny County deserves a real answer, not mere counter-accusations. This isn't a wrestling feud or a soap opera -- the integrity of our criminal justice apparatus has just been gruesomely maligned, and we can all see that. It needs to be denied with specificity.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010



I don't even know how to begin.

I knew last year that nothing gold can stay and the Comet would have to wrap things up eventually -- its improbable, implausible, ill-defined work largely unfinished. A wise blogger once told me, "Three years is about good," and it's been a very good three years. But news kept happening and it didn't seem worthwhile to think about.

Firstly I have to thank the Burghosphere and its extended community for existing, participating and being so supportive. What we have out here will only get better and better. The prominence that this screwy little corner of the web attained has largely been a function of being in a fertile place during a very fertile time. I hope I have helped to inspire as high and worthy standards in blogging as I have attempted to in government itself. I know I can be a harsh taskmaster and not always remotely perfect, but the important thing is to set laudable goals and to pursue them in good faith.

It's also important to thank all the professional reporters, editors, public officials, candidates for office and tireless community members who may not participate directly but who have expressed their appreciation, either by telling me directly or by consenting to be interviewed or pitching stories themselves. When people are fighting hard for their communities and their idea of how the city should be, and they call me in a bid to try to make it happen, that is truly humbling.

Make no mistake and don't let anyone fool you. We are having an impact. We -- ordinary people living in and around this city with no special ulterior motives except that we live here -- are having an impact -- on people who represent about altruistically lifting up the commonweal yet have mixed and unfinished track records on that score. There is magic in words, in saying what you know and sharing how you feel. The pen is mightier than the dollar bill. It doesn't always win, but it is evolving faster.


I've been asked to relate some of my favorite stories and moments over the past three years. I know that I want to but don't know how much I'll get to. There has been a great mass of things I've intended to do and look into and explore that I've never gotten around to. It piles up after while.

I know where to start though, that is for sure, so I'll start there right away.

For about a week at the beginning of January of 2008, I became consumed by the story of the recreation of the Hill District. I've never done cocaine but I swear I felt like I was on it while I was writing that week. By the end of it, it all turned out to have a theme and a direction and even some artistic merit, to the point where it seemed like a series. Here is how it developed:

Please don't construe this as taking anything away from the many, many people who organized and spent far more time in pursuit of that same cause than I did. But given the reception that the push for public benefits to be delivered along with the new hockey arena had received until that time, when the mayor of the city suggested at the end of that week that "Seed Money" and support for a grocery store could be forthcoming -- I felt somehow that my yammering away at this keyboard was actually tipping the scales. If only to provide heart and inspiration to those directly involved.

Of course, that grocery store is in grave peril, and the "seed money" come to think of it was never spoken of again. And who knows what's up with the Master Planning process really.

That is the danger, and gets back to some of my guilt. Last night I congratulated some officials with whom I have had occasional differences, and most of them were extremely gracious, philosophical and convivial. I occasionally offered the line, "Congratulations, you outlasted me!" I hope I am not out of line when I report that one of them who was not so gracious responded, in chilling seriousness and perhaps before thinking, "Yeah I know, we like it when that happens."

Two years ago was one time when I outlasted them. Not only did the tone of the public conversation start changing around that point, but four months later, when an episode that is far better remembered occurred involving a development official, an advertising company and a press secretary, an actual formal Community Benefits Agreement was suddenly put on the table. A little more squeezing by all involved, a little luck, and it became a decent one that was acceptable to much of that community.

Of course, there were major problems with it -- problems which are only becoming more apparent. Let's keep looking at that and see if we can't get ourselves back in that frame of mind. Back to where we are demanding that our government treat us fairly and squarely, living up to its stated intentions beyond when cameras are rolling.


I would have liked every week to have been like that one week. Not Pat Ford week, or the other Pat Ford week or the one after that, but that Hill District week in early January of 2008. I would have liked on that and on all other occasions and issues to have been forever relentless, following up on every detail over months and years, keeping the pressure on and the masses entertained, and having the results be pyrotechnically apparent on the front page of the newspapers.

That's not the way it usually works though, and I want to impart that it doesn't have to at all. I've learned this. Even when we fall short or work slowly and deliberately, in the background, in the atmosphere, in the ether, we are having an effect.

If there's one lesson I want to impart, that is probably it. Thousands of people don't need to read you, you don't need to rack up tens and hundreds of comments, you don't need your name in the paper. You there, at your computer, knowing only what you know and feeling only how you feel: you are good enough to change your city, you deserve to be heard, and you can have an impact!!!

Indeed, for those in power who are less than perfectly scrupulous, it is ordinary people like you who are potentially most vexing of all.

PS -- Lots of people are also asking me what I'm up to. I'd love to answer but I can't. Right now the answer lies somewhere between "I don't know" and "I can't tell you." When that changes you'll be the first ones to know.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

PA State Government: How to Handle This?

Does anyone buy this theory?

Shuster said he believes the Legislature could become more efficient this year, in large part because of lawmakers' self-interest. With all House seats and half the Senate seats up for election, "they don't want to go back home and be painted with what happened — or didn't happen — in 2009," Shuster said.

"They're selfishly motivated," he said. "They're more motivated because it is an election year." (Trib, Brad Bumstead)

If we don't see some results in the early part of the year, I'd just as soon assume the problems are structural and start calling for that constitutional convention in earnest. Unicameral legislature, anyone? Ballot propositions? Term limits? Anyone in Harrisburg presently going to speak up in favor of changing something, anything, or is it landslide time?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Burgh Politics as Telemundo Space Opera!

Been holding on to this one for a while...

On Your Results: Quick Gushing Analysis

They say in politics, the right things never happen for the right reasons. And I can see already that some scribes are coming forth with tales of woe: DIVISION! ACRIMONY! DEAL MAKING! HORSETRADING! SHOCK! SURPRISE! WEIRDNESS!

But I tell you what. Although all nine members did not sit down to figure out a "compromise", Darlene Harris represents a true, fundamental compromise and middle ground. Democracy did the thing that it does when it actually works good.

Sure, one "side" of the aisle decided to execute the compromise unilaterally because their backs were up against a wall, confronting an outcome they perceived to be intolerable. But did the other "side" wind up with one of the outcomes they would find truly intolerable? No, because that could not be achieved. Bruised feelings aside, each of the warring factions in Pittsburgh has reason not to grind their teeth tonight in their sleep.

Can any of you identify which "side" Darlene Harris better represents, the progressives or the imperialists? No. And that might actually mean she's not on one of them at all, and she's been quiet about it -- not conspicuously playing both sides of the fence. Perhaps last week, you would have said she falls at least a titch on the Mayor's "side", but that has been balanced by her principled pick of Peduto as finance chair as someone she says "has been doing a good job at that." Which in turn was balanced again by selecting Theresa Smith to be President Pro-Tem, to serve as President in her absence.

After having been built up, built up, Buttercup, just to be let down, does Councilwoman Smith have reason to feel a little wounded? Of course. But as she attested frequently this was an entirely unexpected opportunity for her. As a front-running and much-discussed candidate for the past week, her stature is far higher than it was even after that Student Tax meeting.

Yes there were fireworks, yes there will be political analysis, and yes it ended in a 5-4 vote. But in the end, compromise happened, and Pittsburghers who do not live and breathe these politics are the winners. Now, had Crown Prince Peduto carried the day instead, I would have been far, far more excited -- done a little touchdown dance and everything. But I don't think I can imagine being any more serenely happy with the results. I am uplifted.

One more thing -- because we must be consistent -- although we should be comforted that Council President Harris has six years worth of legislative experience plus several on the School Board, does she pass the all-important "Would You Trust Her To Be Mayor" test?

Well. Tell you what. I trust her maturity level. I trust her heart is in the right place. I don't not trust her to be Mayor. Count it!

Anyone Else Drunk Already?

Alright, let's not get locked into this "Bill Peduto" frame of mind. What else we got?

I say we give Sally Kern the scare of a lifetime.