Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wed 1/30: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Brinmeieeire?

Village Voice, Michael Musto

"Pitch Perfect" starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Anna Camp is Glee times Bring It On plus American Pie, and with all the fun of possibly mocking Twilight. If it gets you in the mood for all-female a capella stylings, check out the Sounds of Pittsburgh Women's Barbershop Chorus for weekly auditions or to procure a Telephone Singing Valentine for just $10.

Our Penguins of Ice Hockey are 3-3 after six games, and Penguins blogger Finesse finds the team stale, disinterested, mediocre, top-heavy, goaltender-deficient, and the horn too loud. Don't worry, gang, it's a long season... er, well, it's a season. It's definitely winter.

As muttered first at the Comet, it looks like Joseph Brimmeier is County ACE Fitzgerald's choice to head the Port Authority in place of Steve Bland. As an award-winning member of the semi-notorious Turnpike Commission and as a political-end specialist, first his lack of public transit chops came into question by transit advocates and budget hawks alike, then explanations of a contract sought by a family member failed to achieve an exemplary score on the smell test, now he's getting the Eric Heyl treatment.

In a perfect world, Fitzgerald would simply make a forthright case for whatever important skill sets Brimmeier brings to the table (surely if he's "politically connected" he might be able to better hit up Harrisburg for dedicated funding, right?) then the Port Authority board would vote, and Brimmeier would either be approved sans any suggestions of arm-twisting, or be routinely and dispassionately rejected without any need for loss-of-face or triumphal rancor; on to evaluate Fitzgerald's next candidate would be all.

But of course in this world there are ramifications, man. Varying ramifications. And it does not seem as though anybody is yet in possession of that rough outline of key skill sets. I do not doubt such an outline exists, but if by its nature it is not fit for broad circulation, maybe it deserves a second look. I'm not sure anyone would be content even with a temporary CEO without such bona fides.

More on fracking: Some readers may have trouble rectifying my recent piece excoriating Mayor Ravenstahl for huckstering directly on behalf of the gas industry with this:

[A] note on gas drilling on County land for County profit: This Region Be Fracking. There is no ignoring that. If we can identify and vet an Allegheny County site and get involved in pursuing a pilot project, the public oversight employed might turn the whole thing into an excellent laboratory experiment. That is, in addition to the revenue, which, once again, we seem to require in an awful way. (Comet 9/10/12)

Turns out we are learning more from that experiment faster than we thought. In a relative sense I think Airport lands are less-bad, due to the availability of pre-existing infrastructure and its remoteness from residences. But this I never expected:

Federal rules prevent the county from directly getting any of the airport's drilling money. So if Fitzgerald can't get the state's help, he and airport leaders plan to invest drilling money to lower fees to draw more flights to the airport, and add roads and water pipes to draw more commercial development to its 9,000-acre property. (Trib, Timothy Puko)

Man... see, I was sold on the project because I thought it could help close the County budget gap and keep taxes down, preserve or expand County health services, maybe even safeguard public transit. But now if the state doesn't play ball, which it should, but it probably won't -- why are we drilling public land again? Growth, again? Lower gate fees at a spinster airport? Mm.

And finally in property taxes:

This is where it gets tricky, but I'll tell you right now the county has to cut its rate about 10 percent further. That's exactly what county Controller Chelsa Wagner said last week, and she's right. We both know that because we -- and you -- can go to an online property tax estimator provided by Carnegie Mellon University economist Robert Strauss and his scary smart team of number crunchers. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

Oh now, see, now this is just piling up.

The Fitzy & Chelsa Show generally is a boon to Allegheny County so long as one is not seated in the front rows or at least has plastic. But if O'Neill and the software have it correct, this is a rout on a hot-button issue.

Now me, personally? I wouldn't expect or desire everyone who endorses me to be a saint floating around on progressive rose petals. However I'd prefer that if anyone start seeming "foolish" or "redolent," they should take a backseat -- and nobody can afford to take a backseat these days. I do harbor this fantasy of the County Controller and the County Executive, bitter differences aside, endorsing the same person in the Democratic Party primary -- primary!, primary -- what a strong statement that would make, for everybody! But meanwhile and more to the point, it's almost as though Fitz needs to get back on the scoreboard with Joe Sixpack. On at least one of these issues.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Two Challengers for Ravenstahl: "Is it Wise?"

All three Democratic party contenders for Mayor of Pittsburgh dodged a simple yes-or-no question at a candidate forum on Sunday: "Is it wise for more than one good candidate to run opposite Luke?"

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pointedly deferred answering (okay, he gets a pass). Councilman Bill Peduto said that he "likes" the Controller, acknowledged that they both have a lot of friends in the room, that he does wish he could tell him not to run "but he can't", and put on a brave face. Controller Michael Lamb declined to address Mr. Peduto or his candidacy in any manner and went straight to the brave face.

Nobody in this City wants to talk about wisdom.

(*-UPDATE: The rest of the candidates forum, including a panel for City Council District 8, candidates is available here. For print coverage of the forum, see bingo bango bongo bungo.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mayor Ravenstahl Promotes Shale Drilling Industry, Finds Environmentalists Dishonest & Hateful.

Sorry, it's not hyperbole, it's a plain fact. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is immoderate in that he loves industry and hates environmentalists -- finding them ignorant, dishonest and wearisome. Listen to this 13-minute talk given by Mayor Luke in late 2012, explicit and in unimpeachable context:

(For the record, most political leaders actually seem to relish politics -- whether that means working hard finding consensus among passionate parties, or else throwing in eagerly on one side and deftly rebuking criticism. They love the game itself, and sometimes the nobility of the democratic experiment on which it is founded. Of course, Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill began wondering last month whether Ravenstahl is atypical in that he doesn't seem to like his job, which indeed he sometimes performs as though somebody is holding a knife to his favorite kitten.)

Mayor Ravenstahl makes few points to the assembled natural gas industry stakeholders, the most oft-repeated being that we need to embrace the opportunity of the Marcellus Shale -- embrace the benefit, embrace the jobs, embrace the supply chain, embrace the residential growth, embrace the commercial growth, embrace the embrace. Okay, fine.

Therefore Ravenstahl came to the energy summit to show the industry that "we need to educate those folks" in politics who are leery of opposition from environmentalists -- "the meetings, the yelling and the screaming." He says that "we need to be honest with ourselves about the opportunity" represented by natural gas drilling, instead of  focusing on "politics." Obviously a secondary reason he took part in the summit was to garner political recognition from a cash-rich industry, but apparently he does not recognize how that counts on the scales as "politics."

Interestingly, Ravenstahl maintains that "we hear over and over again" about the negative impacts of natural gas drilling -- but "not so much, from my perspective about the good it can do" regarding jobs and economic growth. I find myself wishing I lived on his street; it truly does seem to be peacefully secluded from the rest of the world.

So Luke Ravenstahl's pro-drilling position is honest rational policy, whereas those who disagree with him are political, dishonest, self-serving and ignorant. At least this is consistent with his other positions on public matters: "Why do you have to be so political and unfortunate?"


Do not be misled by the moment around 01:35 when the Mayor alludes briefly to an "other extreme" which says "drill baby drill" and does not think about "ramifications." It passed quickly. Ravenstahl had a golden opportunity here to strike a balanced approach and expand on those "ramifications," providing the industry with assertive cautions about the need to fund oversight and enforcement, to allow for some local control of zoning and land use, or to fund and pay attention to the results of continued environmental impact research. It never remotely came up.

Ravenstahl's strategy is to embrace the benefits of drilling now, and trust the industry to voluntarily improve whatever it is that might need improvement later and without political insistence. One could call this "backwards", but the point here is only that Ravenstahl is no plain-spoken moderate in the middle -- he is deftly providing cover for one side, the industry's side.

And PLEASE!!!, do not be unduly distracted and sent snark-hunting amidst the weeds of a debate over the legality of the present citywide outright ban versus an alternative of replacing it with exclusionary zoning law. It is true that mayoral candidate Bill Peduto has recently underscored his commitment to the outright ban as necessary municipal activism against a state not doing its job protecting its communities. And it is true that mayoral candidate Michael Lamb prefers the less outwardly defiant, more subtle form of protection of exclusionary zoning. The debate over which is better is fascinating, with neither having a monopoly of being "right" or unquestionably constitutional absent a legal challenge.

Ravenstahl favors neither the ban on the books nor the zoning legislation on the table. Ravenstahl's concern is to tarnish both efforts as political, dishonest and ignorant. Ravenstahl's concern is to be an industry activist and to embrace the industry.

It is often suggested that the power to regulate oil and mineral extraction such as in the Marcellus Shale formation is naturally and properly a commonwealth issue -- so it is the State Legislature's job to protect us. Very good. How then can Pennsylvania ever be expected to "do its job" if leaders of great population and knowledge centers are shilling for the industry, taking money, and disparaging environmentalists?

Occasionally Mayor Ravenstahl uses environmentalist sentiment as a sweetener to win a subsidy or other support for a "green building", that is, new construction. That's fine. And he will accept grant money that is available to do a small-scale environmental demonstration project once in a while. Also nice and easy. But in the end, like civic design and principled opposition, environmentalism is just one of those things this mayor does not "get".

Pittsburgh deserves that that should be well understood.