Friday, March 22, 2013

The Artist: Rick Derringer

The venue: White House Correspondents Dinner

Mapping Pittsburgh Murals
by Vannevar Bush

Over the last year my friend S. and I have been riding our bikes to the murals and outdoor public art in Pittsburgh, documenting and cataloging, and organizing our finds into a Google-map with drill-down info on the artists and additional info on the stories behind the mural. You can see the result at
Our hope is that this
  • provides a searchable, accessible resource for anybody interested in exploring and learning Pittsburgh's neighborhoods
  • helps plan an afternoon's outing
  • encourages people to explore the city and discover what lies a little bit off their routine track.
There's a tremendous amount of high-quality, outdoors public art in Pittsburgh. Some of the artwork I'd point out to a first-time visitor as representative would include:
Brick Woman by Lady Pink in Braddock

Persephone by multiple artists in East Liberty

Mother Nature by Ashley Hodder on the East Busway

Untitled by George Gist in Wilkinsburg

Greenfield Connected by William Schlough in Greenfield

Grand Mere by Bob Ziller in Bloomfield

It's Your Turn by Ian Green, Lauren Hinish in Homestead

Wheeling Heliocentric Orrery by Kevinn Fung in Lawrenceville

Rebirth by Gregg Valley in Carnegie

The Garfield Gator (by anonymous) in Garfield

There are over 360 different artworks mapped at, and you can slice the database by neighborhood, artist, funding organisation - for example, the Sprout Fund murals, and this is a map of the Carnegie fund-raising dinosaurs - or you can search by keywords.
Might be a great way to plan an afternoon outdoors.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reforms of Pittsburgh Spring under Assault

My Adventure :)

I expected the trajectory of City Hall's evolution to be examined in this election, but not quite like this...

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto's mayoral campaign filed for a court injunction today saying fellow candidates Michael Lamb and Jack Wagner are violating the city's campaign finance law. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

Full statement here. Now, to illustrate the civic environment at the time of that law's passage:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl termed it "a historic day" for the city, saying it will "give residents the reform they deserve." (P-G 2009, Rich Lord)


"This working together of the administration and Mr. Peduto I think really gives us a guideline to how we can accomplish very significant things in this city," said Councilman Ricky Burgess. (ibid)

So these were some ├╝ber-popular, hard-won reforms not that long ago.

For the record, I bet Michael Lamb has an even chance at having his Controller money ruled kosher for his Mayoral run. Those who donated money to him for Pittsburgh-wide office are likely enough just as enthused about his leadership, and a thorough interpretation of the law might just reflect that. I'm also interested to hear more about his attack on Bill Peduto as a mere "gadfly". It's high time for candidates to lay their reservations about each other on the table, come what may.

But Jack Wagner's leftover money warhead from an unsuccessful run for governor is just the kind of encroachment these reforms were enacted to prevent. I'm not sure the "you all realize he's a great guy" defense is going to serve him well if his reintroduction to local voters is to wipe his feet on our growing legacy of redding up government. Perhaps a quick course correction is in order.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mayor Ravenstahl to fight UPMC's Tax Exemptions

I.B. Tauris Blog

Flanked by new allies such as Chelsa Wagner and Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Lhatsnevar held a news conference today announcing a legal challenge to the tax exempt statuses of all 150 of UPMC's properties in the City.

"It is very clear to me UPMC is not a purely public charity," said Lhatsnevar. (1) "Enough is enough, and today is the day we start fighting back." (2)

Property and payroll tax receipts enable the City to pay for services, infrastructure and legacy costs, the County to pay for public mass transit, and public schools to pay for teachers and building maintenance. None of these things are in particularly good shape. Mayor Lhatnsevar estimates UPMC has been able to elude $200 million annually in taxes (3) although he says it does not meet the legal definition of a purely public charity (4).

UPMC officials greeted the Mayor's announcement with smarmy dissembling.

“The challenge to UPMC's tax-exempt status appears to be based on the mistaken impression that a nonprofit organization must conduct its affairs in a way that pleases certain labor unions, certain favored businesses or particular political constituencies — in other words, the way that some local governments are also run,” said Paul Wood, a UPMC spokesman. (Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

"Particular political constituencies" is industry jargon for people. The corporate health establishment has long maintained it inappropriate for governments to apply laws literally due to pressure from special interests such as people.

“If UPMC ran its affairs as poorly as some of our local governments, it would not have become the internationally known, world-class health care institution it is today,” Wood said. (ibid)

Pittsburghers may well hesitate to risk returning to the dark times of having to choose between hospitals such as Montefiore, St. Margaret, Shadyside, Passavant, McGee, Childrens and Mercy -- all of which were purchased, repackaged, sterilized and made less competitive in the process of UPMC becoming famous.

"We look forward to addressing this in a court of law rather than responding to partisan politics," UPMC said in a statement (5) reacting to the day's events.

Saying in the media that Pittsburgh sucks, that city, county and other municipal governments suck and that your public officials suck just ten minutes ago to some does not qualify as a political reaction.

The Comet has learned that later today, Mayor Lhatsnevar will hold a press conference detailing the importance of preserving the Civic Arena.

Old habits die hard. Good show.


Bill Peduto calls this a "good first step" but would not single out UPMC alone as a matter of "tax fairness". Michael Lamb issues a statement standing with the City and castigating UPMC for "harsh anti-worker treatment." Jim Ferlo highlights the closure of Braddock Hospital and levels of charity care. Natalia Rudiak seems pleased to be no longer waiting though lip service. Chelsa Wagner praises Ravenstahl's leadership and courage. Virginia Montanez is enthused about Ravenstahl's "out from under" moment and eager to see how all mayoral contenders respond. Comet Flashback: June 2012.

Monday, March 18, 2013

C'mon yinzers, let's find a Mayor! Debate Notes.

These notes from yesterday's mayoral debate at Obama Academy were originally taken with fat fingers on a touch-screen phone with Autocorrect, so I only entered what seemed like the unique or interesting bits. Since there wasn't much back-and-forth, I here rearrange them by candidate in alphabetical order, since this is a legitimate establishment.

DARLENE HARRIS would work with the unions to help Pittsburgh graduates get jobs in the skilled trades, and work with the corporate community to find them internships. She would look to emulate Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, who is up in Harrsiburg a lot lobbying for aid. In terms of public safety she has worked to install security cameras in her neighborhoods and get police more and better technology, and has also instituted block watches. The North Side Leadership Conference has helped make the North Side become and feel safer, and she'd like more help from a better staffed Department of City Planning. In response to the corruption question, Harris says as a public official "everyone's trying to give you money and buy you," but claims people who rely on such "are afraid" if she gets elected Mayor. To encourage higher wages she has worked to pass "living wage" legislation at the Council level.

MICHAEL LAMB Helping to start A+ Schools shows his commitment to "leadership that listens" and that is open and transparent. He is "not going to pat himself or anyone else on the back because some qualify for the Promise," but rather continue to "cheer lead and advocate" for better schools and pursue the Summer Dreamers Program. Lamb came out hard to expand the payroll preparation tax to all employers including the nonprofits, justifiable because low wages lead to low wage tax receipts. He would put more police on the streets instead of behind desks, and would diversify the police force using federal funds. In response to the corruption question, Lamb says under his stewardship the Controllers' office became "the most open, honest, transparent office in government," and hinted there are overlaps noticeable on Open Book Pittsburgh between contributors and contract recipients. He would use "incentives" and "access to capital" such as TIFs to lure jobs, but not just for big developers but small businesses -- particularly women-owned. He says he's been out there agitating with UPMC workers for higher wages and suggested Rivers Casino needs it too.

BILL PEDUTO wants to "turn the paradigm upside down" with community leadership, instead of making decisions based on "who wrote the biggest check." Says that fostering a Promise-ready student "starts at five years old," so would seek to use Promise funding to provide "wrap-around services" like mentoring, tutoring, and meals at seniors centers. Supports Rep. Roebuck's charter and cyber school reform bill. Nonprofits need to be made accountable to the community, their clients and their own workers. Looking to models of urban policing in other cities, and would decentralize policing powers out to Commanders, appropriate to each area and level of community involvement. In response to the corruption question, Peduto pointed back to bills "ending no bid contracts, strengthening the Ethics Code, campaign finance reform," mentioned Public Safety Director nominee Dennis Regan, a billboard based on "graft," and the need for a Redd Up Crew in City Hall. Touted $2 billion in grassroots development experience in his district, pointing out South Highland and East Liberty weren't particularly affluent beforehand. Touted prevailing wage bill, and says "it's not about brick and mortar or retail," but investing in things like new "green" housing and mass transit.

JACK WAGNER says we need more partnerships with and within City government, that "we don't need Council fighting with Council." He also would seek more aid from Harrisburg to address dropout rate, and would "keep Schenley open." Back in City Council he passed an assault weapons ban, and "would enforce lost & stolen." In response to the corruption question, Wagner cited his audit exposing the PHEAA and cyber & charter schools and alleged "no one is addressing problems in City Hall." Says the US Steel lease is up soon Downtown and we need to address that to keep jobs here, but also "Pittsburgh needs to be an incubator kind of city." Joins calls to increase the minimum wage on the federal level. Would like to expand Pittsburgh Promise to include a "Pittsburgh Partnership", focused on keeping graduates here.

JAKE WHEATLEY says that "guns and violence isn't just a law enforcement issue, it's a communal issue." In response to the corruption question, Wheatley called for "more transparency, monitoring and accountability measures." He stressed that real economic growth occurs "when all are welcomed" and would focus not just on the supply-side, but "retraining human capital." He notes an uptick in our population and quality of life.

SCORECARD / EDITORIAL: With his willingness once again to identify for us corrupt patterns at the City so that we might recognize such practices early next time, his ability to cite multiple concrete steps he has taken to inhibit that corruption in the past, the specifics with which he proposed expanding Pittsburgh Promise efforts, the depth of substance when it comes to talking community economic development, and his as-yet unique recognition that public mass transit is like education a mammoth part of the equation in achieving desirability as a city and region, it is hard for this blog not to conclude that present front-runner Bill Peduto gave the strongest performance in this first debate.

NEWS: While the papers had it correct that all candidates agreed UPMC et al needs to start paying a fair share to the City, the County and school district, special adviser to the governor Dennis Roddy decided to throw some icy cold water on that proposition, even though last were all led to believe this was also the Governor's policy and a grim, hard-won bipartisan consensus.