Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jack Wagner: Pittsburgh's social conservative candidate for Mayor


Don't act surprised, you knew this was coming.

To some voters in municipal elections, "social issues" are an irrelevancy and a cynical distraction. But to many others, these issues rise to the level of trust and character issues, as well as an indication of a candidate's ability to grasp how enhancing diversity and vigorously opposing societal privilege benefits cities and organizations.

A cursory Google search turned up interesting factoids from Wagner's past on Pittsburgh City Council and in the State Senate, back when he had to make important decisions:


In 1990, Wagner refused to pander to gay rights activists in that he voted against adding "sexual orientation" to the City's anti-discrimination law in the Human Relations Act.

Wagner was a prime sponsor of a Pittsburgh City Council resolution declaring it "Respect Life Week". Too long ago? In 2000, the pro-life senator co-signed a letter urging the state House to adopt an amendment penalizing women's health centers for mentioning abortion or where to get them.

And he opposed the City Personnel Director's and Mayor Richard Caliguiri 's initiative to diversify the Fire Bureau by easing one of the physical standards on tests for new city Firefighters recruits, out of concern about being unfair to male applicants and ruining the force. At the time, the Fire Dept. had one female in its employ.

In the mid-90's, Wagner opposed efforts to integrate city schools, through either busing or redistricting, opting instead to protect "neighborhood schools".

But for all that, this may be my personal favorite:

Mayor Tom Murphy and several Wagners were arguing during and after a mayoral debate -- Murphy had countered some of Wagner's character and ethics accusations by raising questions about Pete and Rob Wagner's dealings with the City, and what if anything Jack ever did about it -- so an angry Jack Wagner leveled the accusation, "Tom Murphy is a flower child of the '60s!"

Politicians and people can change, or at least change their official positions. Some change slowly, whereas some actually don't need to -- they've been ahead of the curve. However, taken all together, the above material indicates to this voter that it will always be more of an uphill battle for women, minorities, civil rights activists and socially liberal voters to motivate Jack Wagner to "get" their concerns and "act" accordingly. After all, Jack Wagner does not pander.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day's events: Campaign Finance exception triggered, Patrick Dowd endorses


All of a sudden, it's no-limit Indian poker:

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James initially ruled that Wagner could not use the money he raised to campaign for governor in 2010 and during his campaign for auditor general, a position he held from 2005 to 2013.
But Wagner's attorney, Edward Friedman, introduced additional evidence following that ruling, including two checks that Lamb donated to his own campaign in December — one for $2,000 and one for $50,000. Those donations triggered another part of the city's campaign finance law, voiding the donation limits for all candidates, James ruled. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

The judge enforced the law, but Lamb's curious $52,000 contribution to himself earlier triggered a voiding of the limits in this race.

Wagner alleges the law was simply poorly written, so the next question should be whether he himself thinks limiting campaign spending is important, and what he would do to fix it...

In any event, if a necessary loophole in the law was cagily exploited (using one's "own" money being an inalienable right, even it is "Controller" money) the voters can just close it themselves.



In other news, Councilman Patrick Dowd has endorsed:

“Never before has it been more crucial for city and county government to work shoulder to shoulder on issues such as water and sewer system reinvestment, transportation and economic development,” Dowd states as the foundation for his endorsement. (

Dowd's prior hesitations and reservations about Peduto (and about the blogs sometimes) are already on record, but the guy has his head screwed on right. He always has. His vote of confidence in Peduto's ability to bring people together is valuable. A mayor's capacity to innovate and invest successfully is important, and that takes not only political courage and ability but enormous amounts of trust and confidence.

The kind of leadership the Mayor's office lacks, as a unit, right now.


Morality can sometimes be Unconstitutional...

By Shawn Carter

Girls, Girls, Girls!!!
There are those, like my esteemed buddy and verbal sparring partner, the author of this blog, who would likely argue that our fair City was well within its rights, as a municipality, to have taken the action(s) now the subject of an action in federal Court.

Obviously, there are those, like the indefatigable Mr. Kamin, who would argue that what the City did represents indefensible actions on the part of a municipality engendered by nothing short of sheer animus toward a single industry. 

I will not attempt to litigate either proposition here.  I will, however, take the opportunity to share insights I've acquired through my years in government.

A few years back, Larry Flynt came to Pittsburgh, looking to open up an "adult entertainment" venue on the City's North Shore somewhere near Manchester.

After a single meeting with Planning and Zoning, a civil rights action was initiated, in federal Court, alleging, among other things, that Flynt's First, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were to be violated. 

Mr. Flynt, through his corporate entity HDV-Pittsburgh represented by some of the VERY BEST constitutional lawyers in the land, requested relief from the federal Courts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, known as the "Ku Klux Klan Act", which states:

Every person who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, Suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.  For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

The argument was simple and devastating.  The Zoning Code's process for approving adult uses was rife with overbroad municipal discretion, and that said discretion would undoubtedly lead to a denial of the requested permits, either by the Planning Commission, City Council, or both.

And as legitimate a threat to the zoning scheme as that presented to our municipality, the bigger threat was posed by an accompanying section of the United States Code, at 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), which states:

§ 1988. Proceedings in vindication of civil rights

(b) Attorney’s fees
In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision
of sections 1981, 1981a, 1982, 1983, ... , the court, in
its discretion, may allow the prevailing party,
other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s
fee as part of the costs...

This little section was established to award attorney's fees to those attorneys willing to take up these "civil rights" actions against governments and municipalities, because as is often the case, the average citizen simply cannot afford to fight a years-long battle with government lawyers merely to vindicate their civil rights, as government never seems to run out of time, money or lawyers.

This section was designed to encourage civil-rights attorneys to take these cases.

And just as with previous civil-rights cases against the City, the City wisely decided not to take the risk of being ordered by a judge to grant the permits AND pay Larry Flynt's white-shoe civil-rights attorneys and decided that a non-money settlement would preserve the public coffers.

Through the years, the high Court has had to deal with the question of government actions which potentially violate one or more clauses of the First Amendment.  Generally speaking, the Court tends not to overturn the government application of "neutral, generally applicable laws" even when they infringe upon one of a citizen's First Amendment rights, like "freedom of exercise".  However, the Court does tend to step in when the infringement of that right also infringes upon other Constitutional guarantees, like freedom of speech, due process or equal protection of the law.

From the article, it appears that Mr. Kamin has turned his attack on free speech, due process AND equal protection.

Essentially, if Mr. Kamin can establish that the City's action discriminates against his client and does so solely against the class of industry in which his client(s) operate, and that the action was based upon an animus toward his client's form of "protected" speech, that no administrative process exists or existed to appeal said determination and that other classes of enterprises have access to said services, those actions amount to an unconstitutional deprivation of services and could require the Court to apply the judicial standard of "strict scrutiny."

What is "Strict scrutiny?"

U.S. courts apply the strict scrutiny standard in two contexts, when a fundamental constitutional right is infringed, particularly those found in the Bill of Rights and those the court has deemed a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause or "liberty clause" of the 14th Amendment, or when a government action applies to a "suspect classification" such as race or, sometimes, national origin.
To pass strict scrutiny, the law or policy must satisfy three tests:
It must be justified by a compelling governmental interest. While the Courts have never brightly defined how to determine if an interest is compelling, the concept generally refers to something necessary or crucial, as opposed to something merely preferred. Examples include national security, preserving the lives of multiple individuals, and not violating explicit constitutional protections.
The law or policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve that goal or interest. If the government action encompasses too much (overbroad) or fails to address essential aspects of the compelling interest, then the rule is not considered narrowly tailored.
The law or policy must be the least restrictive means for achieving that interest, that is, there cannot be a less restrictive way to effectively achieve the compelling government interest. The test will be met even if there is another method that is equally the least restrictive. Some legal scholars consider this "least restrictive means" requirement part of being narrowly tailored, though the Court generally evaluates it separately.

Strict scrutiny, as per the legal scholars, is strict in theory, but often fatal in fact.

While I personally don't disagree with the City's actions in this matter, as a deeply-held personal belief, I tend to get instantly leery anytime a government, under color of law, intentionally deprives any person of their rights under the Constitution, because usually when it does, it disproportionately disaffects the vulnerable.

The Constitution tends to cut both ways where freedoms are concerned.  

I don't see Blush as a vulnerable victim, but they may be a victim nonetheless.  

Bram, your turn...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Labor Endorsements shed light on Mayor's Race, choosing b/t Peduto and Wagner

Pirates vs. Ninjas

Ninjas are stealthy, and pirates, er, pirate. A healthy division of labor aids growth. Adam Smith, baby.

Today the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME -- government workers who are not police, firefighters, or those organized by the Teamsters etc. -- endorsed post-Ravenstahl front runner Bill Peduto because he "will bring an end to the corruption that has infected city government."

That's enough for a blog post right there.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) endorsed Peduto today as well, as did the Sheet Metal Workers -- excuse me, did somebody say something about "working class"? -- as did IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, in a show of strength.

In terms of IATSE, we have an active issue:

Also today, officials of Local 3 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees pressed the board for the opportunity to work at publicly subsidized Stage AE, saying the venue has been hiring out-of-town, non-union labor since opening several years ago. They want to be considered for the next contract in 2015, particularly since the state provided a $2.5 million state grant to finance the construction. City Councilman Corey O'Connor, a stadium authority board member, backed their fight. "We should keep these jobs here," he said. (P-G, Mark Belko)

For good reason. If part of Pittsburgh's formula is to be a cultural Mecca -- the Cultural District Downtown, entertainment venues on the other side of the North Shore Connector -- then the specialists who work hard producing those shows should be in on the benefit. It makes a region stronger. Governments can work to guide that process, and should when taxpaying residents helped to demolish old structures, clear, remediate, hold, provide land for, plan around and fund entertainment complexes.

At any rate, Peduto has previously earned endorsements from the construction workers' Laborer's Council, service workers' SEIU32BJ, the Steelworkers, the Ironworkers, and city Paramedics. All told, that is fairly convincing mosaic of societal role-players: those who really have to struggle to achieve middle-class security for their families.
Jack Wagner, not to be outdone, we learned last week (gosh, was it not even a week ago?) earned endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Firefighters, the heavy equipment Operating Engineers as well as the Teamsters of the city government. The Wagner campaign credibly claims this gives him endorsements from "the bulk of city workers." However, within and outside of government, Peduto now gets to claim "more union support than any other candidate."

It is early in the Wagner campaign, even though it is late at the same time. I am more interested in where Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's outstanding labor support will land -- the Steamfitters, Electrical Workers, Carpenters and Buildings Trades, frequently enough fans of expanding and expediting their business with taxpayers -- and in whether there are any noticeable stories in the division of Labor's political support.

We should talk about whether and why ninjas for example are tending to cluster behind Peduto, and pirates behind Wagner. I know that solidarity among all workers forever is important, but let's not be as escapist and naive as Karl Marx. Observation is good, and growth needs to occur.

Monday, April 1, 2013


"and even though I love these boots, this fashion's getting old..."

Two days ago, while discovering that City Controller Michael Lamb initiated a broad audit of the Police Bureau only eleven days ago, we also learn that...

Other communications between top controller's office officials and top police brass show that auditors launched a review of the police Premium Pay Account on Feb. 8 by emailing bureau personnel and finance manager Sandra J. Ganster. On Feb. 9, Ms. Ganster brought her concerns about the alleged diversion of funds meant for that account to public safety director Michael Huss, her attorney has said. (P-G, Lord & Balingit)

The Controller's e-mail to Ganster came a couple weeks following the January whistleblowing memo from within the department mentioning Ganster as a recipient of questionably accounted-for funds began circulating.

Mayor's photo gallery
We still don't know what if anything Public Safety Director Huss did with the information provided by Ganster, instigated by Lamb, likely inspired by the whistle blowing officers. And we still don't know for how long Director Huss knew about the diversion of checks into the credit bureau, before or after Dep. Chief Donaldson shut it down in March.

Even still, Lamb has been more interested in making a case that the Finance Dept appears to have been complicit in the continuing advantage-taking.

Were both city Departments at fault? Something in the middle? Where do the Finance Dept. and the Public Safety Dept. intersect?


Controller Lamb also has placed the Housing Authority under a heat lamp:

The audit, though, identified problems with an authority anti-drug effort and with a now-defunct contract under which constable-trained guards patrolled low-income communities, Mr. Lamb said.
"I think they went about providing us with the minimum information they could," Mr. Lamb said. "We'll turn it over to the DA, see if they want to pursue it and see if they want to pursue the information we didn't get using subpoena power." He emphasized that he found no evidence of criminality. (P-G, Rich Lord II)

One cannot mention turning an audit over to prosecutors in the same breath as complaining about a lack of forthcoming information without meaning to make pretty clear one smells something fishy.

The contract with private company Victory Security sounds like a disaster, and even if it wasn't fishy it furnished public housing residents with "separate but equal" protection. No word yet on when and how the Police Bureau will "come to terms" on providing security.

Burgess, Dist. 9
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Housing Authority is on the board of the Housing Authority's nonprofit redevelopment arm, with which the District Attorney has potentially "a number of issues".

At any rate, now there are potential concerns in the area where the Housing Authority intersects with the Police Bureau and with urban redevelopment. Wherever that is.


Finally, Michael Lamb today bows out of the Mayor's race, and endorses Jack Wagner, whom Lamb says does a better job having "great relationships" and who demonstrably has a better relationship with the nexus of public safety unions and redevelopment middlemen who were pillars of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's political support.

Hey, there's another curious intersection!

Is it all the same ball of lint, do you suppose?

Could this entire unwholesome intermingling of public safety bigshots being kowtowed and pandered to beyond propriety, a Finance Dept. conspicuously not noticing fraud and abuse therein, private business taking over irritating or especially lucrative Police Officer security work on sweetheart terms, and a redevelopment mindset at the URA and HACP that has been too inbred, conflicted, political and aggressive in the past -- could that Axis of Muck have been directed to re-brand itself with less problems and distractions under the first candidate with a credible and fecklessly applied dowry willing to take possession of it?

And who would have made that call?

When we talk about addressing waste and abuse, are we really just talking about "Mayor's office reform"?
*-BONUSES: Mayor Peduto would open up the City budgeting process in some radical and concrete ways, and push for free WiFi service and computer literacy programs in targeted areas -- in his 48th and 49th specific proposals for the City, I believe zero of which have been covered by the mainstream media but seem to be getting out there anyway.

Peduto issued a statement in response to Lamb's endorsement of Wagner that "Pittsburgh needs a strong leader who has demonstrated a real commitment to ending waste, fraud and abuse - someone who has revitalized neighborhoods and secured the city’s finances. We have built a new coalition of people who understand what Pittsburgh can be. I’m looking forward to continuing to earn the support of voters all over the city and working to reach this vision together."

The two remaining candidates in the race, State Sen. Jake Wheatley and A.J. Richardson, both African-Americans, have yet to put forward specific ideas or notions that might allow their candidacies to catch fire. Neither has Jack Wagner of course, but they do not enjoy the same privileges.