Monthly Archives: October 2007

YDAC Retains Current Leadership

Brian O’Malley won election as President of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County in his own right. The election was held this last Wednesday evening, at Deja Vu lounge in the Strip District.

One-time favored candidate Breen Masciotra lost to O’Malley by a vote of 33-18.

A third candidate, Justin Lewis, withdrew his name from consideration just prior to the vote.

O’Malley ascended to the presidency early this summer under unusual circumstances. President Ken Wolfe stepped down after having exposed a city Redd Up crew wearing political campaign gear while on the job.

Vice-president Jessica McCurdy passed on the opportunity to rise to the presidency. O’Malley, holding the office of either secretary or treasurer on the executive board at that time, ascended to the presidency for the interim.

Before the election, we asked both of the contending candidates how much was at stake that evening.

“I wouldn’t say there’s anything directly at stake,” O’Malley told the Comet just prior to the vote. “We both have great ideas.”

Meanwhile, Masciotra opined that, “Honestly, I think the future of the organization is at stake. I’d like to shift the focus.”

Both candidates spoke of the importance of growing the organization, but their strategies for and definitions of “growth” differed sharply.

O’Malley emphasized his good relationships with current Democratic officeholders. He credits recent events with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, County Executive Dan Onorato, and State Representatives Joe Preston and Don Walko for having attracted new members to the organization.

“We had six paid members in June. Now we have between 42 and 64.”

Furthermore, O’Malley indicated that the YDAC can exert influence on those officeholders in return. “Candidates pay attention to us.”

Masciotra criticized the incumbent regime for a lack of focus on mobilizing a regional voting block of young Democratic voters. She identifies a potential field 130,000 eligible such voters — 7,000 of which are valued “four star” voters — that she says is being underutilized.

She encourages increased voter registration efforts, and outreach to “non-traditional” voters.

“There’s a value to social events, and candidate meet-and-greets,” Masciotra conceded. Yet she also insists the YDAC must be more about “bringing in new people, diverse people” to the larger Democratic tent.

Masciotra allowed that resources are limited, but insisted the YDAC could be doing more. She also faulted the recent leadership for issues relating to transparency.

One-time presidential candidate Justin Lewis was rumored to control the support of maybe six or seven members. When he bowed out, he threw his support to the incumbent, and eventual victor, Brian O’Malley.

In doing so, he cited the room full of so many new members as evidence that the incumbent leadership is on the right track. He echoed Malley’s enthusiasm for officeholder events as a major draw, and credited him for pushing changes to “give back power” by scaling back the presidency.

To the extent that Masciotra was indeed the front-runner in September, the decision to delay the vote for about six weeks must have worked against her. All the same, that delay did not seem to achieve its intended purpose of significantly boosting diversity in the short term.

Instead of being the lone African-American in the room, as he was six weeks ago, Shawn Carter was on this occasion one of only two or maybe three.

Carter maintains that upwards of twenty young African-American Democrats stand ready to join the YDAC sometime in January. Asked why these new recruits did not produce themselves to take part in the election, Carter replied, “because they weren’t about to vote for either one of these candidates.”

Paul McKrell, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Young Democrats (PAYD), emceed the event and counted the votes. He emphasized at every opportunity the importance for all YDAC newbies to remain active and engaged beyond the election, regardless of the outcome.

Dietrich Kelley won the office of Vice President by unanimous voice vote. She was recruited by O’Malley to join his “slate” for the executive board only in the week prior.

Shannon Connoly retained her position as Secretary, and Michael Phillips won election to Treasurer.

Former president Ken Wolfe was in the room as a regular member, being as nondescript as humanly possible.

Friday: Time for Issues

Ravenstahl expresses his confidence. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

There is also policy. There are intriguing notes on his posture towards non-profits and foundations, to say nothing of intergovernmental cooperation.

On consolidating the city and Allegheny County governments, the mayor said he would only be supportive if a merger saved money and improved government services. So far, information suggests, if anything, that consolidation may trigger duplicative police, planning, garbage collection and other municipal services, he said.

“I’m willing to have any discussion that makes sense. I’m willing to talk about city-county consolidation. I have not said ‘no’ to that but I have not had any blueprint put in front of me that makes sense. It just doesn’t,” he said.

We are operating one of the most Byzantine, massively overbuilt regional government models on the planet. It is a constant drain on our region’s resources and growth. It has been studied unto death for millenia.

That doesn’t make it easy — but there are surely ways of doing this right. There is only so much low-hanging fruit in Wilkinsburg.

You are waiting for someone to hand you a “blueprint?” How about putting together a plan of your own? At least Mark DeSantis has a vision.

##

Mixed bag from the Trib columnist Eric Heyl today.

DeSantis campaign manager Mike Bauer quickly emerged. He talked to me long enough to tell me he didn’t have time to talk to me.

Then he rapidly loaded the signs into the vehicle and sped off to distribute them to DeSantis supporters.

This is an accurate slice of life. There are an eerie number of Mark DeSantis for Mayor signs out there — and they are cropping up in peculiar locations.

Ravenstahl’s ongoing lurch toward Belushiism certainly has played a pivotal role in keeping the DeSantis campaign afloat.

Here and elsewhere, the author falls prey to the worst kind of Lupinacciistic Potterism.

THIS!! IS!! PITTSBURGH!!

Mr. DeSantis said his campaign also is attracting some 300 volunteers, many of whom are Democrats and independents, which he said should be scaring the incumbent. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

The real news is that Mark has raised about $300,000, an insane increase over previous Republican efforts, and a respectable sum even by Democrat standards.

But it’s the 300 volunteers that so pleases the Comet.

##

Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper Wednesday removed a petition in police headquarters seeking signatures from police officers who disagree with the police union’s political endorsement of Republican mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis.

The petition, which had five signatures at 1:45 p.m … (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This is pretty darn amusing, considering the hype this petition had received from Councilman Jim Motznik, not to mention some comments on the Burgh Report.

##

A draft report on Pittsburgh’s Fire Bureau suggests changes over a decade that could eventually cut the number of fire stations from 29 to 23, if the city can first raze abandoned buildings and reduce the number of fires. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Fire fighters union chief Joe King is assailing the report. Luke Ravenstahl sounds extremely skeptical of it and noncommittal — but Mark DeSantis is embracing it wholeheartedly. This should help dispel the notion that Mark is willing to sell the city dahna river for union endorsements.

One would think.

Tuesday: It Is What It Is

Pittsburgh must pay nearly $148,000 to lawyers for police Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly, in relation to her federal whistle-blower protection lawsuit, according to an arbitration award handed down Friday and released yesterday. (P-G, Rich Lord)

This would have been a reasonable answer to those “biggest mistake” questions — constitutional rights are pretty popular.

The suspension came three days after she accused Ravenstahl’s former top aide Dennis Regan of improperly meddling in police disciplinary matters. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Alternately, that very appointment would also have been a fine answer.

Pokora said the best solution would be for the state Legislature to pass a revenue-sharing law that makes the state responsible for reimbursing the city for property taxes it doesn’t receive from nonprofits. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Who reimburses the state when it goes bankrupt?

“I think we all agree that we have to have a solution on nonprofit contributions,” said Mr. Ravenstahl. “If it’s revenue sharing, and that’s what the state is willing to consider, then that’s something we’d be willing to talk about.” (P-G, Rich Lord)

Yes! He’s willing to talk about it, provided they’re willing to consider it.

Mr. Ravenstahl said that if the community lists a supermarket as a top priority in the ongoing planning process for a new arena and adjacent development in the neighborhood, then it would be “a very reasonable goal … over the next five years.” (P-G, Rich Lord)

If they list it as a top priority (at the expense of development funds, loan programs, and other uppity community initiatives), then maybe. The sheer pro-active leadership of it all is making our eyes streak with tears.

Caption Contest

h/t WTAE, by way of CSB

Liveblogging from the DeSantis Debate Party

Click this link to access live streaming video of the mayoral debate, or else you may use an actual television machine pre-programmed to Channel 4.

The place is filling up. We’re sitting next to Mike DeVanney, who played the role of Luke Ravenstahl during debate prep. He’s giving us the spiel on 21st century jobs and wetlabs, as opposed to 18th century jobs like millers and blacksmiths.

A minor Romney vs. Giulliani debate just broke out around us. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil…

A Ravenstahl administration official stopped by, saying he or she was “in the neighborhood,” and requesting that we preserve his or her anonymity. We shall comply … for now …

Rauterkus tells us that a controller debate IS ON … a week from today, hosted by the League of Women Voters and B-PEP… along with a District 9 debate. No word if it’s going to be a tag-team matchup.

TONIGHT. A COMMITMENT 2007 SPECIAL PRESENTATION. WITH YOUR MODERATOR, SALLY WIGGIN!!!

Who did Jeremy Boren have to drug to get onto this panel??

Luke, opening: (Sorry, we’re distracted. The Daily Number was 999; those are my dad’s numbers. Also, DeVanney is pointing out that Sally is wearing DeSantis colors.)

Mark, opening: With a confession? Oh, he was rooting for Mayor Ravenstahl, originally. Now he’s given up.

Sally: Consolidation. How?

Mark: Is for it, but wants a referendum.

Luke: City-county task force did great work. More than willing to take a look at.

Bob Mayo: Why does your budget say there’s going to be a deficit in later years?

Luke: 2nd consecutively balanced budget (drink). Honored that the ICA approved his budget. (Did not exactly answer question)

Mark: Luke increased $50 million. “Let’s cut through the bureaucratic code of what a structurally balanced budget is …”

Luke: (whatever. these debates are getting monotonous)

Jeremy: Why eliminate city residency requirement for employees?

Mark: Yeah, I said that months ago. We need to give employees flexibility. “Government by folklore.”

Luke: “I don’t think that it’s fair, and I don’t think that its right.” Smackina face. Moral issue.

Mark: To chain people, force people … “Mr. Ravenstahl didn’t really answer the question.”

Luke: (yeah i did)

Sheldon Ingram: Do you have the stomach to lobby Harrisburg for the Ferlo-Comet-Shields position on Act 55?

Luke: “Absolutely.” Except he’s happy the nonprofits antied up whatever they did or did not commit to anteing up.

Mark: “General fund is a financial shredder.” Would be willing to give more if it went into pensions.

Luke: “I know that’s not the case.”

Bob: Why should Pittsburgh’s large, loyal Democratic base feel comfortable voting for you?

Mark: City gov’t is not about party. It’s about transparency and responsibility.

Luke: “And this is about party affiliation and this is about …” [ASK HIM WHAT MAKES HIM A DEMOCRAT ASK HIM WHAT MAKES HIM A DEMOCRAT ASK HIM WHAT MAKES HIM A DEMOCRAT…] Luke says he became a committeeman at age 15.

Jeremy: Why don’t you support the Ethics Hearing Board’s new rule?

Luke: Proud of my history when it comes to Ethics Hearing Board. That board met; it was previously vacant. “The Mayor has to be at events.”

Mark: “Government’s not about gifts and perks.” [Applause here in France] “The idea that you can’t participate in charity events unless you accept a gift is just false.” Ethics compliance officer.

Sally: “Do you feel you’re being irresponsible?”

Luke: (Shockingly, no.) [Rauterkus: “The ethics code sucks! Write that!”]

Mark: (Making connection with police whistle blowers). “In my administration, you’re not going to be punished for pointing out a wrong.”

Luke: We didn’t weaken the ethics code.

Sheldon: How deeply would you employ regionalism and consolidation?

Mark: “I’m with Dan Onorato on this.” also, “I’d like to be the last mayor of Pittsburgh”

Luke: Does it save money and provide better service? We’re picking up garbage in Wilkinsburg.

Sally: If city continues to shrink in size, is it necessary and wise to have two powerful executives?

Mark: “We can’t tinker at the edges?” “Standing in the way of a referendum, as Mayor Ravenstahl is..”

Luke: I’m ready willing and able to make that decision, when the information comes in, which it hasn’t yet.

Bob: something about closing fire stations if the study says so

Luke: Won’t sell city dahna river

Mark: “He’s had the last ten months to open the fire union contract, and he hasn’t done so.”; “It’s been studied again and again and again and again.” “That’s a fact, it’s out there, the data is out there.”

Luke: “The reason I haven’t done so is because it would cost the city money.” He was approached by FOP for this and that, he stood up to FOP (boos and hisses in room).

Mark: “Hasn’t been specific about demands I caved into, which were none.”

Jeremy: Why should voters take you seriously?

Mark: Citizens for Democratic Reform. Get rid of antiquated row offices. Started companies. He loves the city.

Luke: Went to bed a caterpillar and woke up a butterfly. “To the north, to the south, to the east, to the west…” and then he WINKS at us. Randy!

Sheldon: Tax abatements creating an artificial demand for downtown housing. Or something.

Luke: Somebody just moved here from New York. (Somebody: “Now he only needs to get 200,000 more!”)

Mark: Encourage the growth of new businesses. Continuing to invest building after building after building isn’t going to create jobs. “Magnificent structures”, but “no net new jobs.”

Sally: Too much retail space downtown?

Luke: (sorry, ordering another gin & tonic. It didn’t sound important.)

Bob: How can you cut money from budget and not have services suffer?

Mark: We ain’t that efficient. Smarter use of information technology. Act 47 had access to every noche and cranny for savings.

Luke: My opponent didn’t answer question directly.

Bob: Your budget says we’ll dip into deficit. How to do that?

Luke: We’ll do what Act 47 says. (Um….)

Mark: Opponent has offered no evidence of efficiency.

Jeremy: Was the deal with the Penguins fair, especially considering the plane trip?

Luke: No local tax dollars. Better than Steelers or Pirates.

Mark: “That plane trip was bad judgment.”

Luke: Ah, I’ve learned a lot.

Sheldon: PILOTs for sports teams?

Mark: Something to consider. Footprints are large.

Luke: They pay parking taxes, payroll preparation taxes, et cetera. We get revenue from them. (Basically saying no.)

Bob: What’s the most difficult moment you’ve faced outside of politics?

Luke: Friend / Family member had a car accident, messed him up bad.

Mark: Senator Heinz plane crash.

Jeremy: Pension fund dramatically underfunded. What can you do over the next 2 years that Luke isn’t already doing?

Mark: Luke borrowed money at extremely high interest rates. We need to get money in there as quickly as possible. Gambling money, nonprofit money.

Luke: Mark’s plan will cost the taxpayers in excess of $80 million. Meanwhile, he himself “has been very aggressive” in dealing with pensions, by way of two meetings with mayors to organize for a state bailout.

Sheldon: How to make Pgh. a magnet city for young professionals?

Luke: “Elect a 27-year old mayor!” Goofy grin. Four beats. Then create jobs and whatnot. Amenities.

Mark: “Offer incentives to create jobs.” Most of my employees are under 30 years old. Eliminate gross receipts tax and payroll something tax. Also minority-targeted entrepreneurial tax increntives.

Sally: Close it up, fellas!

Luke: “Let me tell you what I see in the future.” A balanced budget. Only it’s not, by his own budget’s admission. But maybe he means farther in the future. We don’t know. We can do this whole freaking debate in our head. We almost hope there’s not another one.

Mark: “It’s about expecting and demanding more of your government…” “And of your mayor.” “We need to take a real chance.” We recovered from a fire in 1845. Give me a chance.

Fraternal Order of Police Endorses DeSantis

Way Too Much Wednesday!

Overseers approve city’s budget (P-G, Rich Lord)

Council President Doug Shields noted that the city has fixed its finances largely by leaving positions empty, freezing salaries and cutting benefits. Now it must fill posts, and it faces new contract negotiations with several unions in the next two years, which could alter the picture.

The city’s revised budget includes money to hire outside legal help for labor talks.

We hope he means ninjas.

##

New county tax plan put on hold
(P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

“This is probably the biggest test this council has had,” [Committee chairman Bill Robinson] said. “I’m suggesting that we don’t give too much nefarious intention to what the administration has done.”

Nefarious? Who said anything about Dan-O being nefarious?

##

Alcosan to raise rates 10% in new year (P-G, Don Hopey)

But a summer budget review determined the rate increase was needed to do flow studies and planning required by Alcosan’s May consent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to control wet weather sewage overflows by 2026.

Studies and planning — imagine when the actual work starts. Thus begins the Great Water Wars of the 21st century.

##

Pittsburgh considers gender wage gap study (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

“We know that as a city we have one of the worst wage gaps in the country” among women and minorities, said Heather Arnet, president of the Women and Girls Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.

Doug Shields: the first female Council President?

##

Peduto: Take politics out of road paving plan (P-G, Rich Lord)

A computerized system “makes it easier for me to be able to go home at night and look my neighbors in the face and say, ‘You have to wait,’ ” if paving their streets isn’t warranted, he said.

His timing was never stellar. Still, why would anyone vote against this?

##

The P-G’s Dan Simpson: Ruling Pittsburgh

President Mobutu Sese Seku of Zaire used to requisition the planes of the national airline, Air Zaire, for personal trips to his vacation homes around the world. For him there was no distinction between public and private property — what was his because of his position and what was his personally. No party but the ruling party in a one-party state would dare put up for election such a candidate.

This is the argument that too often gets lost in the shuffle. He doesn’t quite extend it to the deeper issue of colossal hereditary cronyism. UPDATE: Actually, he sort of does. Not quite sure where we were at.

Manchester UNITED

The meeting was organized by Pittsburgh UNITED and by Northside United; it was held in the basement of a church in Manchester. About forty residents and organizers were in attendance.

It was the first of what will be a series of meetings in North Side neighborhoods explaining the concept of community benefits agreements, and gathering input from residents as to how a C.B.A. might capitalize upon casino development, and mitigate against its negative consequences.

Khari Mosley of Pgh UNITED facilitated the meeting — although most questions were fielded by Edward D. Pugh, employed by the state Auditor General (though taking part wholly as a private community resident), and in some cases Michael Aaron Glass, Executive Director of Northside Common Ministries.

When the Comet arrived, the rules were posted front and center:

1. Assume Good Faith.

2. Speak in Turn.

3. Every question is a good question, but some questions need to be tabled.

Mosley defined a legitimate C.B.A. as not a demand for money, but demands concerning how a site will be developed, how the jobs scene will play out, and additional programs that would benefit the larger community.

Although it is appropriate for Hill District residents to ask for money, explained the presenters, considering the massive public subsidy to the Penguins, little of that can apply to the North Side. Although PITG Gaming was the recipient of a valuable public license, its responsibility for the well-known deleterious effects of gambling was the paramount issue.

Nonetheless, Don Barden garnered a lot of respect throughout the room. Credit was given for how he pursued Pittsburgh’s slots license, for how he bested the Steelers and Pirates on traffic concerns, and even for the deal he inked with the North Side Leadership Conference.

“He’s from Detroit,” said one resident. “We can’t run no game on him.”

##

Further comments from Manchester residents were diverse and illuminating, when they were asked to offer ideas on how a C.B.A. might benefit their community.

“Focus on Manchester, instead of … [the three corridors where the NSLC has earmarked half of the $3 million].”

“We don’t need a community center in Manchester. We don’t need a community center in Northview Heights, in this place and that place. We need a North Side community center.”

“What about programs for educational opportunities?”

“We should have done this long ago … we didn’t need to wait around for a casino. We don’t stand up around here. Somebody said a Pittsburgh protest is crying on each other.”

“When we talk about kids in our community, our kids aren’t in unions.” (This was said clearly to indicate she would like her kids in unions.)

“I don’t see why you’re limiting yourselves, and putting yourselves in a box.” (“We’re not doing that.”) “Once you’re trained, if you don’t get a job in the casino, they can get a job somewhere else!”

##

Being a North Side resident ourselves, we raised a concern previously alluded to during the meeting: background checks.

We had heard that all casino employees would be subject by state law to multiple, rigorous, exhaustive criminal background checks. Our concern was that this might keep casino jobs from benefiting those in the casino’s own backyard, who need them most.

Michael Glass rose to address this concern. “I guarantee you that if Mr. Barden goes to the state, and asks for a waiver for people who work on the North Side, or they don’t deal …” that Mr. Barden could get what he wants for the residents.

Mosley agreed that “expungements or waivers” could be sought as part of a C.B.A. to mitigate the difficulties of background checks.

Toward the meeting’s conclusion, Edward Pugh, who spoke often of the necessity of maintaining a united front, read from the recent Tribune-Review article amplifying criticism from NSLC officials and others.

“An upstart citizens group,” he said, pausing for emphasis, “that protested meetings on Pittsburgh’s planned casino, is using concerns about community involvement as a disguise to pave the way for union presence at the North Shore gambling venue.”

“It’s debasing us,” Pugh contended. He warned that if meeting attendees went home gossiping and grousing about their meetings, “some snot-nosed kid” is going to write the same thing about Manchester.

We had a good discussion with Pugh after the meeting about the balance between allowing for a necessary and transparent airing of differences on the one hand, and the necessity of displaying unity on the other. He offered that one key is that “nobody should go home from the meetings angry.”

##

We also spoke at length with Tom Hoffman, Pittsburgh UNITED’s executive director and former programs director for SEIU Local 3. He had raised concerns during the meeting about environmental impacts — “What about a big building that’s going to have a lot of bathrooms right next to the river?” — but we asked him about the perception that Pgh UNITED exists to push union organization.

He explained that both on the Hill and in the North Side, Pgh UNITED is conducting extensive and honest research to discover what matters most to community residents — and good jobs are always a high priority.

We both agreed that during this particular meeting, job training seemed to be the priority subject, and he seemed genuinely enthused about that. He said it reflected much of what they have heard elsewhere.

Yet Hoffman insisted that unionization is the only way to guarantee that the casino jobs will be decent and family-sustaining — especially the service-sector jobs — and that residents do recognize that.

He also contended that the of process demanding a union election from scratch is so difficult, and so time consuming, with so many ways for management to corrupt the process, that a “card-check” agreement (in which management agrees to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of employees sign authorization forms) is a reasonable demand.

As we continued to ask whether or not Pgh UNITED, in its zeal to provide for good-paying jobs, might ever have been guilty of giving short-shrift to other community concerns, Hoffman could find only so many ways to say “no.”

“If you want to call me a shill for the unions, go ahead,” he said. “It’s still the only way to guarantee these jobs will be any good.”

Hoffman pointed us in the direction of www.communitybenefits.org, a resource highlighting successful examples of C.B.A.’s, many of which have little to do with union organizing. He also emphasized the multiple layers of input-seeking and surveying that Pgh UNITED conducts, in order to ensure that real community concerns are brought to the fore.

##

Here is the text of the survey that Pittsburgh UNITED distributes at meetings such as the one held in Manchester:

Which are the 4 issues most important to you?


___ Adequate transit to job centers

___ Public Safety/ Safe Streets

___ Services for Seniors

___ Parks and Green Spaces

___ Drug Rehabilitation Programs

___ Good-paying jobs for Northside Residents. (with family-sustaining wages and benefits)

___ Job Training and Adult Education

___ Family Support Services

___ Home Rehabilitation Program

___ Financial Literacy Program (Credit Repair, Homeownership classes, Financial Services)

___ Youth Programs

___ Community and Economic Development, including loans to small businesses

Tuesday: Kickin it Old School

Life gets harder for Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle — one of her alleged co-conspirators accepts a plea bargain, admitting to theft.

Darlene Durham made $150 / hr consulting for Carlisle, and claims that on one occasion, she kicked back $5,000 of city money in cash to her, because her campaign war chest was running low. (Trib, Jeremy Boren; P-G Rich Lord)

UPMC reaches Endgame. “There can be only one.” (Trib, Luis Fabregas)

We totally understand this article and are deeply concerned, but just for fun tell us what you think it means in the comments. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Surely you already know that Duquesne University made WDUQ yank public service ads underwritten by Planned Parenthood — but did you know word of that decision is adversely affecting WDUQ’s pledge drive? (P-G, Adrian McCoy)

Would this issue resonate enough to move the needle in the mayor’s race, if more Pittsburghers knew that Ravenstahl is pro-life whereas DeSantis is pro-choice? Or would it only be impactful among WDUQ listener-member-types, who for a variety of reasons would never qualify as “real” Pittsburghers according to some?