Monthly Archives: November 2007

Smoker and Jollification

State panel rejects 3 gun control bills.

“How many police officers have to become target practice before it stops?” he asked in an emotional voice. “I have sympathy for legislators. I know they’re under a lot of pressure. The National Rifle Association is a machine, but it’s time to say ‘no’ to the gun lobbyists.” (P-G, Tom Barnes)

Problem is, the gun lobbyists can say “no” to them right back.

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Giant drill to carve LRT tunnel from North Shore to Downtown starts slowly.

Construction workers snapped photos with cameras and cell phones, but to uninitiated observers, it was almost impossible to tell it was moving. (P-G, Daniel Malloy)

Headline writers for the print edition show they’re not all bad.

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Onorato acts like governor hopeful.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says it’s too early to speculate whether he’ll run to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell in 2010. (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Okay then.

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The postings on Schenley will continue until ambivalence subsides.

Objections to the intended high school reform package include doubts about the wisdom of grouping students grades six through 12 together, and fears that the plan was crafted by politicians not educators.

Call 412-622-3600 by noon today if you’d like to speak at the Special Public Hearing of the school board on Tuesday the 27th.

Our Penultimate Schenley Post?

Patrick Dowd and ourselves were exchanging thoughts on the closure of Schenley High School yesterday evening on the Burgh Report.

He brought a load of newly released data to our attention, in furtherance of what had been made public at the press conference.

For a moment, it felt like we really had him on the ropes.

We just got to suspecting that somewhere inside this 67 page document, Evaluation of Asbestos Containing Material Remediation and Encapsulation, the Roosevelt Conspiracy had hidden the secret evil truth of how to save Schenley at a reasonable cost.

Then the Admiral came out of nowhere.

Bram, all I can say is that, way back in my Navy days, I was the asbestos safety officer on board my cruiser. The one thing I learned is that, at the precise nanosecond that one does anything that might even potentially cause asbestos to be “disturbed” (let alone airborne), the costs become more or less impossible to either predict or contain. And if that’s true in a 5-by-5 foot pump room with only one way in or out and built-in watertight doors, then a whole school would be a nightmare.

At the end of the day, we know that we need to close at least one high school, and probably even more than that. It only makes sense to close the one who’s physical plant would be the costliest to repair.

What … how did … asbestos safety officer on your cruiser? How are we supposed to deal with that?

We are meeting with S.J. from the Save Schenley movement in about an hour. Unless she and/or someone else brings something heavy to the discussion, the Comet may have to bow out.

Some Things Are Going Just Fine

The headline reads Allegheny County improves air pollution permit system. (P-G, Don Hopey)

We expected an article about:

1) Dan Onorato!! We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!

2) We are continuing to become more business-friendly by means of not actually reading permit applications prior to approval.

We were so wrong!

The state statistics and federal program assessment run contrary to industry and development agency complaints that it takes too long to get an industrial installation permit in the county.

Emphasis the Comet’s.

Those complaints have prompted county Chief Executive Dan Onorato to explore ending the 50-year-old county program and turning its permitting, monitoring and enforcement duties over to the state.

By all means, explore.

“There is not any meaningful contrast in issuing permits between the county and the DEP, either in terms of timeliness or quality,” said David Campbell, chief of permits and technical assessment at EPA’s regional office in Philadelphia.

Does anybody have a problem with David Campbell?

“Allegheny County does have a more complex set of sources, with coke, steel and chemical plants. It would naturally take longer to issue air permits there than in other areas,” he said. “And it’s not unusual for industry to complain. Everyone complains. But I’ve received no formal complaints about the timeliness of permitting there.”

We have no problem with David Campbell.

“Responsiveness on permit applications will determine if Allegheny County manufacturers will be nimble in the global economy,” said Ms. Klaber. “What we care about is that economic development and industries where there are exciting, new, clean projects are held up for no good reason, but because of red tape.”

Nimble! Exciting! New! Clean! Red tape! The Allegheny Conference is having a real banner week.

“We’ve always maintained that our permitting times are compatible with other agencies, including the DEP,” said Dr. Bruce Dixon, executive director of the county Health Department. “We continue to try to do what we need to do in the most expeditious fashion, but some of our industries are very large and their permits are very complicated.

You go ahead and take all the time you need, Bruce Dixon. You run that Allegheny County Health Department.

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Spontaneous Blogger Olympics

GOLD: The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat, for Allegheny Conference on Community Development Review 2007

China apparently has agreed to a cargo shipping route with Pittsburgh, making us a major import hub for the East, and also relieving the region of its feral cat problem.

SILVER: The Burgh Blog, for Dear sirs, PittGirl mined the archives

Hey, was Joe Pa coaching Penn State in 1919?
And a “smoker and jollification” sounds like a rocking good time.

BRONZE: Agent Ska, for Who is Dan Deasy?

It seems like he’s been a pretty quiet character on the political scene.

Honorable Mentions:

The Busman gets his answer from the Ethics Hearing Board.

Null Space offers up the driest humor on the planet.

Rauterkus succinctly makes the popular case against Superintendent Roosevelt’s version of high school reform — and does so while bitterly launching a new and yet to be substantiated accusation.

F-Dzerzh gives yet another take on the Allegheny Conference — this one through the prism of its “CEO.”

Anyone Else Feeling A Little Woogie?

Last week, we underwent an election. Or as some are now reckoning it, an elaborate bloggers’ prank.

Then we all stayed awake and nominally alert for one extra week, to absorb all of the critical, life-sustaining political analysis.

Now that both the id and the superego of Pittsburgh are in almost perfect accord*, you can set about the process of knifing your friends in the back and embracing your former enemies with relaxed self-assurance.

Just not yet. Right now, you feel like wet socks.

Not only is the Comet sick, but multiple highly-placed political insiders have revealed to the Comet on double-super-secret ninjitsu background that they also are feeling ill.

Symptoms of this pandemic include feeling as though one is congested but not really, not quite having a headache, and feeling like one is highly medicated without actually having ingested anything untoward.

Our elders may in fact have been wise to arrange things such that critical municipal elections are held exclusively in May. It’s really too dark, damp and chilly out there for vibrant multi-party democracy.

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In the spirit of laughter being the best medicine, we present you with some livebloggery of last night’s Democratic presidential debate, from the highly recommended DCeiver.

We also post it in the spirit of someone having complained to us that our own liveblogging was not objective or informative enough, to which we say, HAH! and, pthbthbthbth!

Part I: Tonight’s Debate, Badly Liveblogged!

Q: Obama, what’s up with immigrants? Oh, look at me, Campbell Brown, setting you up to talk about drivers licenses! Oh, deary me!

A: I will throw lightning at employers! I am BLACK ZEUS! Get out of the shadows and prepare for my stiff penalties!

Part II: PART THE DEUX!

KUCINICH: Yeah, I am against the Patriot Act. Because I can read. And this guy is owed an apology. I do not have a bunch of different positions! Except with my hot wife. Seriously. We do this shin-sei shin-sei stuff on the kitchen counter that is just AMAZING.

Part III: WHAT? THERE’S A THIRD PART???

CLINTON: Privacy is the new abortion, everyone! Spread the word! And vote for Biden, maybe.

OBAMA: I will not support anyone who doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose uhm…privacy. Is that the term we’re using now?

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* The Comet urges you to click each of these links, and then click through to each of the sponsors, or at the very least slip some loose change into an envelope and mail it to The City Paper, 650 Smithfield St, Suite 2200, Pgh PA 15222. If you happen to read the articles, we’d just like to comment that Potter and maybe McIntire might both be selling shares of Bill Peduto a little prematurely. They don’t even own shares of Doug Shields, which is probably a mistake in itself, but we at the Comet are interpreting Peduto’s comment, “If I run for mayor in 2009, I’ll run without a net” as “I’m running in 2009, and you’d better stay out of my way, or I’ll take the whole reform movement (such as it is) down with me.” We have no illusions about Bill’s ability to carry the south any better than Lincoln, but we do respect his demonstrated ability to suck votes in a 3-way race, and he’s probably crazy enough to carry out his threat just from sheer intransigence. The whole “retirement bout” concept might actually be good enough to accomplish the de-wussification he so sorely requires after his episode of “political cowardice.” Also, the charge could be easily leveled against Lamb (if he runs) that he hasn’t held the job long enough to make an imprint in his office chair. Finally (for now), we recall someone having written something about Bill knowing more and bsing less than any other local pol, and that should count for something.

Thursday Status Report

The Police Department and City Council “inched toward an agreement” on domestic violence, according to the P-G’s Rich Lord.

The bureau has been unable to respond to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette requests for data on the prevalence of family abuse accusations in the force.

Ominous?

Meanwhile, the Burgher writes an excellent post on the need for an actual written law, rather than an internal policy, even if the police and council do manage to come together philosophically.

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Councilman-elect Patrick Dowd wrote a fare-thee-well and good-luck-with-all-that Op-Ed Perspective to the School Board in yesterday’s P-G.

After the “anguish” and “catharsis” of voting to oust Superintendent Thompson:

The board clung to the compass of its common agenda and conducted a genuine national search.

Emphasis our own — but unmistakable.

More importantly:

Led by Superintendent Roosevelt, this board has amassed an impressive legislative record. The board — again a by-district elected board — voted to eliminate the problem of excess capacity by closing more school buildings than any district in America had ever done at one time.

-snip-

Given that we are still in the early phase of a much longer and larger project, the reforms both of the district and the board must continue.

Translation: Shut up and close Schenley.

As it happens, it is now looking as though Schenley will close, just not on most of those particular students and parents who are kicking up a fuss at the present moment (P-G, Joe Smydo).

Two Schenley supporters, parent Jennifer England of Greenfield and 2006 graduate S.J Antonucci of the Strip District, said Mr. Roosevelt’s compromise wasn’t enough.

Interesting dynamic.

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The Tribune-Review editorial board cuts to the chase:

Twanda Carlisle offered no public apology for five-fingering taxpayer money in an expansive kickback scheme. She should go to jail. For a long time.

Bang. Zoom. To the moon, Alice.

Wednesday: Pretty Disjointed Post

When it has to be said, PittGirl often does:

Okay. First of all, she does not apologize anywhere in the letter. Second of all, I understand that a tenet of Christianity is that everyone does wrong and I get the whole, hate the sin love the sinner thing. But man is it chafing my ass in a major way that Twanda is asking us to support her in this “challenging time in [her] life” as if she is fighting cancer or suffering the loss of a loved one, rather than being rightly punished for willfully and knowingly stealing from the taxpayers she was elected to serve.

No contest.

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When Dan Onorato and Luke Ravenstahl announced that “all of the outstanding issues” regarding the casino had been settled, Pittsburgh UNITED took some umbrage.

When a City Planning Hearing was scheduled yesterday, they advertised an “emergency mobilization” and brought something like twenty-five north side residents.

When the hearing was postponed for two weeks (PG, Belko) nothing untoward happened.

Pittsburgh UNITED issued a statement saying they “welcome PITG Gaming to the neighborhood,” and look forward to producing “a win-win situation.”

Planning Commission chair Wrenna Watson stood somewhat nervously to announce that casino business was already postponed, and Hill District business on the agenda was not directly tied to approving new arena construction. A friendly voice from the audience called out, “We’re just here to familiarize ourselves with the process.”

The meeting proceeded smooth as silk.

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Bill Peduto
crams a lot into his recent blog post.

He bemoans the defeat of his computerized street-paving legislation, but does not directly respond to Jimmy Motznik’s assertion that the mayor is accomplishing what needs to be done already.

He insists that we need Act 47 and state oversight now more than ever — and that we need “long-term structural changes” to begin immediately. He does not yet define any of those heavy changes.

He previews three key bills pending in Council, including Tax Increment Financing for the Bakery Square development — which he seems to oppose on grounds that no agreements have been reached with surrounding communities.

He reaffirms his support of the Shields Bill on a police domestic violence policy, and does not mention any of the “compromise legislation” foretold by James Malloy on election night.

Finally, Peduto likens Mark DeSantis to the dude who blocked Chinese tanks at Tiananmen Square.

He seems fired up, anyway.

Counterpoint: It’s Called Stupid and Evil

Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret, and today being Veteran’s Day we ought to salute him for that. He went on to serve as a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration. He is now a columnist for the Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. We used to describe him as a “hawkish unilateralist and free-market fundamentalist,” and for a time, we would each week dissect the “dangerous” ideas he put forth as a special feature of the Comet. This week, just take those old records off the shelf; we’ll sit and listen to them by ourselves.

1) Al-Qaeda terrorists are targeting your schoolchildren.
2) Water-boarding will help prevent this.
3) Water-boarding is not even torture.
4) Boy, the Democrats will have egg all over their faces when your schoolchildren get slaughtered!

There, you just read Jack Kelly’s column, “It’s Called Defending Ourselves”.

Kelly provides some bullet-points as evidence that hostage-taking situations at schools and on school buses is an imminent threat in the U.S.

Kelly’s sourcing on the specifics is even more sketchy than usual — that is, he provides none whatsoever. The Google found some of these same stories, but with no actual author or publication to stand behind any of it. But you know what? That’s fine.

We don’t want to dwell on disproving this part of his picture. Certainly there are bloodthirsty terrorists out there who mean us great harm, and maybe there are some who aim to attack our schools. So do you here that, Kelly? Our enemy is real enough.

We would rather assert the following:

1) Water-boarding is so torture.

2) Just because some of our special forces are trained to withstand water-boarding, you cannot get away with saying we “routinely” subject ourselves to it, making it somehow not-torture. We’re willing to bet those same special forces are trained to withstand actual torture.

3) If water-boarding is not torture, why do we water-board people while asking them questions they do not otherwise answer, holding out the prospect of stopping the water-boarding once we get the right answers? Sounds like torture to us.

4) We’re not going to get all morally conscientious on you (though we could), nor are we going to get all Geneva Convention on you (ditto), but TORTURE DOES NOT WORK and everybody knows this already. People will tell you anything to get out of being tortured, confess any nonsense, and you end up with a load of bad intel you can’t use, and sources that are used up.

5) If torture is condoned somewhere in the U.S. Military under some circumstances, it more or less winds up being condoned everywhere. So you end up with a bunch of Abu Gharaibs.

6) We never do actually charge or convict our detainees of being al-Qaeda members, and we routinely wind up having to tell scores and scores of them “sorry, nevermind” — so we end up torturing people, radicalizing them, and then sending them back home to radicalize their entire extended families.

7) So between #5 and #6, you wind up manufacturing new jihadis faster than our military can possibly kill them.

8) Which is the exact wrong thing to do if you’d like to actually win and complete a war, which is what you aim to do, correct?

9) Don’t answer that — we are afraid you just want to torture them because you hate them, and you want revenge for 9/11, and for your buddies getting killed, and perhaps also for being bullied as a child. And there is no logical way to counter that argument except to say you’re wrong and we won’t let you, not the least of which because we cannot afford to let you (see 4 through 8).

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The second-most repulsive thing about this column is that it all boils down at its conclusion not to any recommendation on how to achieve our war aims and end this hellish mess, but rather in a smug warning to Democrats that once terrorists kill our children, they’re going to lose votes.

Because Jack Kelly is first and foremost a political analyst. And this is first and foremost a political issue.

The most repulsive thing about this column is that Kelly reveals that both he and al-Qaeda are of like minds:

“They want to create something so horrible that we will lose control in our reaction, we will be lynching Muslim people in the streets and burning mosques,” Mr. Thor told Glenn Beck. “They want to reduce us to animals like them to get the Islamic world behind them and finally get the holy war that they want kicked off and ignited.”

Historically, Jack Kelly has never offered any ideas on just how, diplomatically and strategically, we might realistically defuse this regional conflagration. He does not propose negotiation under any circumstances, nor regional conferences, or heaven forbid incentives.

He never gets involved in the intense Iraqi politicking that everybody agrees is critical to any solution, except to insist for four years that it has been going super.

He wants us to attack Iran. And he wants us to attack Syria. And he wants us to attack Hamas and Hezbollah. And he wants us to torture anybody we might detain in these many wars, he wants us to toss out all international law, he wants us to ignore the U.N., and he wants us to let our infinite enemies know it.

So basically, Jack Kelly wants the same holy war the worst of the Islamists are trying to goad us into. He wants us to fight and fight and fight, and he wants more and more of our young men and women killed, maimed, and psychologically scarred. He wants all of their young men and women and children to die, until there’s nobody left to kill.

He just wants it to happen faster than the Islamic radicals do, and with more culpability on our side.

Why does he want all this? We honestly have no idea. It’s manly, we guess.

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This is why we don’t do Jack Kelly anymore.

We can beat up on Luke with merry abandon, but what’s going on at City Hall is — it’s harder to take personally. Luke is just what happens.

Jack Kelly, on the other hand, continues to accrue liability in a war that absolutely did not need to explode in the way it did, with no conceivable endgame on the horizon.

Jack Kelly, by cynically invoking the spectacle of dead children in order to justify torture, wills us even deeper into the black spiral of hatred and perpetual warfare.

What are we supposed to do with somebody like this?

Part of us wants to haul him before some kind of grand tribunal, on charges of deceiving the multitude and enabling war crimes.

Part of us wants to pass him a doobie, give him a scalp massage, and tell him everything is going to be alright.

Part of us — most of us — is content to just let him keep doing exactly what he is doing: efficiently displaying himself and his ilk to be ordinary frauds. That’s why we are so grateful that some people still have the stomach to process his artful drek each and every week.

The Phantom Menace

and/or, the Puzzle of Polarized Pittsburgh

Everybody was right. (BR, Comet, MR, PG)

Ravenstahl won with about 63% of the vote to DeSantis’s 35%.

On the one hand, it was a historic degree of success for a Republican mayoral candidate, unequaled in more than 40 years.

On the other, Luke didn’t need to break a sweat.

Although voter identification with Democrats was as high as to be expected in Pittsburgh, it should be noted that DeSantis managed this feat against a backdrop as ugly for the Republicans as ever existed.

The Iraq War. Torture. Katrina. Let’s not forget Santorum! DeSantis might well have been more successful running on the Vampire Child Molester ticket, than with the GOP.

Yet for all that, more than one in three Pittsburghers were happy to pledge allegiance to the House of Dubya, rather than the House of Luke.

But let’s not go nuts.

Ravenstahl triumphed with a 28 point margin. He debated an opponent on seven occasions, and got to drop balloons at the end of it all. He emerges from this with more political capital than he started, at least among the general population, which counts for something.

Problem is, we had been working so hard and for so long to raise the roof, it was impossible for us in the final moments to somehow slam the brakes, establishing a reasonable level of expectations.

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I would be remiss if I did not thank all the bloggers, in the Burghosphere that is our wonderful city — and you created a thriving and vital online community in this city, and I thank you for that.
DeSantis concession speech (AS)

It was all downhill from there.

First came the predictable recriminations on the Burgh Report. Not to mention a few dismissive comments by on-air pundits. Then came the City Paper analysis. And the Brian O’Neill piece. We even picked up on a bit of blog-on-blog violence on Null Space.

We the bloggers have been exposed as frauds and fools! Out of touch! An echo-chamber! Elitist! Negative! So much hot air!

That last part, unfortunately, has had more than a kernel of truth to it as of late. For you see — and this will come as a shock to many of you — several among us were cynically crafting our messages in order to engineer favorable results for the challenger.

No, really!

Actually, we should not make light of it. The Comet maintains in all sincerity that we never told any fibs, nor wrote anything we did not mean, or would desire to take back. Nor did we read anything like that elsewhere.

However, it was clear that more than a few of us were willfully engaging in spin, acting as surrogates, swashbuckling with the paid politicos, and discovering what muscles we had to flex.

After some unexpected victories in the primary election, it was a tempting prospect. And it was fun while it lasted!

As it happened, we discovered that although blogs maintain a certain modest power to drive issues and generate buzz, we are fundamentally ill-suited for strategic public relations. Thank goodness. The world has enough problems.

The strength of the bloggers, at their best, lies in unadulterated authenticity — real human voices, each one unique — often desperate for some reason, but usually with humor, and admirably sincere.

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What were the voices of the Burghosphere trying to say? That we needed to keep the heat on. That we weren’t done yet. That we wanted everybody to stay focused on local government, in between Bill Peduto’s withdrawal, and the birth of the new City Council.

And that we did not quite trust the powers-that-be during the interlude.

We were also saying that we meant it back in May when we said we desired reform. That we are cognizant of the city’s finances, and are mistrustful of half-measures. That we are interested in big ideas, and uninterested in old ones. That we are tired of government by-the-employees, for-the-employees.

That we like to see the rules both enforced and observed for their own sake.

And most especially, with a few major decisions on the horizon that will shape Pittsburgh for decades to come, it was no time to take a time-out.

A minor example — not our favorite, but a clear one — from the first debate:

Mr. DeSantis said he would mandate that both the new casino on the North Side and the new arena in the Lower Hill meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s criteria for environmental certification, known as LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the casino, being built by Don Barden, is not using public money and “he is not compelled to build a green building.” (Ann Belser, P-G)

Since then, Ravenstahl and his development czar Pat Ford have taken a more strident tone with Mr. Barden, suggesting they may in fact use the City Planning process to compel LEED certification. We shall see.

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What we’re saying is — if there’s a degree to which we all used Mark DeSantis (and we do not except the MSM in this!) to keep pressure on the current mayor and the whole political apparatus, and to keep Pittsburgh focusing on Pittsburgh long enough that it can actually learn something about itself — we are guessing he was a more-than-willing accomplice. Well played.

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Speaking of learning something about Pittsburgh — and speaking of eschewing public relations in favor of unabashed sincerity — we made a request of the gentleman from Null Space, that he make one alteration to his already-famous 2007 Mayoral General Election map, in order to make it fully perfect:


Now you understand everything. There is Blue Pittsburgh — affluent, educated, well-informed, liberal, and small.

And there is Red Pittsburgh — not as much any of those things.

We have even learned that Red Pittsburgh enjoys country music to a degree that Blue Pittsburgh does not relate.

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There is just one detail that distinguishes polarized Pittsburgh from our polarized republic at large: the black communities hereabouts are decidedly red. Is this an opportunity for Blue Pittsburgh?

Surely, the progressives (or the liberals or reformers or whatever you want to call them) must naturally believe that underprivileged, disenfranchised minorities stand to gain much more under their way of running government. If they would just listen!

We now know beyond a shadow of any doubt that such an endeavor requires extensive dues-paying and ground work. That it requires more than a few outdoor press conferences in the months prior to an election. That you can expect some serious, in-your-face backlash before you gain any traction.

Maybe it’s not worth it.

Maybe Blue Pittsburgh needs to navigate around the black communities, down the riverbanks, through Lawrenceville to the North Shore, and also down the South Side Flats, where the pickings all seem easier. Once the liberals gain power, they can demonstrate the effectiveness of their ideas to the black population.

Because they’re so good at alleviating poverty, having done it successfully a million times.

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Maybe there’s a simpler answer to all this. Maybe Blue Pittsburgh just needs a strong political athlete, equipped with both a killer instinct and a natural charisma.

(Maybe we’d better keep looking at the map.)