Yearly Archives: 2008

District 2 Race: Now, Interesting!

We’re down to what appear to be the Final Four candidates in the special election on Feb. 3rd. Let us review:

Chris Metz: Republican nominee. No website it seems, so here is an article. I’ve got no truck whatsoever with Republicans running for city offices, but at age 24, with no website and the election right around the corner, we may as well move on for the moment.

Brendan Schubert: Real-life Democrat now running on the Brendan Schubert for Council ticket. He is a zoning administrative officer in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s Department of City Planning who was hired under Pat Ford, so there’s that. At age 25, he was rumored at one time to have been Ravenstahl’s personal choice for the seat, though that implication fell away well before the endorsement.

His Facebook politician page describes his political views as “moderate” and says his interests are “Moving Pittsburgh City Council District 2 status forward and bringing people together.”

Theresa Smith: Democratic nominee, endorsed by the Committee, so there’s that. She had a prominent role on outgoing incumbent Dan Deasy’s election campaigns. Her website has no Issues material per se, but the homepage says she intends “to develop programs to unite communities, maintain a strong police presence and reduce neighborhood blight.”

Smith’s bio shows her to be the president of two community councils and to be a coordinator or committee member for many others, including Weed & Seed and Moms & Cops. She also created the South West Enhancing Environment Program (SWEEP) and the South West Eco-Evolution Team (SWEET).

Georgia Blotzer: Real-life Democrat now running as an Independent. A special ed teacher and activist in the special ed movement, a member of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation, and a Democratic committee person, her website has an Issues section that fleshes out her thoughts on Safe Streets, Viable Housing, Responsible Development and Campaign Finance Reform.

Blotzer links to a letter she had published recently in the Post-Gazette:

Confidence Breaker

As a taxpayer and a candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, District 2, I am very concerned about the way business is done in our city, as explained by Rich Lord in his Dec. 7 article (“Political Contributors Both Give and Receive”).

Mr. Lord explained that dozens of businesses that make large contributions to campaigns of city politicians receive large contracts in return. The most troublesome example was the $10.5 million aid package for the Bakery Square Project awarded to developer Walnut Capital Management, whose executives gave $69,606 to city political campaigns between 2005 and 2007. That is an excellent return on a modest investment. But what is the real cost of allowing a small number of well-off individuals and corporations to, in some cases, fully fund candidates for public office?

Barry Kauffman, director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, states that this practice undermines public confidence. I believe also that large financial contributions to local races create the perception that influence can be bought and favors will be granted to the highest bidder.

As a candidate for City Council, I will work to eliminate this perception by adopting the limits imposed on candidates seeking federal offices, specifically the $2,300 cap on individual contributions and a $5,000 cap on political action committee contributions.

GEORGIA BLOTZER
Mount Washington

Did she just kick off her campaign by calling out Walnut Capital? Looks like we have a favorite.

Her website also contains tabs to contact, volunteer and donate, just in case you feel like we do.

Tuesday: Peshat, Remez, Derash and Sod

Photo: The City Law Dept. researches the correct interpretation of Home Rule Charter § 321: Submission of Legislation to Mayor and Veto Power. (P-G, Bill Wade)

We tried to get Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum engaged on the subject of Vetogate, but he wasn’t interested.

“You know who I’m starting to get tired of?” he offered instead. “That Dan Onorato.” It was for the same reasons taken up by PghIsACity.

“First he says the drink tax money is for transit, and now all of a sudden he’s changed it to something else,” was Mort’s take.

Now out of nowhere there’s this:

Where are you on this one Mr. Onorato? Where is your leadership? You want to be our next Governor but you can’t even protect county residents from dirty restaurants on McKnight Road in the North Hills. Why haven;t you made a public statement on this? What are you hiding from? (Pgh Hoagie)

Me? I’m still sore about Goose Auschwitz, but no one cares about me. My point is, he doesn’t seem to have his “backyard” locked up, as it were, which makes life challenging for a candidate from Western Pennsylvania. It might be time for the media to provide a real think-piece about this Wagner fella who’s been out of town on business.

We like options.

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Council President Doug Shields said council should vote on any agreement, and that it’s appropriate for the ICA to oversee the fund.

Mr. Lamb said the draft agreement wouldn’t meet the city’s goal of using the $45.3 million now to take later-year debt off the books.

“The whole point was to lower our debt — and truly lower our debt — and this doesn’t do it,” he said, echoing the opinion of the city’s hired accountants, Maher Duessel. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Sounds like this one has matured past the Quixotic Patrick Dowd Jag stage.

MORE: The Slag Heap flags the ICA for inconsistencies.

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Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents has caught a cybercold (cured!), but they were on to another very interesting story. From an e-mail Sue circulated:

Pressure is mounting from the right wing on local “conservative” County Council districts (probably the AFA of PA and their ilk with the usual fear mongering) to withdraw sponsorship of the legislation [to extend anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation]. Please pay attention to this story. More will unfold this week.

Turns out the American Family Association did stick their beaks in, and got three council members to withdraw their support. For you Facebookies out there, a group has begun Councilman Michael Finnerty Needs to Hear from you on Gay Rights.

Might as well do this one up. The last one (remember Blog for Equality Day?) went real nice.

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UPDATE: All kinds of interesting: Trib, P-G.

MAYOR VETOES BUDGET AMENDMENTS

Only not quite, but maybe, sort of, he tried to, it’s close, we’ll see.

This is not the whole story.

FINAL UPDATE: Having counted the votes, the Council elected to acknowledge the vetoes and override the controversial ones (attorney, video software) 7-1 with Motznik in dissent. Burgess moved to sustain the Mayor’s veto of his own 5-year plan legislation for to take it back to the drawing board.

CONFIRMED: Sources say attempted vetoes were “not timely”, by a period of either two minutes or one full day, depending.

UPDATE: This is most of it. x2: This also.

THOUGHT: Council is “politicizing” this? It’s a veto, narrowly targeted against stuff Council needs to better do its job. And it’s being justified by the unit of measurement “police officers”? That’s politics.

Monday: Tip Sheet [w/ Correction]

This is the best article we’ve read about Pittsburgh politics in some time, though technically it has nothing whatsoever to do with Pittsburgh politics.

We’ll write a rambling post on it at some point, but meanwhile I’m curious what it leads other people to think.

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The “mostly administrative” “emergency” meeting of the ICA on the topic of the $45.3 million revocable fund somehow garnered more media coverage than the entire city budget process — leading the evening news on at least one station — despite the fact that it was called with almost no notice. We are left to assume that somebody genuinely important grew alarmed / concerned / irritated enough for some reason to initiate a big show of action.

Even still, according to Councilman Patrick Dowd, who attended the meeting, no further insight was offered on how our $45.3 million will turn into $51 million, where it is going to be deposited, under what terms, whether that will be a government account, and if there will be any fees applied.

The sole fact that emerged is, according to ICA executive director Henry Sciortino, that “the ICA will have control over these matters.”

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Proposed ethics legislation that has been crafted by an intra-governmental working group and was forwarded past the Ethics Hearing Board on November 14th does not yet appear to have been introduced* in City Council. The new rules are distinctly unlikely to receive any form of public airing until after the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 18th.

* CORRECTION: The legislation was in fact introduced on 12/9 and held for public hearing and post-agenda on 12/17, though it was not significantly discussed and these meetings have yet to be scheduled. The Comet regrets the error, and has learned to search for the word “conduct” in lieu of “ethics” when it comes to amending the city’s Code of Conduct.

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Tomorrow, Mr. Peduto plans to introduce legislation to spend $9,000 to study turning a freight line that runs from Hazelwood through Oakland to Lawrenceville into an artery for people. The study would lead to a proposal, submitted to U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-forest Hills, in the spring, for federal funding for the project. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Why not just try giving the people what they’ve been clamoring for, huh? Sounds intriguing. Our first question: did Rich simply forget to mention that the line can be made to continue into Downtown, or is that not possible via this channel?

After all, Downtown is turning into a hotbed of activity, according to a couple of Downtown real estate agents. (UPDATE: CB is more credulous on this point than me.)

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In Democrat-saturated Pittsburgh, government functions much as it did in the old Soviet Union. Just about everybody is members of one big happy party. That may explain why there’s been little public outcry, even on City Council, about large political contributions that go to the mayor or other candidates from donors who have or get lucrative city contracts. (A Fine Point, Tom Waseleski)

You know what struck us most about the big article that kicked off this round of fist-shaking? Sure, it was another story about how political contributors tend to get work. Big deal, right?

But it seemed to me the story had a shining star:

Shadyside-based Walnut Capital’s generosity to city campaigns includes $27,500 to Mr. O’Connor’s campaign, $16,000 to Mr. Ravenstahl’s, $11,906 in checks and non-monetary help to Mr. Peduto’s bids, and smaller donations to nearly every council member’s coffers. Its total was exceeded only by the state Democratic Party’s largesse.

“We do almost 100 percent of our work in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region, and we’re happy to support people who want good development,” said Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital’s vice president and a member of the City Planning Commission. Mr. Ravenstahl, in particular, “has really understood what it means to move the city forward.”

The firm’s Bakery Square office, retail, housing and hotel complex in the East End received an unusual boost from the city. Late last year, the $111 million project won a $10.5 million tax-increment financing, or TIF, benefit in which the Urban Redevelopment Authority borrowed money to back a parking garage and infrastructure improvements, to be paid off using future tax dollars from the site.

Under a city ordinance approved in 1999, TIF-backed hoteliers have to try to come to terms with unions that want to organize their workers. But URA lawyers ruled that a hotel at Bakery Square was not subject to that rule, because it would be built in a specially created tax parcel in the air above the site.

That would all be extraordinary even if Mr. Reidbord didn’t disgrace himself at 2008’s most important meeting of the City Planning Commission.

It’s one thing to manage dealings with a high-powered local developer with political connections — but why do we tolerate this brash practitioner of banal yinzer corruption having an actual seat at the public table? He should be gone already. He should be an issue until he’s gone.

Be Careful What You Wish For

City Council President Doug Shields sounds like a candidate in that race, too. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Well that’s interesting.

Doug would make a great mayor — probably a better mayor than a council president — but as a candidate?

The less informed will prefer the glossier option, unless Shields runs a humdinger of a frank campaign. Picture John F. Kennedy meets Don Rickles. “The only thing we have to fear is this hockey puck.”

The better informed? Well … there are a lot of people out there who would rather Pittsburgh have a so-so mayor that they feel they can manage or get what they need out of, rather than a highly capable mayor who will interrupt the predictability of government by leverage and expediency.

The presence of Carmen Robinson (once she assembles a staff and gets her feet underneath her) will shake things up in an intriguing manner.

One thing is certain: this constitutes last call for anyone who figures they might have a better shot. I count two of you.

From All of Us to All of You

First of all, just so that everybody who is new can catch up, we’d like to hand out our 2007 holiday presents all over again — this article about radical transparency.

YOU get radical transparency! YOU get radical transparency! And YOU get radical transparency!

Some of you should really use it this year!

And now, brand new for 2008, we present this appreciation of the late author Michael Crichton.

The entire selection from several interviews we found to be pretty inspiring, but we especially enjoyed Michael’s answer to Charlie’s patented great / awful question about the precious “X-factor”.

YOU get to hear Michael’s answer about the X-factor! YOU get to hear Michael’s answer about the X-factor! And YOU get to hear Michael’s answer about the X-Factor!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Good Kwanzaa, Jolly Decemberween, and may the Lord bless you and keep you this holiday season.

UPDATE: Oh! A stocking stuffer! The ZBA decision. (h/t Rauterkus)

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The Pittsburgh Comet: Two Years of Comedy. Chapter 1: Beginning.

I think I must have been between jobs.

I had been following the news regarding the casino license to be awarded by the state to some outfit in Pittsburgh. Would it be Harrah’s in Station Square, Isle of Capri in the Hill District, or PITG Gaming in the North Side?

Seemed to me that a Station Square casino would be wedged in too tightly amongst too much other stuff in that strip. Meanwhile, activists on the Hill were protesting the very notion of a casino in a manner I’d only read about in history books. It seemed obvious to me that the license would be awarded to Don Barden on the North Side.

And so it was, but this came to everybody else as a major shock. I decided I’d better invest in some DSL home Internet access, so I could share my gift with the world.

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I learned about the Thursday Massacre through PittGirl. My comment: Susan Malie looks like Alice Cooper. Her comment: this is beginning to look like the end for Bob O’Connor.

I majored in political science and had been a news junky with strong opinions for years, but I never knew or even remotely cared about Pittsburgh’s politics. In 2005, I voted against Bill Peduto because I thought Burton Morris was a hack.

I can’t recall how I ever discovered the Burgh Blog, but there she was — every day at work, several times a day, right in front of my eyeballs. Another hour would pass and I’d get that little itch — I wonder if PittGirl wrote anything new yet? I wonder if there are any new comments?

It didn’t take me long to figure out, “Hey, you know what? There is life out here, on the Internets. There is arable land. Especially for local stuff.”

When I left that job (being addicted to PittGirl had something to do with it) and invested in Net access I took it upon myself to write a local tip-sheet. My influences were ABC’s The Note (back when it was authored by Mark Halperin) and to a lesser degree Wonkette (back when it was authored by Ana Marie Cox). I wanted to combine the best of both, and apply them to Pittsburgh, where it seemed nobody else was doing it. I wanted people to be addicted to me.


The Story at Hand is:

Rob Rossi and Jeremy Boren, the Trib. Know it, love it be it.

Now: Is this just a matter of needing someone to talk Mario down? Can anyone do that?

Or: is this just a canny, aggressive bargaining posture going into negotiations for Plan B+++.

The Real Story is:

With lazer-like focus, as always, on the upcoming Tostitos / Bank of New York Ravenstahl vs. Pedutobowl: (PghC, 12/21/06)

I enjoy spectacle.

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I would write about whatever was in the news — back then it was interminable Penguins negotiations and casino ironings-out. My editorial tone was more one of a sportscaster than a muckraker; I just wanted everyone to be on the same page. (Mine.)

Yet I also found myself covering Wal-Mart and landslides in Killbuck County, reconstruction at Point State Park and the endangered remnants of Fort Pitt, and rumored cuts to public transit — subjects I only discovered I had feeling for once I started really exploring the news. But mainly, I covered headlines.

Which led inexorably to political scandals.

Other blogs (I was reading and commenting actively on other blogs both to do research and to network) were all abuzz about Mayor Ravenstahl’s demotion of a certain police commander.


Today, a federal hearing will take place as to whether or not Ravenstahl violated whistle-blower protections and acted improperly by demoting Catherine McNeilly, in retaliation for her criticism of his then-appointee Dennis Regan.

There is no continuing mainstream news coverage of this story. Nonetheless, the blurghosphere has been incensed. Wherefore such a discrepancy? Is the media treating Ravenstahl with kid gloves? Is this too inside-baseball for most readers? Do news editors believe there’s nothing to the accusations?

I await the outcome of the hearings and I reserve judgement. However, I have a theory as to why we find so much rancor against Ravenstahl on the Internet: haters.

You heard me. It is naturally offensive that such a young man has achieved such success and prominence. I feel it also; I could have run for city council when I was 23. Why didn’t I? Surely, I wouldn’t be making such a popinjay of myself, either.

Be that as it may, I do not think “Politician Rewards Political Allies” would make a very newsworthy headline, nor would “Politican Punishes Internal Criticism.” If he has violated the law, McNeilly should be reinstated. But I do not expect saint-like forbearance from my public officials, nor do I require it. Even if he lied about motivations, or the details of his internal investigation, I just do not think this rises to the level of scandal. (PghC, 01/04/07)

That’s apparently how I felt about life back then.

Just weeks later, yet another scandal would rock our cyber-world — Luke had gotten into a shoving match with a police officer at Heinz Field, and had apparently lied about it. Better yet, news of this had broken on a blog — one of us! One of us!

This was thrilling — but in the days that followed, I felt McIntire was driving the story in a direction that I didn’t entirely agree with. Knowing that McIntire was the big dog in the blogosphere and seeing an opportunity to differentiate myself from what was becoming viewed as an angry, monolithic horde:


John McIntire has been fighting the good fight against the Rush Limbaugh / Fox News / Drudge Report machine for over a decade, and it appears he has finally been corrupted by it.

His latest post includes an open plea for more Ravenstahl dirt from his readers, with the vague suggestion that he’s heard something juicy. He is not asking for criticism of the Ravenstahl budget, of city services, or of development projects. He wants evidence of frat boy behavior, an overload of testosterone, and immaturity.

Also, since he is done misrepresenting the original Ravenstahl incident — remember, his claim that Regan was involved? — he has gone on to misrepresent Ravenstahl’s clear misjudgement in denying that incident, once again backed by just enough “truthiness” to inflate the issue. We believe, as most do, that McIntire’s account of the denial is shamelessly exaggerated and inaccurate. (PghC, 01/22/07)

So there you have it. The blogs became a little more aware that they were being read, and thanks to the City Paper, for example, the general public was now vaguely aware of us as well.

We would continue to write about whatever outraged or excited us — off-duty police detail cost-recovery was a big topic back then, as was non-profit payments in lieu of taxes as well as Pittsburgh’s general strategy for development.

Eventually, somebody compared one of our fine local journalists to Cringer from the old Masters of the Universe cartoon series. Presently we began merrily comparing various personalities of Pittsburgh politics to the superheros and supervillains from our childhood, as the 2007 Democratic primary elections approached.

Monday: We Are Gathered Here Today

Tune in to 1360 AM at 4:15 PM to hear myself and other bloggers talk about the nexus of technology and politics or whatever on Renaissance Radio, hosted by Mark DeSantis.

In a block where occupied homes are now valued in the $40,000s and $50,000s, the prototype’s price tag is comparatively staggering — from $240,000 to $295,000. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

Stash that one in the “interesting” file.

Is that story over with? Not even close. It’s already built right? Somebody is going to be paying for that thing. (Null Space)

Mr. Metz said he intends to “hit as many doors and make as many phone calls as we can” before the Feb. 3 special election. (P-G, Karen Kane)

One possibility we’re hearing is that Kevin Acklin may be the man to square off against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Barring a comet striking his Summer Hill home, Ravenstahl almost certainly will be the Democratic nominee. (Trib Whispers)

In Democrat-saturated Pittsburgh, government functions much as it did in the old Soviet Union. Just about everybody is members of one big happy party. That may explain why there’s been little public outcry, even on City Council, about large political contributions that go to the mayor or other candidates from donors who have or get lucrative city contracts. (P-G, Tom Waseleski)

If you can’t wait until 4:15 to hear the sound of my voice, check out the Mark Rauterkus podcast that features Mark and I chatting only about half an hour after I discovered the Burgher was missing. It descends pretty quickly into technical bickering, but upon further review I think Rauterkus could be right; we could use some kind of threaded discussion board to handle the daily news inflow. I’m thinking maybe one like this.

DON’T HATE ME: If I had heard that I was being asked “what’s left worth reading?”, I would have insisted on compiling a list of not less than 20 different blogs. As it was, we were in the context of what other blogs explore local politics with such intensity and specificity, and I must have only heard “what are some other blogs out there?” (P-G, Dennis Roddy)

So I guess it’s my turn to be the paid journalist who makes a big deal out of a blog shutting down. Which is fine by me, because I think this one really does matter. (Slag Heap)

Some new blogs have climbed aboard: the Huddler, Pittsburgh Polemics, and WWVB.

NOTE: I now have the 17-page opinion scanned and available as a PDF. If you have any idea how to post such a thing to the Internet, let me know; otherwise e-mail me and I’ll shoot you a copy.

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