Monthly Archives: March 2008

Monday: Use the Schwartz!!

Comet sources report that a “prominent former elected official” will change his or her party registration from Republican to Democrat at 2:30 this afternoon, and will make brief remarks endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for President.

QUICK NOTE: Matt H, Char, et al: Little help on the whole Obama thing? We got Republican operatives coming at us from one side, and Run Baby Run to contend with on the other. Thx.

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Post-Gazette in Favor of Saving Money (P-G, Edit Board)

Under the proposal that won tentative approval Wednesday by a 4-2 vote, the mayor would retain the authority to decide who gets these 29 cars. This is a fair compromise. The rest of council should see the prudence of this proposal and get on board.

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Historic Preservation Annoys Developers (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

In three recent cases, neighborhood groups with an affinity for historic preservation relied on protections bestowed by Pittsburgh’s Historic Review Commission to alter and sometimes prevent developments they don’t like, said Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

City Planning commission member and Walnut Capitalist Todd Riedbord is fond of putting it even more succinctly: “We don’t like when historic preservation comes in at the last minute.”

To which we can only respond, #1) Who’s ‘we’? and #2) Unfortunately, it is difficult to be fully aware of what one has, until it is about to be lost.

“Historic preservation almost never makes sense at the moment that somebody’s standing in front of a bulldozer,” [Rob] Stephany said. “But almost always, over the long haul, it has huge economic value,” he said, citing preservation efforts in Highland Park and in the South Side.

We still haven’t gotten our heads around this cat.

Lou Lamanna, president of Bentley Commercial, has said he paid $266,600 for the bank building, also known as the former ARC House, at a sheriff’s sale last year with preliminary plans to demolish it and build a $5 million retail development. He declined to be interviewed.

This is on East Ohio St., near the Veteran’s Bridge. Rumor has it he wants to put up a McDonalds on the property.

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Allegheny County May Privatize Parks (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Oglebay serves as a model for privatizing park services — the buzz-words phrase is “public-private partnerships” — for Allegheny County, which formed its own nonprofit in September to pay for projects and maintenance on 12,014 acres in nine parks.

Hmmm.

“It was a system where they utilize their assets to raise revenues instead of just tax dollars,” Onorato said. “My goal is a broad goal. And, that is to dust off that report written six, seven years ago, showing deferred maintenance at our parks. … The goal, simply, is to take that report and start raising private money.”

Hmmm.

“Systems across the country are not going to be able to survive on the property tax roll,” said Joseph Wynns, parks director in Indianapolis. “Park systems are going to have to go to that (public-private) model.”

No matter where we come down on this, it’s another data point along the story arc that Allegheny County may be straight-up broke or worse.

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Clinton vs. Obama on Iraq: When It Counted.

Sen. Hillary Clinton on October 10, 2002, stating her intentions to vote for the Iraq War Resolution.

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al-Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence in his involvement in the terrible events of September the 11th, 2001.”

“Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first, and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a U.N. resolution, and will seek to avoid war if at all possible.

“Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely — and therefore war less likely — and because a good faith effort by the United States even if it fails will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded after careful and serious consideration that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation.

“I come to this decision from the perspective of a Senator from New York, who have seen all too closely the consequences of last year’s terrible attacks on our nation. In balancing the risks of action versus inaction, I think New Yorkers who have gone through the fires of hell may be more attuned the risks of not acting.

“I know that I am.”

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Eight days previously, Illinois state senator and aspiring United States senatorial candidate Barack Obama gave a speech as well.

“Now let me be clear. I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man, a ruthless man, a man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent or direct threat to the United States, and in concert with the international community he can be contained — until in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

“I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”

“You want to fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda…”

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Now, for a third opinion on the Iraq War Resolution from that time by a Democratic senator, here is Sen. Robert Byrd.

“I think the American people want somebody who stands for something. They are tired of this wishy washy going along, and saying ‘We’ve got to get it over’ and ‘We’ve got to put it behind us’. We’re not going to put this thing behind us. The President has chosen to make this the battlefield. Iraq. He has chosen to make that the battlefield. His administration has chosen to do that. His chief political advisor Karl Rove advised the Republican members of the national committee in January to do that.”

“Mr. President, this is plain and simple a blank check given to the President of the United States. I won’t touch it.”

Friday: Mopping Up After the Week

P-G: Speakers chastise city over billboard approval (Lord & Rujumba)

See Preservation Pittsburgh executive director Steven Paul, in the background, wearing the Official Progressive Facial Expression of the age.

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P-G: City district slow to fill alternative school (Joe Smydo)

We are going on record right now: this was a big mistake, this outsourcing of troubled youth to Community Education Partners from Nashville.

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P-G: Council urged to keep cap on mileage reimbursements
(Team Effort)

Our controller figures, so long as we are talking about take-home cars.

Trib: Mileage proposal too costly, councilman concedes (Jeremy Boren)

So Michael Lamb prevailed upon Ricky Burgess to make the legislation … even tougher?

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P-G
Tony Norman (No. 246): No. 8 on ‘Stuff White People Like’

We reserve comment on most of this column, except to say we think Tony got himself a bit triple-crossed by an old stunt designed to produce feelings of self-doubt and shame in the target audience.

However, when he says,

The anonymity of cyberspace makes blogs unlikely forums for honest dialogue as the comment section of what “Stuff White People Like” proves.

Anonymity provides considerable challenges, to be sure! However, rest assured there are ways that responsible property owners can tend to their own cyber spaces, for example by providing a respectful contextual architecture, and by chasing out the rodents and other pests.

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Politico.com: Story behind the story: The Clinton Myth (h/t MacYapper)

The myth, apparently, is that she can still win the nomination at all.

MacYapper: The longer Hillary stays in this race she’s destined to lose, the bigger an uphill climb Barack is going to have. You wanna hand them the freaking presidency AGAIN?

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Teacher Wordsmith Madman (link): That’s right, folks. The great uniter and uber-thoughtful racial harmonizer used the phrase a typical white person. And meant it. (I imagine you have not heard that he did. Go figure. But if you’d like to hear him say it for yourself, click here.)

We look forward to Mr. Hermann’s omnibus fisking package regarding Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech. The Comet itself found at least a couple of soft moments throughout the speech, and we are curious to see how these sync up with his own critiques.

However, the fact that Barack Hussein O’bama said “typical white person” in that context while answering a reporter’s question does not bother us, and should bother no fair-minded individual.

It is no easy task to talk about race head-on in this country; that is why we never do it. So far, Barack is being given a great deal of credit for even trying — and we have every confidence that fair-minded individuals will cut him some slack for treading into the well-worn potholes of that discussion.

If we had to answer a string of tough questions on our feelings about race in America, we would commit several dozen horrible gaffes by afternoon tea. We will never get anywhere as a nation if we continue lynching people (See? We did it again!) for attempting to speak frankly.

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WIKIPEDIA: Cool (aesthetic): The sum and substance of cool is a self-conscious aplomb in overall behavior, which entails a set of specific behavioral characteristics that is firmly anchored in symbology, a set of discernible bodily movements, postures, facial expressions and voice modulations that are acquired and take on strategic social value within the peer context.[3]

Relevance:

1) Wikipedians would no doubt be the last persons on the planet to understand what cool is; in fact, you could say they are evidently and stereotypically grasping at straws in the above definition.

2) This has a lot to do with what the Comet implied that Hillary Clinton seems to “lack from within,” what Barack Obama seems to posess in abundance, what Clinton supporters seem to resent so badly in Obama, and what it all has to do with Ronald Reagan. Stay tuned as we organize our thoughts.

The City Paper: Erring on the Side of Civility

Photo, Brian Kaldorf.

Look at him go. Look at Chris Potter presiding over the discussion, urging his panelists onwards to more profound, more perfect realms of thought. Like a pioneer urging his wagon-train through a muddy creek.

He and the mysterious Pat Clark, with the chalices of ale.

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Alt-weeklies are at some distinct disadvantages, chief of which being that they come out exactly once a week. This edition probably went to press on Monday, March 17th.

Valarie McDonald Roberts: I’m sick of talking about race. I am really, really tired of it. And it really undermines the candidates themselves. We really do have to focus on that individual and their character and their policies.

D’oh!

Another function of the time lapse, or the jet lag, was the err on the side of civility. That is not a criticism — one can elect to err on the side of this, or of that.

Given the period we had been through, it was the correct editorial and programmatic decision.

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Out of the way:

Maria Lupinacci: We give lip service to what’s important in this country, that children are important, that education is important, that health care is important, that families are important. And Hillary Clinton has spent her entire life’s work being an advocate for that. It impresses when she tried to bring health care to the American people before the public was ready…

That all represents a very compelling reason to be a Hillary Clinton supporter, and one reason the Comet would be most pleased with her presidency.

But on the other hand, she will fight. I do a lot of fund-raising for Democrats, and I hear, “Why don’t we have a backbone? Why don’t we fight?

This is a familiar trope in the respective approaches of the Clinton and the Obama movments. Clinton supporters are readily dismissive of Obaman Togetherness, while Obama supporters are equally dismissive of Clintonian Combativeness.

For the Comet’s money, the Obamans have history on their side. Maybe there are reasons the Democrats haven’t been winning, and haven’t changed the narrative in America. Maybe there are reasons Ronald Reagan had so many Reagan Democrats, and we are still living in his wake.

Maybe there are reasons Reagan was Reagan.

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Jason Tigano: Senator [Barack] Obama has probably the best opportunity to become president. With his characteristics, he can really unite the country. He can bring people together in a way that I think would be better than Senator Clinton and also Senator McCain — trying to grow our reputation internationally as well as bringing the country together with Democrats and Republicans here at home.

We were quite alarmed that the URA’s Public and Legislative Affairs Manager was allowed inside a decent establishment, let alone turn out to be an Obama supporter. Must have come standard-issue.

JT: I think [Obama] would give Republicans something very different to try to tackle, as opposed to [dredging] up what happened with President Clinton eight years ago with the different scandals. … I think the single biggest issue that America faces right now is the lack of a United States of America. Very similar to what [Obama] talked about when he was at the [2004 Democratic] convention…

In any event, he has it down.

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Barbara Ernsberger: Unpaid medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country. … This can be [the] working poor, this can be people without employment … it could be a young person, it could be an older person. That’s a problem across the board. I think we need an aggressive health plan that addresses those issues. Senator Clinton said … that if you have health coverage with your employer, or if you’re purchasing it yourself and you’re happy with it, fine. But if you’re not, she’s going to make available what is available to Congress, to other Americans. I think that is what you have to do.

Health care is incredibly important, and Hillary Clinton has been fighting health care battles for eons. To insist that we need the most aggressive health care plan now, however…

Press reports, if they are to be believed, describe the Obama plan and the Clinton plan as very similar. Clinton goes a little further, yet by all accounts the two represent much more health care than we have now, delivered by very similar means.

Whose stands the best chance of being successfully enacted?

ML: As far as the electability issue, the Republicans have already spent around $100 million going after Hillary. Everything’s out there on the table; we know exactly what to expect. … [And] I don’t trust the Republicans to make nice. “Nonpartisan” is a great word, but we have some real differences on issues. … I don’t want eight years of [partisan] war, but I don’t want to [abandon Clinton and] reward Republicans for spending $100 million to try and tear our people down either.

With respect, as far as the $100 million dollars goes, there are a lot of other reasons that Hillary has such intractable high negatives. Sexism is no doubt one of those reasons. Something lacking from within is probably another one.

At the very least, the ability to rally the non-partisan middle, and the ability to excite and recruit unconventional voters, has never been Sen. Hillary Clinton’s strong suit.

VMR: I am supporting Senator Barack Obama for a number of reasons. … I’ve looked at his heart, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that level of sincerity, honesty, integrity, compassion, faith. I’ve also looked at his mind to see so much wisdom, common sense, as well as intellect. If you combine both of them, I think what draws me as well as so many others are truth and trust. The American people, myself included, have to trust, and we’ve lost a sense of that in Washington, D.C. I think he will bring that back.

Clintonians tend to deride all of these things, but they are real and palpable and apprehendable. They are in fact central to a great mass of voters, especially those in the middle.

However you want to define “middle”.

BY WAY OF CONTINUATION: Council member Ricky Burgess and school board member Heather Arnet are scheduled to debate and discuss the presidential campaign, this Sunday morning on KDKA Sunday Edition with Jon Delano. Awesome.

How City Resources are Allocated

Straight out of Schoolhouse Rock.

Thursday: Drama

The Gang of 250 are glued to their computers.

The temperature spiked again later in the meeting when Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford came to the table. Mr. Dowd on Tuesday called the agency’s failure to pass an annual budget until mid-March “unethical.”

“Reasonable people can disagree,” Mr. Ford said. “But how can I be productive in working with you, councilman … when, councilman, you use words like reckless, irresponsible, inflammatory, unethical, immoral and illegal?” (P-G, Rich Lord)

Harold Hayes has some video on KDKA. It does seem to get a little over-the-top in there. Jon Greiner has more at WTAE. Our feeling is that Council still has to grow into television, even as it is confronting odorousness.

WPXI does not think this is significant news. That is where most of Pittsburgh is, in all likelihood.

“We had 52 vehicles. We increased it to 61 when we were supposed to reduce it to 29,” said Peduto, who joined Councilman Bruce Kraus, Burgess and Dowd in supporting the legislation. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

That is a fact.

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“I don’t believe there’s ever been [a vehicle] acquisition list this large,” said city Finance Director Scott Kunka. “The mayor has been beating the bushes to try to find funds.” (P-G, Lord and McKinnon)

Thunder: Stolen.

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Speaking of legislators being given a hard time:

The code, introduced at the [school] board’s agenda review meeting yesterday and scheduled for a vote at Wednesday’s legislative meeting, would require board members to “respect the confidentiality of privileged information” and refrain from making “misleading, confusing or deceptive statements.”

It would require members to discuss constituent complaints with Mr. Roosevelt before taking them public; refrain from making disparaging remarks about one another; and avoid “unauthorized activities on the board’s behalf.”

It also would require members to “accept the will of the majority” once a decision has been made, even if they disagree. That language could dampen board member Mark Brentley Sr.’s continuing criticism of a 2006 round of school closings. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

What is it with executive power?

Plan a Vacation!

Take-Home Cars: A Must Read Update

City Council grants preliminarily approval to Ricky Burgess’s revised city-wide policy by a vote of 4-2. (P-G Rich Lord)

Mr. Specter told Councilwoman Darlene Harris that voting for the legislation would be illegal, because it infringes on mayoral power.

That sparked a fiery interrogation by Councilman Patrick Dowd.

“Is it illegal, then, for us to exercise our authority?” he asked. “If we were to bring all of the Act 47 recommendations to the table, would it be illegal for us to pass those recommendations?”

“We can talk about any one of them,” Mr. Specter said. “Council is overstepping its charter and code prerogatives.”

Mr. Dowd then asked if the exact same legislation would be legal, or illegal, if it were proposed by the administration.

“I think it would be legal,” Mr. Specter said.

“It’s illegal if it comes from the legislative branch,” Mr. Dowd sniped back. “All we can do is wait for the executive branch to bring things forward to us? . . . That’s amazing.”

(UPDATE: The only way we can explain it is some kind of Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde arrangement, or an evil twin.)

Council’s own interpretation is backed by an attorney who helps to run the Act 47 recovery team.

The Comet reminds everybody that the Act 47 recovery plan was adopted by ordinance and signed into law, and has been and remains the law governing the City of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Burgess said that Mr. Specter said at a prior special meeting on take-home cars that council could pass legislation that matched the Act 47 plan.

“This is sad,” the councilman said. “It is sad for our solicitor to come here and change his opinion, on air. . . . Let’s just go home. Why are we here? Why should we introduce bills?

The Comet was present at the post-agenda one week ago, and can attest that Specter seemed to concede in plain English — at the conclusion of a long line of questioning by council members hampered by a lack of legal counsel themselves — that so long as Council adheres strictly to what has been made law in Act 47, it then has authority.

“I think you may have hit the nail on the head,” were Specter’s exact words.

Thereafter, Specter took a backseat to Scott Kunka, who emphasized the political argument — that the Mayor knows how to “complete the mission,” and that Act 47 is “more like guidelines,” or a “toolbox for the Mayor.”

Suffice to say that Doug Shields, having finally had his morning coffee, had something to say about that.

Fast forward one week, and that set the stage for today’s Must Read Update.

FUN FACT: If this is to be vetoed by the Mayor, it will be vetoed shortly prior to the City’s public hearing before the Act 47 boards.

Wednesday: All Manner of Issues

Last week, Mr. Dowd put a hold on legislation that would formalize the transfer of state funds through the city to the URA, saying he wanted to see the agency’s budget first. The URA board then passed a budget, and council got it Friday. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Good to know how to get answers.

Mr. Dowd said that the $10.3 million administrative budget, which does not include the money to be spent on bricks-and-mortar projects, includes $2.8 million that looks like one-time, unsustainable revenue.

That includes the tapping of $1.5 million in repayments of loans made with federal funds. The budget also includes a $1.5 million payment to the city.

Someone could conclude that there’s “a financial shell game here, and federal money is being used to fund the city,” Mr. Dowd said.

This will be one interesting conversation among several today.

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The City of Pittsburgh asked firms yesterday to submit proposals to study whether men earn more than women within its 3,300-person work force. (P-G, Team Effort)

Good for the City. The Post-Gazette News Room deserves some kind of Pulitzer for the Excellence in the Field of Blurbs for getting this one about right.

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In winter 2007, as soon as the new Penguins arena was announced, Hill District residents began working together, forming the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition. (P-G, Morgan and Williamson)

Actually, in winter 2007, that was most definitely the other alliance — then again, some elements of One Hill are now tracing their involvement in arena benefits back to 2005.

Be that as it may, an op-ed making the broad, broad, broad case for CBA’s now exists.

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“So now we’ve almost declared war, and I’m not sure that’s good for anybody,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who blamed council and defended a 5-year-old practice of allowing Lamar to put up one digital sign for every five or six vinyl ones it took down. “I guess it would be bad to have 42 LED billboards in communities, and that’s why the swap process was done methodically.” (P-G, Rich Lord)

Differing definitions of “process” and “methodically” at work, is all.

City Council is legally challenging that maneuver, which might be an administration thank-you to Lamar for providing free billboard space last year to promote the city’s 3-1-1 help line and anti-litter campaign.

Those billboards featured the face of a beaming Ravenstahl, who coincidentally happened to be engaged in a mayoral campaign at the time. (Trib, Eric Heyl)

It is the looking into of such seemingly political connections that would be the most blatantly political act, obviously.