Monthly Archives: October 2008

Wednesday: Listo Numbah Five!

Citizen Police Review Board attempts relevancy.

A group of local activists petitioned for the hearing, hoping to bring new attention to the 1997 consent decree that allowed the federal government to oversee Pittsburgh police for five years.

The decree has since ended, but Ms. Pittinger and others want to make sure its core elements — including better procedures to hold officers accountable and stronger methods for tracking the use of force, searches and traffic stops — are still being followed. (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman; see also Trib, Jill King Greenwood)

The P-G paints a portrait of a relatively stand-offish Police Bureau. However, the Trib includes quotes from Chief Harper that makes it sound a bit more like some kind of accreditation is being sought.

Change is in the air at the Bureau, and most of it is mutually agreed upon. It would be comforting to all to bring the department up to code while we’re at it. Everything out of the way at once.

Opinions differ regarding Costagate.

Pittsburgh Hoagie: Costa claimed to the media that he had an idea as to who leaked the information from the Mayor’s office. Costa has promised retribution for that person saying “payback’s a bitch.” Costa should have never said this. This could possibly cost him his job.

414 Grant Street: A Mayor simply cannot allow a director to stay in place after he makes the type of remarks that Guy Costa made publicly late last week, even going so far as to threaten to run against his boss the Mayor.

P-G Edit Board: We think the mayor should have made up his mind about discipline in this case a lot sooner, and he should have notified the affected parties through proper city channels.

Well, everybody’s in agreement that the Mayor laid an egg on this one. It’s a question of what, if anything, was revealed, and of cleaning up the mess. In the meantime, Mr. Costa presumably still mulls over his future in the city or whatever.

Pittsburgh Promise scores more foundation mulah.

In all, the program must raise $135 million within a decade to leverage all $90 million of a challenge grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. To leverage the first $10 million of the UPMC challenge, the Promise must raise $15 million this school year.

So far, the Promise is about $5 million toward the $15 million goal — counting the initial $3 million from the Pittsburgh Foundation, an initial $300,000 from the Buhl Foundation, a $1 million gift from the Massey Charitable Trust announced in June and smaller donations from other groups. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

And you thought qualifying for a scholarship was complex!

Breaking local ornithological news

The National Aviary next week will reveal plans for a $23 million expansion that will revitalize the 56-year-old facility, including interactive programming, improved visitor amenities and a stronger connection to surrounding Allegheny Commons park land. (P-G, Team Effort)

House of ill repute seeks entree into West End.

Patrick Risha, 26, of Belle Vernon, asked the Pittsburgh Planning Commission Tuesday to approve his plan to open a club on West Carson Street near the West End Bridge because it meets city zoning requirements and would not touch any residential areas. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

26 year-olds should not operate strip clubs. We will not argue this point.

OVERLORDS approve Mayor’s annual budget.

That is, after they lobbied to put the budget’s ostentatious fund balance to constructive use, paying down the debt and paving streets. The amended budget now goes to City Council for approval or further amendments. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Public officials traipse through Homewood, promise change.

(P-G, Rich Lord)

City Paper runs massive cover story on Councilman Burgess.

It begins and ends on excruciatingly ecclesiastical notes, which should serve to make all frequent readers of Savage Love comfortable. (CP, Adam Fleming)

Another PittGirl post invoking race earns bocu comments.

I don’t know if we’re “a racist area”, but we have racially sensitive buttons. (Burgh Blog)

P-Diddy’s street renaming legislation passes 9-0.

(P-G, Team Effort)

Jack Kelly gives 2PJ’s David DeAngelo an engagement present?

Columnist issues correction at the very top of Sunday’s piece, citing fear of a mistake becoming “part of Internet lore”. (P-G, Jack Kelly)

Are We Kidding Ourselves?

We all talk a big game about how to turn Pittsburgh’s fortunes around.

Moments after a man with an AK-47 sprayed gunfire down Race Street, killing another man just feet from her front porch steps, Chala Johnson overheard something that still shakes her with fear.

“After the shooting, people were hollering, ‘This ain’t over,’ ” Chala, 15, said. “These kids said there was about to be a war on Race Street.” (P-G, Sadie Gurman)

Sometimes we talk about reinvigorating Downtown with more rental units and condominiums. Sometimes we talk about developments like restaurants, hotels and office parks, and the jobs they bring.

Sometimes we talk about mass transit. Sometimes we talk about making the city more bike and pedestrian friendly, or greener and more energy efficient.

Sometimes we talk about “school choice” and the Pittsburgh Promise. Sometimes talk about tapping into our universities more efficiently and better leveraging our tech-savvy human capital. Sometimes we talk about political reform.

The two were Pittsburgh’s 55th and 56th homicide victims of 2008 — only one fewer than last year’s total, putting the city on pace for the highest number of homicides in a decade.

[UPDATE: This looks to be number 57 already.]

At the same time, police have seen a sharp drop-off in the number of arrests connected to homicides. The Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s clearance rate was 46 percent for January to September, down from 75 percent for all of last year. The rate was 96 percent in 2004, when 43 of 45 homicide cases were cleared. (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman)

What sort of suburban or exurban families are going to move to Pittsburgh to take advantage of a scholarship, when headlines like these warn that their children could just as easily not survive through graduation?

What self-respecting leading edge company, in the age of globalization and infinite options, is going to move to a city in which about half of the surface area is regarded as some sort of no-go no man’s land?

The city has been engaging in a lot of creative theoretical conversations about “solutions” and “game-changers” that might bring about a much-awaited Pittsburtopia — but are we all failing to properly address some totally obvious, right-in-front-of-our-noses problems to which we’re utterly desensitized — and for which there are no trendy, easy, or comfortable solutions?

In short: is Pittsburgh actually yet constituted to play the game of a 21st century city, or is it still mired in 18th century problems without quite realizing it?

There is a new policing strategy on the way. That is good, though frankly, at $200,000, we wonder if it is being well-enough resourced. We routinely spend far more money on needs that seem far more trivial.

There is new legislation being proposed that would curtail the sale of black market handguns. We do not pretend there are not some legal question marks around it, but we feel we’re at the point where making some noise and rallying to a cause might un-glue more or better state action. It’s kitchen sink time, or it should be.

It also feels like there’s something we can be doing at a private, citizenship level to help assist with the crisis. If a call to action is forthcoming, we feel about ready to seize upon it.

Saturday: Quick Thoughts

1. The DPW overtime story: It is nothing. Cavort elsewhere.

2. Related to that: “People have asked me to look at the political field,” is the new, “He continues to cooperate actively with authorities”.

3. Podcamp 3 is today, and tomorrow, at the Art Institute.

4. The budget is going to be an issue. Not fooling.

5. The Comet welcomes its first sponsor: Pittsburgh Home Security: a website. I just noticed it offers a crime map. Discuss.

6. Oh! And job listings! Honestly, we were happy to just take the money, but we are pretty darned excited about this sponsor all of a sudden.

Taking Care of Listness and Working Overtime*

Public Works supervisors suspended for receiving, granting overtime pay.

Officials in Ravenstahl’s office said the four men were not entitled to receive overtime because they are supervisors. Public Works Director Guy Costa will be suspended for one day, said Ravenstahl spokeswoman Joanna Doven. She could not say whether he would be paid during the suspension. (Trib, Jeremy Boren; see also KDKA, Marty Griffin)

* UPDATE: Getting choppy: (P-G, Rich Lord)

I’m amazed stuff like this doesn’t get revealed more often.

Union employees are always a little more comfortable than nonunion employees; public-sector union employees a little more so; public-sector employees in a one-party government even more so; and public-sector union employees in a one-party government in a city with a longstanding and unique reverence for organized labor far more so. It’s surprising the folks who run Public Works don’t give Our Mayors noogies and kick sand in their faces on a daily basis.

URA facilitates three hotels for Homewood East Liberty.

It may seem like an awful lot of rooms for such a compact space, but URA officials said yesterday marketing studies have indicated that the area can support up to 450 rooms. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Okay. No objections, I guess. I can’t help but wonder all of a sudden though if the hospitality industry has some kind of active trade group or PAC on the case.

Speaking of Homewood

The P-G’s Elwin Green writes an open letter to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl regarding vacant properties and the seeming lack of a game plan to reintigrate them.

I am aware of the program to offer vacant lots to the owners of adjacent properties as side lots. But what if the owner of an adjacent property does not want the vacant lot? Or what if the adjacent property is itself vacant – as 7213 Race Street is?

In March 2007, you announced that the City would begin seizing houses that are frequent crime scenes. But what will the City do with those houses? What is the City doing with the houses that it owns? Is the City placing tenants in them and acting as a responsible landlord? Is the City selling them to residents and boosting the homeownership rate? Is the City selling them to investors?

Is 7215 Race Street the exception, or the rule?

Does the City have any coherent policy on what to do with properties once it takes possession of them?

My understanding, Elwin, is that the city intends to produce green energy on these lots with switchgrass, sunflowers and unicorn manure, until such time as the URA acquires enough of them near enough to one another that it can provide a whirlwind of development.

However, unlike the Comet, Elwin is proposing solutions instead of just complaining:

I ask you, as Pittsburgh’s first mayor to come of age during the Internet era, to consider the possibility of an Internet-enabled auction of City-owned real estate. I ask you to challenge all departments that might be involved with such an effort, from IT to finance to legal, to put together a process that will shift ownership and responsibility for those properties from the City to individual owners – and that will book payment from those buyers – in record time, a process that can provide a model for other cities in similar straits.

It’s a good idea — assuming anyone at all would want these properties presently. Go PIRC, go!

Please, lead us forward.

Everybody’s a comedian.

McCain office in Port Vue vandalized.

So much for the moral high ground, jackasses. (Trib, Team Effort)

Pittsburgh experiencing issues with Latino immigrants.

Slowly but finally. (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman)

The Animal Rescue League is the place to be.

6000 Verona Rd., Verona, 15147
Sat. Oct 25th Noon-4
Food, Games, Crafts, Hiking, Hayrides

Diesel Club Lounge (what?)
Wed. Nov. 12th 6PM – 9PM
$50 Ticket includes 2 drink tickets and heavy appetizers (Heavy, but presumably vegetarian? Or just free range? I don’t know. E-mail for details.)

The Artist: Des’ree

The Interpretation: Overly literal

Wednesday: Afternoon DeList

BREAKING: Stadium Authority asks judge to throw out Northside United complaint.

Told you you should have gone with the “improperly constituted” authority board argument. (P-G, Mark Belko; Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Council places hold on the two troublesome mayoral appointments.

Ricky Burgess does make it onto Housing Authority; Joe “The Plumber” Day does make it onto Propel Pittsburgh Commission. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Post-Gazette thinks proposed gun ordinance is “worth a try”

Asks Mayor Raventahl to show leadership. (P-G, Edit Board)

The Allegheny Institute is on a tear.

Reams Onorato for not using “dedicated transit funding” to fund transit (AI), agitates for the state General Assembly to allow tax-rate changes via county referendum (AI), and suspects it’s only a matter of time before the Penguins try to double-dip for more subsidies for their hotel (AI).

The new Harry Potter book is out.

Inquire with the Department of City Planning.

Mayan calendar turns; Jon Delano updates blog.

Recounts his own encounter with racism on the campaign trail in the form of a local Democratic committeeman. (Delano’s Den)

One of our heroes writes reflections on blogging.

To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate. (ATL, Andrew Sullivan)

We’re sure this will answer everyone’s concerns somehow.

Pat Dowd Will Not Be Ignored

As you know, Councilman Patrick Dowd (D-Lawrenceville, Highland Park and such) is spearheading legislation that would launch an effort to rename and re-number city streets, chiefly to improve services from our police, firefighters and paramedics.

Can you imagine 911 calls blurting out “Help me!!! I’m at 200 East! Click!” Or, “Help me! I’m at 200 Adams, which comes right after 3900, but it’s on the odd side of the street, yet on the odd side the odds go in opposite order from evens, starting where the old Foodland used to be!”

So Councilman Dowd is trying to save lives — but he tried to do so by allowing the mayor’s administration (including 911 staff and various public safety officials) to form their own commission and do it themselves. Boom! No political input from the Council.

Last week, it passed preliminarily with just 5 votes. Yesterday morning it was up for final action. (Pittsburgh City Council operates like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; it is required to lock in its Final Answer.)

At that point, Darlene Harris (D-most of the North Side) was like, no. Turns out, she has a soft spot both for tradition, and for Council’s basic role in government.

She wrecked Dowd’s bid to totally exclude the Council from its ordinary oversight role in street changes — but he came back to the table the next day with new legislation that would let a super-majority the Council (6 out of 9) alter the administrative commission’s recommendations. It walks that line, somehow.

This time he got 8 votes.

And Pittsburgh city streets, pending another try at final action next week (almost a formality), will undergo a reformation.

Sure, Dowd carried a some water for the mayor while he was at it — but it’s likely he expected all along to be forced to drop most of that particular water.

“I should also point out there was a lot of compromise on this bill,” Dowd tells the Comet. “I am proud of that work mostly because I believe we all better understand each other’s concerns and how to deal with almost all of them. 5 votes supported the bill from the beginning but I worked up to 8-0-1. If we hit 9-0 that would be great.”

“In my mind this is also part of the pledges signed in February,” Dowd adds. “In short, the legislation goes to 1) Equity and efficiency of service, and 2) Increased confidence in the services of the city.”


That’s just the kind of talk that irritates many of his colleagues. One of Dowd’s first acts as a member of council was to cajole all his fellow councillors, the controller and the mayor to sign these fruity “pledges” to work toward vague-sounding “common goals”. It was signed on Valentine’s Day, which to many was symbolic of the lovey-dovey inanity of the exercise.

Envisioned as a nonbinding resolution, it was reduced even further to a proclamation — much like, say, Russian Dressing Awareness Day. Even still, and though mocked relentlessly, Dowd persistently frames his legislative preferences in terms of his “landmark” joint pledges of cooperation.

Take for example an invitation circulated by Dowd to learn more about the City of Pittsburgh’s Management and Performance System, or PittMaps — an online data archive for certain crime, public works, and building inspection statistics among others. The Mayor’s Office was to host a series of small workshops among council members and their staff as to how to use the system — all the better to fulfill the pledges, notably the one “to develop transparent accountability with operational performance measurement targets”.

Sources indicate the results of this offer were uneven to say the least — many invitees across the political spectrum regarded this as something like an invitation to attend Dowd’s candle party. Everybody somehow had something better to do that week than to sit on the floor and learn about “benchmarking.”

However, sometimes there seems to be a method to Dowd’s inimitable madness.

When he was last in the news (aside from his bike-and-pedestrian initiative), he had elected to fund the city’s long-delayed race and gender equity disparity study by using up old rollover funds available to the Council itself — instead of mandating that the relevant administrative departments pay for it like normal. Some accused Dowd of inventing bogus principals to suit his political machinations.

Dowd defended his insistence on how to fund the program with reference to the pledges to make the city budget more efficient, and services more affordable. He told the Comet that though the Council had certain obscure funds to which it was clinging for a rainy day, many other city departments and offices are hoarding pockets of cash as well.

By burning through the Council’s stash, he insisted, Council then gains the moral authority to start going after all this squirrelled away money — which inflates, or as we like to say, “carbonates” the city budget. The impression we received from Dowd was that we were talking serious money.

We asked whether it was a good idea for these offices and departments to store away cash for a rainy day or what have you, and Dowd replied, “No! That’s where fiefdoms come from!” He then extended his point to accountability — and before you knew it we were sold. Provided that Dowd and the Council followed through on the deal and started pursuing these forgotten funds within administrative departments.

When will that come? Later.

Lots of things that may involve respectful confrontation with the Mayor, especially among the Council’s “middle” wing (to which Patrick Dowd is the most obvious party) seem to be scheduled for an ephemeral “later”, which will likely be sometime mid-next year. At one time, as another example, Dowd was tangling with the URA pretty heatedly over access to its budget and allocation of the vast amounts of grant money available to it. This is an explosive issue beneath the surface, with potentially far greater impact on city neighborhoods than reconnoitering street signs.

This desire to hold off on the tough stuff until just a little bit “later” could be a reflection of new council members’ natural desire to defer poking bears with sticks until a time just over the horizon — just a little bit longer — after they grow more comfortable, after the politics improve, after it becomes safe. Such things could be infinitely deferred, we suppose.

Then again, the political map may change once again this spring. Seats held by council members Deasy, Motznik, Payne and Peduto are up for re-election. This is a favorable spread for those who might wish to disrupt have a more pro-active impact upon the Mayor’s agenda.

Councilman Dowd would have his own unique preferences in these contests — or not — but regardless of the outcome, we’re fairly certain he would canter right over to the “new” center and set up shop. If that new center turns out to be a less guerrilla position — one capable of garnering six votes and overriding vetoes as necessary — so much the more interesting.

In the meanwhile, he’ll continue lording those pledges over everybody — and he’ll continue finding a way to rack up a vast record of prosaic accomplishments. And although he’ll choose his battles with excruciating care, when he does go to battle he’ll likely continue to be hard to deny.

Wednesday: A Well-Regulated Listitia*

Shields/Kraus/Peduto seek to stymie black market for handguns.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hasn’t expressed a clear opinion on the matter and his administration provided no response to the legislation introduced yesterday. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Admittedly, this one’s a legal toughie. But it would be very helpful to pass an ordinance like this. Part of maintaining a well-regulated militia is enacting the occasional regulation to combat dangerous illegalities. It would be nice to join a reform movement.

Ravenstahl’s questionable authority board picks questioned.

Gabe Mazefsky, Ravenstahl’s manager of policy, said Ravenstahl doesn’t plan to change his appointments. He said rules in the city’s Home Rule Charter that appear to conflict with the mayor’s appointments are “moot” or “outdated.” (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Good times.

URA to hold off on Kuhn’s / Save-A-Lot grocery store decision

“I got so many calls and comments in support of Kuhn’s,” Payne said. “I want to be sure about Kuhn’s proposal before I say anything about it.” (Trib, Ron DaParma)

It sounds like it’s seriously being considered! Encouraging!

City design panel fine with Penguins hotel

“It’s a first step in the arena as a revitalizing anchor for the entire region,” said Penguins President David Morehouse. (Trib, Bonnie Pfister)

Really? I thought every other government subsidized large-scale development in the 250 year history of Pittsburgh was supposed to do that. Maybe 70th time will be the charm.

“We all know the Crosstown Expressway is almost like a moat,” he said. “This is one more connecting piece that we can add to the puzzle.”

If there’s one thing Pittsburghers who come Downtown would like to do after work or after seeing a show in the Cultural District, it’s check into a luxury hotel. Will this impact the long-sought Convention Center hotel project? The North Shore hotel project? Does Pittsburgh have a market for this many hotel rooms Downtown?

Grass no greener in Harrisburg.

But where are the angry people that once made my life so difficult? Where is the outrage? Incumbent lawmakers are accused of taking your money without your permission and using it to ensure that neither candidates from within their party nor from the opposition party could unseat them from their thrones of power. Doesn’t that disturb you just a little? (P-G, Terry Shaffer)

He doesn’t realize the city he’s talking to.

“Three-peat: Walko, Frankel and Gergely deserve re-election”

See? (P-G, Edit Board)

Adams Township will let that pole dancing instructor do her thing

(P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

North Huntington won’t let “Swingers Palace” do its thing

(P-G, Norm Vago)

Darlene Harris scuttles Patrick Dowd’s radical street renaming and re-numbering thing. UPDATED

At least the part about fast-tracking changes through the administration. Early yesterday morning, the other eight council members discovered a seven-page legal and philosophical memorandum in their inboxes from Councilwoman Harris. It included such gems as:

In discussing whether a municipality can delegate legislative authority, in H.A. Steen, Inc., v. Cavanaugh, 430 Pa. 10, 18, 241 A.2d 771, 776 (1968), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania stated, “The principle is well-established that a municipality may not delegate legislative power to an administrative agency . . .”

“An ordinance reflects the process of majority vote on legislative matters by elected representatives. A directive is an implementation of intra-government policy. An ordinance is a public record, exposed to pinion – ridicule or support. A directive has a select audience, normally the members of the intra-governmental entities would be able to legislate.” [ibid.]

Council discussed potential political motivation in street naming. Yet Council stands as the single best safeguard against political motivation. Where City administration carries a singular head, Council’s adjudication over a name comprises the opinion of nine separate districts represented by nine separate individuals.

Without Council oversight, and without significant community involvement (which also is lacking from the legislation), citizens would be faced with sudden changes of address – in effect, changes of identity – without having had due representation or input on the matter.

Councilman Dowd withdrew his motion sans discussion, presumably to take it back to the lab for a workover. I don’t know what the score is between these two, but if you’re playing fantasy, owners of Coucilwoman Harris picked up a rare six points yesterday.


Harris 7, Dowd 13, 3rd QR.
See also Slag Heap.

Tuesday: Woaaaaaaaaah Listy!

Ravenstahl declares new era of productivity for Bureau of Building Inspection

He hopes all of those problems will be addressed by the new plan announced yesterday, which Mr. Ravenstahl said should help improve accountability and more effectively coordinate public safety efforts.

Having inspectors assigned to the police stations and working out of their city vehicles with handheld computers should make them more efficient, Mr. Ravenstahl said. (P-G, Ward and Lord)

The Comet always imagined BBI to be such a mess because no one actually has the nerve to execute and enforce the results of building inspections. Maybe all these investments and upgrades will work, but the willpower still has to be present.

New URA director takes reporter on ominous trek through Homewood

“No one would want to see, Rob least of all, government calling all the plays in the huddle,” Swartz said. “The question is: Is he going to be the guy up in the booth relaying information to the field or the guy on the field directing traffic? It would be better if he were up in the box. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Stephany certainly knows how to talk the community talk. That’s how he became Ford’s deputy; somebody had to be able to do it convincingly. In any event, a URA director that seems to be focused on the URA’s central mission may be enough progress. So long as the board behaves itself.

Area man killed in hail of gunfire.

A hail of gunfire?! A “barrage of bullets”??!! (P-G, Daniel Malloy)

Bank of New York Mellon actually investing in Hill District Neighborhood Partnership Program.

Well, I’ll be! And in today’s economy! Let’s say the fundraising thermometer is now 3/10ths filled with mercury. (P-G, Edit Board)

Penguins likely to get their silly hotel.

It seems plausible, given where it’s located on the map. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Indspec gas cloud was made of “fuming sulfuric acid”.

Also known as “oleum“, which is used to make “resorcinol“, which is used to make rubber if one doesn’t own a slave colony in the Belgian Congo (P-G, Michael A. Fuoco)

Onorato doing whatever he wants.

Cites mystery opinion from “legislative caucus” as justification. (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

Opposition to Roosevelt coalesces.

It’s PURE genius. (Trib, Bill Zlatos)

Carbolic Smoke Ball releases compendium

This link brought to you by Please Don’t Make Fun of Me In Your Book (Carbolic)

Chris Potter upset by racism

This link brought to you by Please Register for CP Blog Comments So We Can All Keep Potter Company (Slag Heap)

City Council to argue lots today about how to rename and renumber streets

Yes, it’s true. As we understand it from watching the City Channel, Councilman Dowd wants paramedics, police, fire and 911 staff empowered to launch an efficient operation to get Pittsburgh’s streets to make sense already. Councilman Shields supports that initiative, but wants to retain Council’s power to retain fundamental oversight of the operation, lest on rare occasions the professionals amend something really critical to or beloved by the community. Dowd argues that council members really ought to stay out of functional administrative decision making, e.g. political plowing and political paving, yet the Comet counters that relinquishing all power to the administration can just as easily yield political results — only without checks and citizen appeals. The streets of Pittsburgh have been jacked up for 250 years — waiting 60 or 90 days for Council to pound a gavel isn’t unreasonable.

John McCain’s Moment, and the term “Radical”

The masquerade is over. The stealth candidacy has to come out from cover. It’s time to talk issues; to use the dreaded “L” word; to say the policies of our opposition and the congressional leadership of his party are liberal, liberal, liberal.

… President Reagan, welcoming remarks at the Republican National Convention, 1988.

Michael Dukakis was the “stealth candidate” to which Reagan was referring. George H. W. Bush was the Republican nominee. If you read closely, the ACLU seemed to fill the role of ACORN. Other than that, President Bush today could give the same speech on behalf of John McCain.

Except, well, McCain will have to rely on himself.

As we know, John McCain recently bucked his own party by insisting at a town hall forum that Sen. Obama is “not an Arab”, and then we have nothing to fear from an Obama presidency in that way. It was a good first stab, as Barack Obama’s first remarks on the Rev. Wright controversy were a good first stab, but now McCain has to make clear what he really means — and also, what he really means when he criticizes Obama as harshly as he does.

Such a message necessarily entails a lot of nuance, a certain amount of length, and some practiced rhetoric. He would be well advised to travel to a symbolic location and deliver a Major Address on civility in political discourse — and tied to that, given the compressed calendar, he would have every right to include the real stakes in this election as he sees them.

It’s hard to imagine McCain stirring all the necessary herbs and spices into Wednesday’s debate, though he may well attempt that anyway. He could try to arrange a deferential interview with a well-respected reporter, or better yet, do it at the top of a press conference. Whatever the format, this is his only move to get back in this race, and it could work.

Unfortunately, he may not elect to do that. Early indications are that McCain may try to have his cake and eat it too — make a few gestures of civility and repudiation, all the while employing surrogates and advertisements to do the exact opposite. This would fail mostly because it would be look hopelessly awkward.

One tempting window through which the McCain / Palin ticket could try to thread this needle is the term “radical”.

3 a: marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional : extreme b: tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c: of, relating to, or constituting a political group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change d: advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs radical (Mirriam Webster)

It is at least a matter of debate if this term properly defines Barack Obama. However, the term “radical” has more recently, even more frequently, been used as a noun to identify a person — not someone who holds radical views, but someone who acts in a radical and dangerous fashion. Throwing bombs. Being a terrorist.

One can allege that Barack Obama holds radical liberal views, while at the same time implying that he could be personally dangerous. There are other linguistic tricks that can be and are being used to make this point, but “radical” seems to be the favorite, if one is inclined to fudge meanings.

The association with William Ayers doesn’t help.

We’ve been trying to formulate something like this, but Clyde Wynant put it very well:

The Weathermen were a natural outgrowth of their time, a time when we were feeding our young men into the maw of a pointless, horrible war at an alarming rate. A war which took the lives of nearly 60-thousand American soldiers.

So it wasn’t surprising that some people got together and thought, “Hey, this is wrong. Let’s fight back.” Many of them felt the same frustrations we all feel today. But unlike the complacent populace who voted for GWB ’cause they thought he’d be fun to drink with, these people put their lives and careers and futures on the line for a philosophical belief. Were they right or wrong?

That depends on your point of view. Much of the violence which bubbled to the surface during the 60’s undoubtedly led to changes in our society. The war in Viet Nam was finally ended. The civil rights movement brought sweeping changes. As did the women’s right movement and the nascent gay rights movement. Bottom line? While I don’t condone what the Weather Underground did, they can’t be as easily pigeon-holed as most would like. (2 Political Junkies)

That will either resonate or it won’t. However, what about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Though merely an intellectual radical, doesn’t that now make a radical sandwich?

Let’s get real. If you are a liberal or a conservative, and if you are an intellectual, and ambitious, you should want nothing more than the opportunity to form relationships and share ideas with the most interesting and compelling liberal or conservative radicals of your age and ages past. Radicals are creative and challenging.

One should not take orders from them — one should not be beholden to them — and radicals probably should not be one’s significant advisers. But if one gets a chance to learn from their experiences, pounce!

If Bill Ayers was that intolerable to society, he would be in prison somewhere or dead, not walking around Chicago. If Rev. Wright was that bad, he would not have built his church to a membership of 10,000. We must bear this in mind for radicals on both sides of the spectrum — even as we bear in mind the length and the nature of these relationships.

No, none of this will do at this point. Sen. McCain has only one game-changer at his disposal. John McCain needs to be genuinely high-minded and do what he says he is doing. Then, he needs to portray Sen. Obama as a radical liberal — that is, an extreme liberal — too liberal for the country.

One thing he can do is assert that all liberals are too liberal. He can try to redo what both Ronald Reagan and trailblazing radical propagandist Rush Limbaugh did to liberalism 20 years ago. Any nod to the left became a slippery slope towards socialism. All liberal ideas have been exhausted, and they always fail.

The problem is, the center of the country senses intuitively that liberalism and conservatism are Yin and Yang — both have something to say, and the two should remain in balance, at least over time. Furthermore, conservatism is the ideology that today seems tired and played out — conservatism in excess has been recently perceived to fail.

Finally, the liberals may now have a Great Communicator of their own. If John McCain does engage this conversation — which would be at once his smartest move, and the most courageous thing for his country — Barack Obama would answer back. And unfortunately for Mr. McCain, there is very little in Obama’s record as a public official, in the programs he is proposing, and in his rhetoric and temperament to suggest he is a wild-eyed extremist.

Obama is simply a center-left liberal, and that’s okay. Mainstream America is ready at this point in its history to welcome a liberal President with open arms and a huge sigh of relief.