Monthly Archives: May 2010

Three Tenors of Pittsburgh Endorse Joe Sestak

Couldn’t say it any better:

Please see also the speeches by Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson and PA State Senator Jim Ferlo, along with that of Pittsburgh City Councilman Douglas Shields (above).

NOTES: Ferlo is up for reelection tomorrow — a fact of which I was wholly ignorant until I received my Democratic Committee slate card in the mail just the other day. Ferlo is running unopposed in the primary and has no declared opposition to date in the general. This Sestak rally was held on his home turf in Lawrenceville, in the Butler Street business district.

Leaving the rally, I spotted a car with DEWEESE bumper stickers plastered all along the side, and some Sestak paraphernalia as well. Weird.

FOR GOVERNOR: Support Joe Hoeffel, or future governor Dan Onorato.

Why not start here:

I know, Hoeffel’s more liberal. And he has the charisma of a block of wood. Bob Casey Jr. is the only one who can violate the no-charisma rule and still win. (MacYapper)

I don’t agree with that. I agree with much else in the essay, but I want to be clear about this point before we continue.

All things being equal, the left is less likely to get “fired up and ready to go” about Onorato than about Hoeffel. The Democratic party’s right will get fired up about Onorato in fewer numbers than the coalition of good old hippies, academics, feminists and certain minorities will get active and rally behind Hoeffel against Corbett.

More to the point, the fight about certain values — let’s call them “civil rights”, “equal opportunity”, and “equal protection under the law” — is a fight that needs waged. Most every time. Period.

Joe Hoeffel is charismatic enough. It’s money he lacks, and it’s hunger. The hunger of the desperate.


On the whole — with qualifications that will be addressed — Dan Onorato seems fully capable of being “knocked and dragged” into the progressive camp. That is, if the progressive coalition stays relentlessly engaged. Fortunately for everyone, the Democratic party as it exists in the People and in the Nation is trending liberal and pragmatically on the offensive, even if Allegheny County establishment forces lag behind.

Those doors labeled “rights”, “opportunities” and “protections” are less likely to be open — or even operable — in Tom Corbett’s office. Though it will be a long general election campaign and our minds should be open.

Onorato’s flat-out obstruction of his government’s obligation to provide Allegheny County taxpayers with a fair and legal property tax system is a big concern — but it is the result of a lack of political courage, which is sadly understandable given his constituency. He has since pledged — a bit under his breath — that as Governor he will work to institute fair and uniform property tax schemata across the state. With him, it might be enough of an issue that he’ll have to follow through, and that will be a blessing.

Onorato’s appetites for hard executive power, soft political power and his abuses of expediency are not becoming. Yet actually, this tendency might be easier to police in the Governor’s mansion. Let’s promote him away from this cowed backwater and allow him have some learning experiences in a vigorous, multiparty, multi-factional universe. There will come a constitutional crisis or two along the way but all in good fun.

Onorato’s record on the environment and environmentalism is what is most concerning — given especially the need for Pennsylvania to eventually exploit more local energy opportunities. The fragility of our extremely valuable natural environment — clean water, healthy air, stable and fertile ground — will increasingly come up against both the speed and the ruthlessness of special business interests. It would be better to have someone capable of making wise environmental calls in real time. It is the reason I will be voting for Joe Hoeffel.

It is also the most important thing Pennsylvania citizens will need to eventually inculcate in Governor Onorato.


In July of 2007, Dan Onorato rounded up 272 Canada geese with some sort of laser device, herded them into a temporary facility and gassed them. “Humanely”, we were assured, though we never learned the chemicals used.

Some Allegheny County residents complain that the goose population is thriving too well. They do not appreciate goose droppings in public parks in particular, and do not trust the geese not to get feisty.

There have been no goose-related illnesses or public safety incidents recorded. An organization named Geese Peace and Voices for Animals had lobbied the Onorato administration — well in advance — to utilize a “proven” gander-management strategy of moving some nests in the spring while sterilizing others. They claim that County Executive Onorato committed to this program, abandoned it without ever having truly instituted it, and went back on a promise.

Be that as it may — what kind of environmentalist elects to gas almost 300 of God’s creatures, with no regret, only braggadocio? What kind of science-minded individual then offers to donate mystery-toxin wild goose flesh to food pantries? (I do not think any pantry ever took them up on the offer.)

That is but one example. The Allegheny Health Department’s record with air quality control standards is another indicator. Onorato’s near-silence on the importance of intelligently regulating, monitoring, and enforcing real protections upon energy drilling is another. The fact that Onorato’s signature trumpeted achievement when it comes to environmentalism is “saving greenfields” by way of developing old industrial sites — basically just by way of qualifying for economic development money from another pot set aside for that — is another.

Dan Onorato has yet to be “knocked and dragged” into a firm stance on the environment. This is especially problematic seeing as how he brands himself appropriately as the “business-friendly” Democrat, and is bankrolled by a broad swath of big business including energy companies. This will require attention and organization.


So why not line up behind Hoeffel and leave it at that?

“Dan Onorato, Jack Wagner, I know you are both strong supporters of public education, ” said Hoeffel, ” We’ve stood together on dozens of stages across the commonwealth and agreed on this fundamental issue. Join me now in taking a strong, clear stand against vouchers.”

Hoeffel observed that Onorato especially should be vocal on this issue, having received the endorsement of — and over $77,000 from — PSEA, the largest teachers’ union in the state. “I believe that the teachers of this state need to hear from Dan Onorato. Dan Onorato should stand up for public education, schools, students and teachers and forcefully denounce vouchers. (Joe Hoeffel)

This was the big offensive that came out on May 12th. Hoeffel demands that Onorato step out and “denounce” Anthony Williams’ call for school vouchers — so it’s already kind of a bank shot. It does not draw attention to a very clear distinction between Hoeffel and Onorato, nor does it draw attention to anything enormously negative about Onorato, of which there are options.

Hoeffel probably made this move because he thinks it’s right, not because he thinks it’ll move the election. Much like his stated reason for getting in the race — to remind people that liberalism exists and has political power which cannot be ignored. That mission was partially accomplished and will be accomplished further.

If there’s one thing Democrats require here it’s an election-mover; we’d be foolish not to acknowledge that. Onorato’s angry little Yosemite Sam “let me be clear about my record!” routine is a fine political approach, as is his aw-shucks “These are the realities I can’t help it it’s not my fault” routine. Even when he’s getting knocked around, he’s never at a loss for a plausible-sounding argument rooted in something.

And we need to acknowledge another thing: Dan Onorato is from Pittsburgh. As governor he would almost assuredly, in his way, finagle more resources, options and considerations for the City and its region, during a desperately important time. Shake trees, scrape around the bottom of the barrel, bend some rules, invent some others get it done. Yes we’ll have to keep and eye on that too.

There is a reason Dan Onorato is considered to be so far ahead in this four-person field as to be a foregone conclusion. He is the most skilled and complete political leader we’ve seen in a long time. I don’t think he’s yet in Eddie Rendell’s class, but wait until he gets some real political experience. Let’s hammer him when he needs to be hammered, let’s pull him where Pennsylvania needs him to be pulled (particularly on the environment), let’s vote for Hoeffel if we want to show progressive strength, let’s cut Onorato some slack and let’s ride this wave as far as we can take it. It’s headed in the right general direction.


“A Serious Concern” [UPDATED]

That’s of course Gubernattorney General Tom Corbett’s office who spoke this week, but other folks have been alleging that the Water & Sewer Authority kerfuffle is “serious” for some time.

The opt-out billing system is believed to be one subject of the attorney general’s review. It is also the focus of an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court lawsuit filed by resident Nancy W. Farber in February.

On Monday, Dominion Products and Services, two other firms with which it partners to offer line warranties, and resident Pamela Post filed another civil lawsuit. (Post-Gazette)

“One subject.” A noteworthy turn of phrase. It’d be too much if Nancy and Pamela turn out to be blog readers.

“I think the program is a bargain,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who appoints the authority board.

Objection! Irrelevant.

“We believe that we are on strong legal grounds,” said Mr. Ravenstahl.

That’s a lot more important that he believes that. Does anybody have an idea how long these things take? Harry Onorato and the Unfair Property Assessments has been wrapped for some time; it’ll be nice to have another court proceeding to follow.

*-UPDATE: PWSA on Friday May 14th “edged closer” to beginning its own internal investigation through a third party which it ordered “in April”. If I’m reading the Tribune-Review correctly.

Paving Resources: Open Thread

The Comet loves lengthy debates about fairness.

[Burgess] said that over the last five years, the city has spent $41 million on paving, including $9 million in federal funds. But the half of the city that is eligible for federal money has gotten just $16.25 million in paving — less than half of the total. (Post-Gazette)


Other members said the question of spending was too complex to deal with in a day, and that nearly all areas of the city desperately need resurfacing. (ibid)

Some roads in the City are indeed desperate, and all over it — but are they so desperate that this issue would need to be considered wholly “in a day”? Would it really make a difference if we added the paving issue to the old agenda for a few weeks to a month? These are only questions. We all know this is a microcosm.

What Infinonymous Says.

Right over here. The upshot:

Pennsylvania’s 2010 gubernatorial race is already bleeding out on Dr. Wecht’s stainless steel table. (Infinonymous)

The good news IMO is, people just started paying attention. Give us something to sink our teeth into, or should I say, speak now — or forever hold your peace.

Let’s All Support Tim Tuinstra.

Only one candidate offered voters a concrete, non-contingent deliverable at this spring’s only forum amongst all contenders for PA’s 20th House district:

“I’m the only only candidate in this race who has committed that if elected, I will not take the per diem … Also not going to take a state car … Finally, I will not take the lifetime health benefits … I don’t think that’s right.” Tim Tuinstra

Meanwhile the party-endorsed, invaluably-connected presumed front-runner sought to establish credentials as a reformer:

“We need to fight for a more progressive tax system — one that does not balance the budget on the backs of those that have worked here their entire lives … I would be in favor of [reducing the size of the legislature] … if that means I would lose this seat, I would be fine with that.” Adam Ravenstahl

Most of the candidates, save for one, had a firm stance on eliminating certain tax exemptions:

“So I would think — especially in this recession — that the Governor’s proposal, with all due respect, for raising the taxes on these [accounting, legal and professional] services to small business is a terrible idea.” Tim Tuinstra

“I know something like this would have a really devastating effect on small businesses, so I would be opposed very much to that.” Dan Keller

“As your state legislator, I would not consider any new taxes until this state cleans up its waste … Read the audits … There’s a billion dollars in waste that you’ll find on [Jack Wagner’s] website and that’s not all the waste. For example, last year, Governor Rendell led four million dollars in uncompeting bids.” Mark Purcell

“I have not made a final decision on Governor Rendell’s sales tax proposal. I think taxes need to be looked at as a whole … It’s about working with people, it’s about listening to people, it’s about forming your opinion through deep conversations.” Adam Ravenstahl

A question about the role Harrisburg plays in supporting City of Pittsburgh services drew different reactions:

“Pittsburgh right now is in the process of doing research and determining what their best option is to approach Harrisburg — whether it’s trying to get more contributions from the non-profits, whether it’s a sugar tax, whether it’s increasing the $52 commuter tax. Those are all things I think that the City needs to figure out what their best option is, and then I plan to work closely obviously with the Mayor, and the City and the council folks — let them decide what they think their best option is, and then we can go as a team to Harrisburg.” Adam Ravenstahl

“From my perspective, what happened this winter was a complete failure. It was a failure of the system, and the buck always does stop at the top — but I don’t want to throw this at the feet of the Mayor or the road crew, because in reality we’re a city that’s broke — the Mayor has inherited a lot of problems … We put together a system … Today, I don’t care how deep it snows, you can go through our community, the streets are plowed, the streets are swept, the job is done.” Mark Purcell

“I was door knocking in Troy Hill weeks after the snow stopped falling. I was slipping and sliding over piles of ice, I had people in tears — elderly people who couldn’t get to doctor’s appointments for three weeks. We all know the city’s in a world of hurt … but there’s no question that the Lord helps those who helps themselves, and we need to get better at government at all levels … Yes, the City’s hurting. So are a lot of other cities that handled this storm a lot better.” Tim Tuinstra

A question about term limits brought about a not-very-veiled criticism of Ravenstahl:

“Yes, I agree in principle on the concept of term limits, certainly like a lot of things the devil’s in the details … One should raise their hand and volunteer for public service as I have at age 49 once you’ve accomplished something. Once you’ve worked in a community group like I have … one you’ve worked in business or a profession for 28 years as I have … it should not be a dynasty, it should not be a way of life.” Dan Keller

But Adam didn’t take the bait:

“I see no problem with term limits. This position too often becomes a career, and I see people taking advantage of that … So term limits I think will force representatives to focus on the public, and I would certainly consider term limits in the future.” Adam Ravenstahl

Tuinstra didn’t pile on, but rather displayed some nuance:

“The next time the state budget isn’t done on time … no legislator should get that money back … Every single one of those years, they got their pay once the budget was passed … when frankly they weren’t doing their job. That needs to change … Right now we have eight legislative leaders who sit around in the House and Senate and pop out of a closed room and hand you a document, vote it up or down. That needs to change … Term limits have been tried … it has not worked. The reforms that we pass have to change the culture so there’s no longer an incentive to not do the job … Don’t take the per diem … Don’t take the state car … Reform needs to work, it can’t just be the latest trend or fad.” Tim Tuinstra

Others raised the ante even further:

“Absolutely term limits … Most important in my mind, we have to have a part time Legislature … If you make it part time … it becomes about principle and public service, and not self … The system is bad, it will suck you into that vortex and you’ll become just like it unless you demand change. The only way the citizens of Pennsylvania are going to get that change is through a citizens’ constitutional convention.” Mark Purcell

Our budget woes even forced some of these Democrats to consider bipartisanship:

A good idea is a good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from. For instance, Representative Turzai, Republican, Bradford Woods, his proposal in his bill to sell the state liquor stores, I think it’s an excellent idea. Long past time to do something like that. Dan Keller

One candidate got a little tired of hearing easy-sounding solutions:

We’re probably going to be a billion-five in the hole … Marcellus Shale will net us $160 million, smokeless tobacco $41 million, the Deleware Loophole that I hear about so often $66 million. It won’t even scratch the surface … We have to take serious steps for these serious problems. We’re talking billions here, not millions. Mark Purcell

Another got tired of the criticism of certain local leaders:

First off I’d like to say I’m very proud of my brother. I’d like to make that public. I’m very proud of the job he’s done … I hear snow removal and things like that, Pittsburgh is doing some good things here. So let’s keep that in mind. That was the worst snow storm anyone’s ever seen here … In terms of the connection I view that as a positive thing. Adam Ravenstahl


The thing is, it’s not that positive. Any legislator from PA’s 20th district would be on essentially the same side as any Pittsburgh mayor when it comes to generating revenue, to cutting expenses and to “fixing” Harrisburg.

Adam Ravenstahl presents as a nice enough kid from a good family who’s eager to cooperate. He does not present as somebody with significant life, professional or civic experience, nor as somebody with many fully-formed public policy positions. That should make it impossible for anyone to have confidence in him at this early point in his career. Some of the policy ideas he looks forward to “discussing” in Harrisburg might easily have been discussed and evaluated already. If it weren’t for his name appreciation across the city and district, Ravenstahl clearly wouldn’t be in the hunt.

Now it is true, the 20th PA House Member does not get to have his or her finger on any nuclear trigger — nor any triggers at all. This is a contest to become one out of several hundred structurally impotent, hapless representatives, and to that point one might ask what is the harm in electing a 25 year old with naught but a recognizable name, a decent education and a gentle bearing?

Here’s the harm: that would be redolent of many of the actual problems in state and local government. It’s redolent of patronage, political connections, favors for friends and family, supporters and contributors furnished with inside tracks and cushy gigs — all in spite of optimum efficiency and meritocracy. If Ravenstahl is elected, it wouldn’t be patronage exactly — he will have won an election, after all — but the process by which he was propelled onto the stage will have been extremely redolent of what’s unfortunate about our politics, rather than what’s hopeful.

So whom do we support to take a stand for experience, expertise and due diligence?

Dan Keller presents as a private-sector business maven — a little too ardently, self-consciously. A few stories of lessons learned from the business world might have helped flesh out his appeal. He possesses a refreshing spontaneity and approachability, but on the flip side he can seem disorganized and scattered. He also has a high rhetoric quotient, even for this crowd.

Mark Purcell presents as a distinguished gentleman, an elder statesman and a veteran. He also seems a bit querulous and nonconforming for the job of effective state legislator. Some of his ideas are refreshing, others seem impractical. Then too he has been immersed in the political game a bit long for those of us aspiring toward something new.

Tim Tuinstra presents as an egghead academic. That’s why I like him, that’s why you like him, that’s why everybody who reads this blog (because they enjoy it) likes him best. Tuinstra is gifted with a calm, organized mind that is never at a loss for relevant words — attributes which would serve him well as a legislator and advocate. He is a reformer, but not of the knee-jerk variety; when he talks about changing the “incentives for behavior” in Harrisburg it provides a framework for more persuasive positions than most. As an auditor he possesses the requisite professional acumen, and as a neighborhood activist he has demonstrable street cred.

What he does not have seemingly is a ton of yard signs out there. Many political “progressives” have opined that Keller or Purcell would make a more likely option to stymie Ravenstahl, and that for once we should line up strategically behind a compromise choice.

There will be races in the future where it will be critical to exercise that technique, but this is not one of them. With four demographically homogeneous candidates, there is much more to be gained by straightforwardly generating votes and support for competent progressives, especially on the North Side and in our northern suburbs. There is also more fun to be had in supporting a candidate you know deserves it, who reflects your values and your methods. Who knows — if enough of us door knock, make calls, social mediate and perform all manner of white witchcraft in this final week, our guy might actually slide betuinstra the obstacles and make it into the endzone. So let’s hold up our end — let’s block and tackle and show some solidarity for our ideals.

Of course, that goes for all of you. Though the state of the Commonwealth is of immense and urgent importance, the possessor of this 20th House seat will likely be of limited consequence. Whoever wins will have earned the support of all of us, as well as our sympathy and our pity. Whether you happen to be more of an entrepreneur, an egghead, a political hack, a bureaucrat, a bingo mom or a crank, the vital thing is to project your political identity out into the world because no one else is going to do it for you. Only then can the universe be trusted to take care of business.

Imprisoned on Beast Island

Loading Part 3…

MORE on our Resource Allocation Processes*

Now we are placing items in the budget that are informally, colloquially contingent upon other things happening, and then taking them back.

On Jan. 22, though, someone went into the city accounting system and deleted the [library] funds. (Post-Gazette)

Huh. Way back on January 22?

Mr. Kunka said that eliminating the funds was “a typographical error” and it should not have been done…


…until after the administration submits the annual raft of budget corrections, which is coming soon.

“Submits.” So technically it should not have been done until both submission by the Mayor and approval by some legislative body or another, which is now even less likely. It’s possible that Carnegie Libraries are “crying poor” and the stopgap insurance measure is no longer necessary, but this surreptitious deletion rather botches the attempt at tough love.

Strange story.

*-UPDATE: It appears this was either some ado about nothing, or else the Mayor and Libraries chair have some understandings on how better to move forward. (Post-Gazette)

Darlene Decries “Sleazy” URA Tactics

There is a dispute about how to spend our city’s limited resources:

Half of the money the URA sought was not in dispute. But $1.1 million had been shifted by council during last year’s budget process from general neighborhood development to the business districts of East Ohio Street, Perrysville Avenue, California Avenue, Lowrie Avenue, and Squirrel Hill. The first four are in the North Side district of Council President Darlene Harris, and the last is in Councilman Doug Shields’ district. (Post-Gazette)

FULL DISCLOSURE: East Ohio St. is the author’s own go-to place for toiletries, sandwiches and Chinese food.

Mr. Stephany said there aren’t projects ready to go in most of those areas. When projects are ready, most of those neighborhoods could tap federal development funds, he said, leaving city dollars for other uses.

My impression is that the “projects” are ready to be advanced — but more to the point, Council and the Mayor signed off on all this during last year’s budget negotiations. Fully vetted, fully considered, fully done.

Ms. Harris said the legislation submitted by the URA didn’t clearly indicate where the money was coming from, calling that “a sleazy way of doing business” and “a total disgrace.”

Some feel that the word “sleazy” has become sort of a no-go, politically taboo word. Others find it to be straightforward. If a proposed mid-year budgetary transfer from the City to the URA was in fact intentionally made unclear in order to camouflage the raid, that would seem to qualify as having been “sleazy” of the progenitors of any such legislation.

Mr. Dowd, though, said that council was headed into “the beginning of a pattern of, to the victor goes the spoils” in which members of a majority would direct the bulk of development funds to their districts.

Well, that’s an interesting point. Majority rule is the way we’ve been allocating resources in Pittsburgh for 250 years — and even elsewhere, long before that, it has been always “the best way we know how”. But maybe there should be more political pressure coming to bear upon acting in concert always with the truly common interest in mind, and more fulsome discussions of what is that interest (economic development versus public safety versus sustainable city planning).

Whether the URA’s perspective on the common good or the Council’s under the Shields-Harris alliance is optimal in this case is a legitimate question. But if one wants to open that discussion, one doesn’t do it by taking back duly discussed, signed, sealed and delivered business — and that is to say nothing of any alleged obfuscation.

Mayor Ravenstahl Now Chairman of the Allegheny League of Municipalities (ALOM)

The above was filmed on Saturday, April 10th at Seven Springs (after a gubernatorial forum featuring Allegheny County local hopefuls Tom Corbett, Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner — among other conference sessions). By rule, the chairmanship of ALOM rotates to the executive of the City of Pittsburgh once every six years. The torch was passed at this annual gathering.

At 7:05 in the above video, the Mayor begins addressing economic development. Battery malfunction ends my recording in the middle of his description of the current Allegheny riverfront vision — the big finish to his own ten-minute recording. He seemed most passionate and determined on this topic.

Immediately afterwords, Governmental Affairs manager Paul McKrell fielded one question from the audience about the proposed sugared beverages tax: that being, “What about freedom?” McKrell responded that the City needs to inject an additional $15 million annually to the budget to comply with state oversight, that the tax is one of several ideas (one that does not revolve around Harrisburg) and that the City is open to suggestions.

Deputy Dreadlord Kristen Baginski then fielded one question about how GSPIA Connect is coming along. She confirmed that it is coming along.

Ravenstahl’s inability to personally attend the organization’s annual conference was conspicuously noted in advance by the Post-Gazette.