Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wed 1/30: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Brinmeieeire?

Village Voice, Michael Musto

Pitch Perfect” starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Anna Camp is Glee times Bring It On plus American Pie, and with all the fun of possibly mocking Twilight. If it gets you in the mood for all-female a capella stylings, check out the Sounds of Pittsburgh Women’s Barbershop Chorus for weekly auditions or to procure a Telephone Singing Valentine for just $10.

Our Penguins of Ice Hockey are 3-3 after six games, and Penguins blogger Finesse finds the team stale, disinterested, mediocre, top-heavy, goaltender-deficient, and the horn too loud. Don’t worry, gang, it’s a long season… er, well, it’s a season. It’s definitely winter.

As muttered first at the Comet, it looks like Joseph Brimmeier is County ACE Fitzgerald’s choice to head the Port Authority in place of Steve Bland. As an award-winning member of the semi-notorious Turnpike Commission and as a political-end specialist, first his lack of public transit chops came into question by transit advocates and budget hawks alike, then explanations of a contract sought by a family member failed to achieve an exemplary score on the smell test, now he’s getting the Eric Heyl treatment.

In a perfect world, Fitzgerald would simply make a forthright case for whatever important skill sets Brimmeier brings to the table (surely if he’s “politically connected” he might be able to better hit up Harrisburg for dedicated funding, right?) then the Port Authority board would vote, and Brimmeier would either be approved sans any suggestions of arm-twisting, or be routinely and dispassionately rejected without any need for loss-of-face or triumphal rancor; on to evaluate Fitzgerald’s next candidate would be all.

But of course in this world there are ramifications, man. Varying ramifications. And it does not seem as though anybody is yet in possession of that rough outline of key skill sets. I do not doubt such an outline exists, but if by its nature it is not fit for broad circulation, maybe it deserves a second look. I’m not sure anyone would be content even with a temporary CEO without such bona fides.


More on fracking: Some readers may have trouble rectifying my recent piece excoriating Mayor Ravenstahl for huckstering directly on behalf of the gas industry with this:

[A] note on gas drilling on County land for County profit: This Region Be Fracking. There is no ignoring that. If we can identify and vet an Allegheny County site and get involved in pursuing a pilot project, the public oversight employed might turn the whole thing into an excellent laboratory experiment. That is, in addition to the revenue, which, once again, we seem to require in an awful way. (Comet 9/10/12)

Turns out we are learning more from that experiment faster than we thought. In a relative sense I think Airport lands are less-bad, due to the availability of pre-existing infrastructure and its remoteness from residences. But this I never expected:

Federal rules prevent the county from directly getting any of the airport’s drilling money. So if Fitzgerald can’t get the state’s help, he and airport leaders plan to invest drilling money to lower fees to draw more flights to the airport, and add roads and water pipes to draw more commercial development to its 9,000-acre property. (Trib, Timothy Puko)

Man… see, I was sold on the project because I thought it could help close the County budget gap and keep taxes down, preserve or expand County health services, maybe even safeguard public transit. But now if the state doesn’t play ball, which it should, but it probably won’t — why are we drilling public land again? Growth, again? Lower gate fees at a spinster airport? Mm.

And finally in property taxes:

This is where it gets tricky, but I’ll tell you right now the county has to cut its rate about 10 percent further. That’s exactly what county Controller Chelsa Wagner said last week, and she’s right. We both know that because we — and you — can go to an online property tax estimator provided by Carnegie Mellon University economist Robert Strauss and his scary smart team of number crunchers. (P-G, Brian O’Neill)


Oh now, see, now this is just piling up.

The Fitzy & Chelsa Show generally is a boon to Allegheny County so long as one is not seated in the front rows or at least has plastic. But if O’Neill and the software have it correct, this is a rout on a hot-button issue.

Now me, personally? I wouldn’t expect or desire everyone who endorses me to be a saint floating around on progressive rose petals. However I’d prefer that if anyone start seeming “foolish” or “redolent,” they should take a backseat — and nobody can afford to take a backseat these days. I do harbor this fantasy of the County Controller and the County Executive, bitter differences aside, endorsing the same person in the Democratic Party primary — primary!, primary — what a strong statement that would make, for everybody! But meanwhile and more to the point, it’s almost as though Fitz needs to get back on the scoreboard with Joe Sixpack. On at least one of these issues.

Two Challengers for Ravenstahl: “Is it Wise?”

All three Democratic party contenders for Mayor of Pittsburgh dodged a simple yes-or-no question at a candidate forum on Sunday: “Is it wise for more than one good candidate to run opposite Luke?”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pointedly deferred answering (okay, he gets a pass). Councilman Bill Peduto said that he “likes” the Controller, acknowledged that they both have a lot of friends in the room, that he does wish he could tell him not to run “but he can’t”, and put on a brave face. Controller Michael Lamb declined to address Mr. Peduto or his candidacy in any manner and went straight to the brave face.

Nobody in this City wants to talk about wisdom.

(*-UPDATE: The rest of the candidates forum, including a panel for City Council District 8, candidates is available here. For print coverage of the forum, see bingo bango bongo bungo.)

Mayor Ravenstahl Promotes Shale Drilling Industry, Finds Environmentalists Dishonest & Hateful.

Sorry, it’s not hyperbole, it’s a plain fact. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is immoderate in that he loves industry and hates environmentalists — finding them ignorant, dishonest and wearisome. Listen to this 13-minute talk given by Mayor Luke in late 2012, explicit and in unimpeachable context:

(For the record, most political leaders actually seem to relish politics — whether that means working hard finding consensus among passionate parties, or else throwing in eagerly on one side and deftly rebuking criticism. They love the game itself, and sometimes the nobility of the democratic experiment on which it is founded. Of course, Post-Gazette columnist Brian O’Neill began wondering last month whether Ravenstahl is atypical in that he doesn’t seem to like his job, which indeed he sometimes performs as though somebody is holding a knife to his favorite kitten.)

Mayor Ravenstahl makes few points to the assembled natural gas industry stakeholders, the most oft-repeated being that we need to embrace the opportunity of the Marcellus Shale — embrace the benefit, embrace the jobs, embrace the supply chain, embrace the residential growth, embrace the commercial growth, embrace the embrace. Okay, fine.

Therefore Ravenstahl came to the energy summit to show the industry that “we need to educate those folks” in politics who are leery of opposition from environmentalists — “the meetings, the yelling and the screaming.” He says that “we need to be honest with ourselves about the opportunity” represented by natural gas drilling, instead of  focusing on “politics.” Obviously a secondary reason he took part in the summit was to garner political recognition from a cash-rich industry, but apparently he does not recognize how that counts on the scales as “politics.”

Interestingly, Ravenstahl maintains that “we hear over and over again” about the negative impacts of natural gas drilling — but “not so much, from my perspective about the good it can do” regarding jobs and economic growth. I find myself wishing I lived on his street; it truly does seem to be peacefully secluded from the rest of the world.

So Luke Ravenstahl’s pro-drilling position is honest rational policy, whereas those who disagree with him are political, dishonest, self-serving and ignorant. At least this is consistent with his other positions on public matters: “Why do you have to be so political and unfortunate?”



Do not be misled by the moment around 01:35 when the Mayor alludes briefly to an “other extreme” which says “drill baby drill” and does not think about “ramifications.” It passed quickly. Ravenstahl had a golden opportunity here to strike a balanced approach and expand on those “ramifications,” providing the industry with assertive cautions about the need to fund oversight and enforcement, to allow for some local control of zoning and land use, or to fund and pay attention to the results of continued environmental impact research. It never remotely came up.

Ravenstahl’s strategy is to embrace the benefits of drilling now, and trust the industry to voluntarily improve whatever it is that might need improvement later and without political insistence. One could call this “backwards”, but the point here is only that Ravenstahl is no plain-spoken moderate in the middle — he is deftly providing cover for one side, the industry’s side.

And PLEASE!!!, do not be unduly distracted and sent snark-hunting amidst the weeds of a debate over the legality of the present citywide outright ban versus an alternative of replacing it with exclusionary zoning law. It is true that mayoral candidate Bill Peduto has recently underscored his commitment to the outright ban as necessary municipal activism against a state not doing its job protecting its communities. And it is true that mayoral candidate Michael Lamb prefers the less outwardly defiant, more subtle form of protection of exclusionary zoning. The debate over which is better is fascinating, with neither having a monopoly of being “right” or unquestionably constitutional absent a legal challenge.

Ravenstahl favors neither the ban on the books nor the zoning legislation on the table. Ravenstahl’s concern is to tarnish both efforts as political, dishonest and ignorant. Ravenstahl’s concern is to be an industry activist and to embrace the industry.

It is often suggested that the power to regulate oil and mineral extraction such as in the Marcellus Shale formation is naturally and properly a commonwealth issue — so it is the State Legislature’s job to protect us. Very good. How then can Pennsylvania ever be expected to “do its job” if leaders of great population and knowledge centers are shilling for the industry, taking money, and disparaging environmentalists?

Occasionally Mayor Ravenstahl uses environmentalist sentiment as a sweetener to win a subsidy or other support for a “green building”, that is, new construction. That’s fine. And he will accept grant money that is available to do a small-scale environmental demonstration project once in a while. Also nice and easy. But in the end, like civic design and principled opposition, environmentalism is just one of those things this mayor does not “get”.

Pittsburgh deserves that that should be well understood.

Friday, 1/25: Buckwild and Out of Control

Movieweb, Alan Orange

Pittsburgh lies only 221 miles from Sissonville, WV, site of MTV’s new reality show Buckwild. New stars like Shae Bradlee and Shane “Redneck McGyver” Gandee say they are not happy about comparisons to Jersey Shore stars, nor about their own Senator’s concerns over “rednecksploitation“.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2-0 start got slashed down to size at home at the Iceburgh against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who took advantage of Penguins miscues and penalties.

“I was really mad,” [Evgeni] Malkin said. “But it was my fault.” (MD, Will Graves)

Showing how it’s done, on and off the ice.

The biggest news is that Police Chief Nate Harper will remain off duty until Monday, it today being 10 days since the death of a family member and one day since a city employee who plead guilty for taking bribes appeared before a grand jury investigating the Chief’s own possible involvement. Harper denies that the Police Bureau had any role in any payments or decisions related to bribes and awarding contracts.

“The Police Bureau,” he says. The Police Bureau. Who was acting as the Director of Public Safety around the summer and autumn of 2006? What kinds of things were going on in city government, during the sad, unfolding transition from one mayor to the next? Did anyone ever perform any extensive accounting or audits of city business during that painful period — or did we figure there are some things better left untouched?

Since 2005, meanwhile, Pittsburgh had been instructed that we need more police sergeants on the streets supervising the force, so that incidents such as failing to consult a 911 complainant and discharging weapons in an ill-advised manner can be minimized.

ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino said the body can’t tell the city how to run its police force.
“We rely heavily on our partnership with the city to focus on the execution of good police tactics and strategies and the things that surround law enforcement,” Sciortino said. (Trib, Harding & Bauder)
Where I Went & How I Got There

However, is it fair to expect Mayor Ravenstahl to have acted within the past 6 years upon practical recommendations and warnings issued by the ICA, without first having state legislators and governors take time off to wage a protracted political and legal spectacle? Even if the police union has been in agreement with the findings? No wonder the mayor’s office doesn’t have any comment — forcing a mayor to do things isn’t the mayor’s job.

The board of the Port Authority postponed an expected decision on whether or not to part ways with its CEO Steve Bland at the behest of ACE Rich Fitzgerald, who finds himself strained in some way with the progress of public transit. I am not hearing any defense of the Bland era at PAT yet, but of course people feel sorry for him over the coverage and the possible departure. It’s a competitive field, being a CEO — investors demand value-added leadership and dynamism. The Port Authority gig is a rough hand to be dealt, no doubt, but the cards have seemed crummy for a while now. Is it strategy? Is it a bad fit? Who knows.
Justice Jane Orie Melvin, charged with using her public office for political gain, better hope she has a winner in the “I didn’t do it” defense. Because the “I was too busy to do it” defense is just the unfortunate, laughable kind of thing one’s attorneys need to say when one is hauled in front of a jury.

Open Thread.


It’s an explosive day out there. Calls for further property tax millage rate cuts, GUY COSTA (background), spiteful development haters… oh, and it looks like Sam Hens-Greco, the community activist and attorney, is going to join the conversation in District 8.

What have I missed? Oh, look at that: Bakery Square 2.0 just became more official.

Rich Fitzgerald: Wildling Executive


We’ll start you off with this this morning:

Standing along Smallman Street in the Strip District, [Allegheny] County Executive Rich Fitzgerald eyeballs the cars and trucks speeding by. And then, after a moment’s hesitation, dashes across, through the rain — and nearly into the path of an oncoming car.

“We call that ‘the Fitzgerald’,” says his spokeswoman, Amie Downes, with a laugh. “When you just go for it.” (CP, Lauren Daily)


On everyone’s deepest concern:

Boards and authorities, in his view, simply lend advice and expertise. “Where directors and folks are running things in an efficient manner, I’ll be hands-off as much as I can be,” Fitzgerald says. Still, he says, “None of the boards are independent,” and as the elected official, “I’m the one who has the interest of the people.” (ibid)

… Got it.

*-UPDATED: So this story would have us believe that Our County Executive truly has the heart of a rebel… and is a politician. This checks out by everything the Comet can see. Green infrastructure, airport drilling, being tired of Mayor Luke, rhetoric, autonomy… everything. Heart of a rebel, soul of a politician.

Mon. 1/25: SEEN: Cuban & the Scientists Drop Fresh Political Beat

Nicki Minaj and her wigs debuted as judges on American Idol to rave reviews *-UPDATE: Some say not so much. Did you know she mentions Pittsburgh in her song Beez in The Trap featuring 2 Chainz? According to it the Steel City is “on deck” together with Ohio and St. Louis. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The Guardian has the Pittsburgh Penguins as the likely NHL Team of the (coming) Decade; easy to credit so long as they’re still undefeated whilst holding back on Crosby and Malkin like they’re Inigo Montoya pretending to be left-handed.

The race for Mayor (sort of like the President of a city) is right around the corner, and public opinion polling firm CivicScience released some early findings based on a hypothetical head-to-head match up between Luke Ravenstahl and Bill Peduto. In addition to a very close race, we find such gems as:

People who regularly read entertainment/celebrity blogs like or TMZ are much more likely to support Ravenstahl. Meanwhile, people who read local Pittsburgh blogs regularly are 3X more likely to support Peduto. (CivicScience)

As always, correlation does not imply causality. Side effects may include thoughts of suicide.

Chris Potter makes a valid observation, which has a valid counterpoint, only underscoring the need to compare multiple and differently gathered sets of data. Pittsburgh deserves to know what Pittsburghers think about Pittsburgh. Besides, I’m a cat person who loves Mad Mex, so something must be screwy.

Darrell Sapp, P-G

Michael Lamb, lest anyone forget, has also announced a bid for mayor, and has since joined his voice to those calling for an investigation of the School Board’s 2008 decision to close Schenley High School — based on new information that recently came to light only last July. According to an e-mail I received from Schenley organizers, Bill Peduto is also on a sizable list of public officials now “opposed to selling or calling for a review,” yet at the same time has taken some pride in what he helped to accomplish in getting a much better offer for the building. All of this now begs a question of whether Ravenstahl has an opinion.

Jim Ferlo gets some support for his proposal to levy a payroll tax on UPMC et al from the Post-Gazette, citing “sweetener”. I found it odd that the editorial did not mention the earlier proposal to simply move forward with legal challenges as necessary. Would a new state tax involve “informally” abandoning such an idea?

*-UPDATE: Indeed, Rich Fitzgerald has the right idea on this: Let’s call it the “Just do it” plan. P-G, Andrew McGill

Speaking of Sen. Ferlo, I don’t believe I’ve yet linked here to my ponderous history of the billboard wars at the Occupy Pittsburgh Now, available in print wherever anarchists use iPads.

Finally we have the preliminary results of Mayor Ravenstahl’s public safety blitz (everything is a blitz) of the South Side Intoxication District (TM) in the wake of an unfortunate series of events
originating in Homestead.

Bill Wade, P-G

On one hand, it’s hard to see what the implementation of Councilman Kraus’s Responsible Hospitality initiative could have done to prevent or to improve the outcome of that non-nightlife related car chase — even more officers to shoot at the speeding vehicle on a crowded street and at other vehicles? On the other hand, it’s true that having more public safety personnel on hand in that crowded environment might also have meant improved chances of a better prepared rapid response.

On the first hand, we all remember how long and how furiously Kraus had to fight to get his initiative funded and implemented, so we must make note of this coming election’s probable impact. But back to that other hand, after the ceasefire in the parking and pension wars finally settled in, Ravenstahl seemed to warm to the idea and is now taking the results of the study seriously. Is it not the very foundation of our democratic system to expect good results stemming from electoral pressure? At the very least, the car chase on Carson St. seems to have served as an effective wake-up call.

My only real question is whether we are going to get the Responsible Hospitality Plan or a series of Ravenstahl Blitzes. The Hospitality Plan called for the reintroduction of a drunk tank, for specially selected and trained loitering enforcement patrols, and for scrupulous enforcement of building occupancy codes. Are we going to see these things? ‘Twill be interesting.

Pittsburgh’s Third Renaissance: Nailed It


It’s a rare thing for pundits and pontifs to get such big things so dead-on correct.

But this entire editorial turned out to be pretty deep:

We are hesitant to call it an unprecedented period of construction — this being a city that has undergone not one but two urban “renaissances.” But no one should be surprised if the name Renaissance III surfaces more frequently in connection with all the digging, erecting and eventual ribbon-cutting that’s about to go on around here.

Pittsburgh is rebuilding again. (P-G, March 27, 1998)

Today’s observers will have to overlook the wince-inducing mention of Lazarus department store. By my count, many of us still think of twelve out of the piece’s 14 specifically-cited initiatives as “new,” and as big parts of our present civic successes.

So before we all fully embark together on this leadership-inducing journey, let’s all raise our glasses. Here we go, Pittsburgh! Here’s to fifteen more years of accolades and accomplishments rivaling the last!

The Artist: Murray Head

My Kicks: Above the waistline

Friday 1/18: Heckuva Job, Everybody!

Denver Westword Blogs

In the last 36 hours, the story involving Victory Security, Alpha Outfitters and Police Chief Nate Harper has evolved from, “We don’t even know if that non-sourced story is true” to “It’s true, but there’s no indication the Chief is under investigation” to “the Chief’s possible involvement is obviously under investigation but that’s not the same thing as being guilty of anything or even indicted on that suspicion.”

And at least one local news channel is utilizing file footage of Harper wearing the Fedora of Guilt.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whom this places in a tight spot, quoth:

“I believe the chief has done a great job. He has my full confidence.”

So he’s plunking clearly for “damned if he don’t.”

In terms of crude politics, only the sorriest fools waste a joule of energy holding their breath on federal grand juries to swoop in and cure your electoral dysfunction. So in terms of the mayor’s race this is a complete non-issue.

In terms of a Police Chief that is doing a “great job” — by which metrics are we evaluating him? Fostering atmosphere and a record of prudent, book-fearing professionalism? Community relations and engagement? Counterbalancing the FOP’s necessarily rabid advocacy? Successfully implementing important new initiatives?

It might make sense to push forward our routine quadrennial performance review by about a month or so.


Rolling Stones

Sen. Jim Ferlo is indisputably credible on the topic of faux-nonprofits and advocating for their increased contributions to local governments, having a history of righteous grandstanding on that issue. But his method and timing in this latest initiative are both suspect.

First of all it blatantly short-circuits the work of the relatively broad Task Force mandated by the ICA and appointed nonetheless by the Mayor. Secondly it presupposes that the State Legislature is capable of doing something worthwhile. (Much less doing something proposed at the behest of an urban-dwelling Democrat.) Thirdly there are already perfectly cromulent legal solutions presently at our very own disposal which do not require waiting on anybody else, and which would raise a healthier and more just share of revenue for local governments to boot.

Taken all together, the above considerations raise the distinct possibility that Ferlo is providng Mayor Ravenstahl with political cover for policy stances on a certain selectively generous healthcare giant which are deeply entrenched but somewhat unpopular and unpopulist. Don’t think for a minute that Ferlo’s number one priority these days isn’t the reelection of this mayor — his newly gerrymandered Senate district is looking fairly impossible for him, and that URA on which he has long served as board member still only employs an “Acting” Executive Director.


Ed Zurga, Getty Images, B/R

In the actual mayor’s race, the City Paper’s Chris Potter exposes a technical and process-oriented sideshow involving the city’s new campaign finance law:

But Peduto suspects Lamb is just trying to grab the money he raised as a controller because people aren’t supporting his bid for mayor. “Just because he can’t raise money doesn’t mean he gets to break the law,” Peduto says. (Bloggeration H)

Just shoot me.

It is true that if Michael Lamb’s already modest fund-raising haul for his Mayoral bid includes a ton of cash he raised in an unopposed bid for City Controller, that speaks even more poorly of his support.

Yet in terms of illustrating what dastardly corrupt practices and effects that particular clause of this local ordinance purports to counteract, things might be less immediately clear. Besides, any lawsuit citing that regulation would put the efficacy of Bill Peduto’s own legislative chops on trial; if Lamb’s legal interpretation wins out, Peduto will be seen to have stepped in it. And finally…

“If he tries to use that money,” Peduto warns, “we’ll either take him to court or, more likely, find a third party who supports good government to raise a challenge.” (ibid)

If one is engaged in finding an outraged and offended third-party, isn’t that best kept secret?

All together now, and with feeling: both contenders would do better to focus on the guy known to spend his Republican-raised mayoral campaign committee cash on three-day Super Bowl getaways, yet who retains the obvious pole-position in this upcoming three-way election. After we do that for a while and get to see some time-elapsed, independently financed, publicly available POLLING DATA…

… then we can separate the wheat from the chaff.