Monthly Archives: March 2013

Reforms of Pittsburgh Spring under Assault

My Adventure 🙂

I expected the trajectory of City Hall’s evolution to be examined in this election, but not quite like this…

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto’s mayoral campaign filed for a court injunction today saying fellow candidates Michael Lamb and Jack Wagner are violating the city’s campaign finance law. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

Full statement here. Now, to illustrate the civic environment at the time of that law’s passage:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl termed it “a historic day” for the city, saying it will “give residents the reform they deserve.” (P-G 2009, Rich Lord)


“This working together of the administration and Mr. Peduto I think really gives us a guideline to how we can accomplish very significant things in this city,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess. (ibid)

So these were some über-popular, hard-won reforms not that long ago.

For the record, I bet Michael Lamb has an even chance at having his Controller money ruled kosher for his Mayoral run. Those who donated money to him for Pittsburgh-wide office are likely enough just as enthused about his leadership, and a thorough interpretation of the law might just reflect that. I’m also interested to hear more about his attack on Bill Peduto as a mere “gadfly”. It’s high time for candidates to lay their reservations about each other on the table, come what may.

But Jack Wagner’s leftover money warhead from an unsuccessful run for governor is just the kind of encroachment these reforms were enacted to prevent. I’m not sure the “you all realize he’s a great guy” defense is going to serve him well if his reintroduction to local voters is to wipe his feet on our growing legacy of redding up government. Perhaps a quick course correction is in order.

Mayor Ravenstahl to fight UPMC’s Tax Exemptions

I.B. Tauris Blog

Flanked by new allies such as Chelsa Wagner and Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Lhatsnevar held a news conference today announcing a legal challenge to the tax exempt statuses of all 150 of UPMC’s properties in the City.

“It is very clear to me UPMC is not a purely public charity,” said Ravenstahl. (1) “Enough is enough, and today is the day we start fighting back.” (2)

Property and payroll tax receipts enable the City to pay for services, infrastructure and legacy costs, the County to pay for public mass transit, and public schools to pay for teachers and building maintenance. None of these things are in particularly good shape. Mayor Lhatnsevar estimates UPMC has been able to elude $200 million annually in taxes (3) although he says it does not meet the legal definition of a purely public charity (4).

UPMC officials greeted the Mayor’s announcement with smarmy dissembling.

“The challenge to UPMC’s tax-exempt status appears to be based on the mistaken impression that a nonprofit organization must conduct its affairs in a way that pleases certain labor unions, certain favored businesses or particular political constituencies — in other words, the way that some local governments are also run,” said Paul Wood, a UPMC spokesman. (Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

“Particular political constituencies” is industry jargon for people. The corporate health establishment has long maintained it inappropriate for governments to apply laws literally due to pressure from special interests such as people.

“If UPMC ran its affairs as poorly as some of our local governments, it would not have become the internationally known, world-class health care institution it is today,” Wood said. (ibid)

Pittsburghers may well hesitate to risk returning to the dark times of having to choose between hospitals such as Montefiore, St. Margaret, Shadyside, Passavant, McGee, Childrens and Mercy — all of which were purchased, repackaged, sterilized and made less competitive in the process of UPMC becoming famous.

“We look forward to addressing this in a court of law rather than responding to partisan politics,” UPMC said in a statement (5) reacting to the day’s events.

Saying in the media that Pittsburgh sucks, that city, county and other municipal governments suck and that your public officials suck just ten minutes ago to some does not qualify as a political reaction.

The Comet has learned that later today, Mayor Lhatsnevar will hold a press conference detailing the importance of preserving the Civic Arena.

Old habits die slow. Good show.


Bill Peduto calls this a “good first step” but would not single out UPMC alone as a matter of “tax fairness”. Michael Lamb issues a statement standing with the City and castigating UPMC for “harsh anti-worker treatment.” Jim Ferlo highlights the closure of Braddock Hospital and levels of charity care. Natalia Rudiak seems pleased to be no longer waiting though lip service. Chelsa Wagner praises Ravenstahl’s leadership and courage. Virginia Montanez is enthused about Ravenstahl’s “out from under” moment and eager to see how all mayoral contenders respond. Comet Flashback: June 2012.

C’mon yinzers, let’s find a Mayor! Debate Notes.

These notes from yesterday‘s mayoral debate at Obama Academy were originally taken with fat fingers on a touch-screen phone with Autocorrect, so I only entered what seemed like the unique or interesting bits. Since there wasn’t much back-and-forth, I here rearrange them by candidate in alphabetical order, since this is a legitimate establishment.

DARLENE HARRIS would work with the unions to help Pittsburgh graduates get jobs in the skilled trades, and work with the corporate community to find them internships. She would look to emulate Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, who is up in Harrsiburg a lot lobbying for aid. In terms of public safety she has worked to install security cameras in her neighborhoods and get police more and better technology, and has also instituted block watches. The North Side Leadership Conference has helped make the North Side become and feel safer, and she’d like more help from a better staffed Department of City Planning. In response to the corruption question, Harris says as a public official “everyone’s trying to give you money and buy you,” but claims people who rely on such “are afraid” if she gets elected Mayor. To encourage higher wages she has worked to pass “living wage” legislation at the Council level.

MICHAEL LAMB Helping to start A+ Schools shows his commitment to “leadership that listens” and that is open and transparent. He is “not going to pat himself or anyone else on the back because some qualify for the Promise,” but rather continue to “cheer lead and advocate” for better schools and pursue the Summer Dreamers Program. Lamb came out hard to expand the payroll preparation tax to all employers including the nonprofits, justifiable because low wages lead to low wage tax receipts. He would put more police on the streets instead of behind desks, and would diversify the police force using federal funds. In response to the corruption question, Lamb says under his stewardship the Controllers’ office became “the most open, honest, transparent office in government,” and hinted there are overlaps noticeable on Open Book Pittsburgh between contributors and contract recipients. He would use “incentives” and “access to capital” such as TIFs to lure jobs, but not just for big developers but small businesses — particularly women-owned. He says he’s been out there agitating with UPMC workers for higher wages and suggested Rivers Casino needs it too.

BILL PEDUTO wants to “turn the paradigm upside down” with community leadership, instead of making decisions based on “who wrote the biggest check.” Says that fostering a Promise-ready student “starts at five years old,” so would seek to use Promise funding to provide “wrap-around services” like mentoring, tutoring, and meals at seniors centers. Supports Rep. Roebuck’s charter and cyber school reform bill. Nonprofits need to be made accountable to the community, their clients and their own workers. Looking to models of urban policing in other cities, and would decentralize policing powers out to Commanders, appropriate to each area and level of community involvement. In response to the corruption question, Peduto pointed back to bills “ending no bid contracts, strengthening the Ethics Code, campaign finance reform,” mentioned Public Safety Director nominee Dennis Regan, a billboard based on “graft,” and the need for a Redd Up Crew in City Hall. Touted $2 billion in grassroots development experience in his district, pointing out South Highland and East Liberty weren’t particularly affluent beforehand. Touted prevailing wage bill, and says “it’s not about brick and mortar or retail,” but investing in things like new “green” housing and mass transit.

JACK WAGNER says we need more partnerships with and within City government, that “we don’t need Council fighting with Council.” He also would seek more aid from Harrisburg to address dropout rate, and would “keep Schenley open.” Back in City Council he passed an assault weapons ban, and “would enforce lost & stolen.” In response to the corruption question, Wagner cited his audit exposing the PHEAA and cyber & charter schools and alleged “no one is addressing problems in City Hall.” Says the US Steel lease is up soon Downtown and we need to address that to keep jobs here, but also “Pittsburgh needs to be an incubator kind of city.” Joins calls to increase the minimum wage on the federal level. Would like to expand Pittsburgh Promise to include a “Pittsburgh Partnership”, focused on keeping graduates here.

JAKE WHEATLEY says that “guns and violence isn’t just a law enforcement issue, it’s a communal issue.” In response to the corruption question, Wheatley called for “more transparency, monitoring and accountability measures.” He stressed that real economic growth occurs “when all are welcomed” and would focus not just on the supply-side, but “retraining human capital.” He notes an uptick in our population and quality of life.

SCORECARD / EDITORIAL: With his willingness once again to identify for us corrupt patterns at the City so that we might recognize such practices early next time, his ability to cite multiple concrete steps he has taken to inhibit that corruption in the past, the specifics with which he proposed expanding Pittsburgh Promise efforts, the depth of substance when it comes to talking community economic development, and his as-yet unique recognition that public mass transit is like education a mammoth part of the equation in achieving desirability as a city and region, it is hard for this blog not to conclude that present front-runner Bill Peduto gave the strongest performance in this first debate.

NEWS: While the papers had it correct that all candidates agreed UPMC et al needs to start paying a fair share to the City, the County and school district, special adviser to the governor Dennis Roddy decided to throw some icy cold water on that proposition, even though last were all led to believe this was also the Governor’s policy and a grim, hard-won bipartisan consensus.

The Artist: Kelly Clarkson

Uploaded to YouTube: September 2006

SPOILER ALERT: She nails the all-important high note at 2:40.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: What would you ask at the non-televised Mayoral Debate on Sunday in the East End?

Wednesday: Shaping Up! ***

While a geographic analysis of the campaigns for mayor (the Seven Kingdoms of Yinzeros?) is indeed fairly interesting, we wonder whether the major split in this election isn’t going to be demographic and cultural. Perhaps even the “culture wars”.

Jack Wagner’s status as war hero is going to mean something among this mature electorate from Brighton Heights all the way to Lincoln Place, and mean something for the other more mature candidates. Bill Peduto’s emphasis on the potential of technology meanwhile is going to inspire young voters under 50 — or indeed may attract Ravenstahl default-voters still enchanted by the rhetoric of Tomorrowland.

We are finding out more about misspending at the Police Bureau, but remember: this isn’t an election about the past, or about the present, or about how the past turned into the present! Don’t be hateful. This is an election about the future, which has nothing to with learning from history, or with demonstrating a personal history of reacting appropriately to what were then current events.

Blogger Thomas Waters has some thoughts on the City Council proceedings on the acquisition of a new Chief of Police. What is it about people who have computers?

Broken people movers, dingy carpets, and an understaffed and harried Airport hotel. Is this the way the D.C. and New England elites think and speak to each other about Pittsburgh thanks to its Airport? How many people are hanging up when told their only option is a connection in Pittsburgh? Could Rich Fitzgerald have planted a better article to illustrate the need to frack the airport for economic development out there?

Tom Corbett’s bad poll numbers continue to dog him, with Joe Sestak seeming to be in the strongest starting position among Democrats. The Governor’s refusal to implement a Medicaid expansion voted by two houses of Congress, campaigned on by a President and upheld by a conservative Supreme Court could be costly, especially if it can be shown the state will not be saddled with costs in out years any more than death panels.

*-UPDATE: Eight members of the PA Turnpike commission will be charged with conspiracy, commercial bribery, bid rigging, theft, conflict of interest and participating in a corrupt organization, including Joseph Bremneirermner of our very own Port Authority. Interviews for new corrupt officials will begin on Monday.

**-UPDATE: Ardent Ravenstahl partner Jim Ferlo basically admits to the City Paper that he didn’t file papers with the Dept. of Elections in order to lead our City, but rather because he doesn’t trust Pittsburgh to make a wise decision among its sincerely interested candidates without first manipulating “the dynamics”.

***-UPDATE: Jim Ferlo withdraws. I guess the moral of the story is that if you know what running a campaign requires from vast experience, and you are getting on the ballot mainly to run interference for another candidate, then don’t let Chris Potter zap you with his laser armbands.

Monday’s Thoughts on Our Precious Region: Little China Girl

In an enchantingly wrought prequel to the MGM classic, Oz the Great and Powerful is shown to have been a carnival magician and a small-time rogue in 1880’s Kansas, who, upon escaping a circus in a hot-air balloon, gets caught up in another one of those dang tornadoes.

Oscar “Oz” Diggs, played by James Franco who we should really all give a chance despite everything, lands smack in the middle of the chaos and intrigue of total cosmic warfare, where he comes to rely on his prestidigitation skills. Fortunately he has a good heart. Witches tend to have a thing for him, anyway, and SPOILER ALERT: he makes solid choices.

The Pittsburgh Penguins can do no wrong. Establishing a true and harmonious marriage of Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin amongst the team, line mates included, is all that is standing between this team and the very pinnacle of impervious hockey — given a consistency of passionate, well-practiced team wide effort.

They released Debo. It seems cool.

The Allegheny County Jail is breeding variously nightmarish headlines, and that may be no surprise because across Pennsylvania, jails are breeding nightmarish headlines. Surely we can do something about this. Perhaps the right honourable Allegheny County Executive can set aside an intensive week to get to know things well and truly intimately over at the jail dahn there on 2nd Ave. Nothing precipitous should be implied to follow — no rash decisions anyway, heaven fore fend!

Nick Tubach

Yet perhaps ACE Fitzgerald could apply a heaping helping of concern to the issue, suggest some priorities, gather a public table. If Fitz wants to get fancy, I’m sure the Alliance for Police Accountability, the Black Political Empowerment Project (or B-PEP), the Allegheny County District Attorney and the “new” US Attorney as well as others would be happy to contribute their broader perspectives on the pregnancy of the issue.

The logistics of oversight alone — chaos. Uncharted?

Getting around in Pittsburgh will never be the same, now that amateurish yahoos can grab a public bicycle and piddle around.

“Bike-share programs like this are critically important to attract and retain the talent that we have here,” Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. “To have that cool, young, vibrant, hip city that young investors want requires projects like this.” (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

There will be at least 50 “solar-powered stations” for point-to-point travel. There are obviously a lot of unanswered questions. Will there be a public bike-share station near the corner of Rt. 28 / East Ohio St. and 16th St., or won’t there be? How and for what purpose is Walnut Capital harnessing the power of the sun? And finally, will Ravenstahl capitalize on this momentum and do another Mayor by mentioning traffic calming as part of what is becoming his very broad, deep commitment to road-sharing culture?

Rescue Me (Lance Mannion)

The South Side Intoxication District bliztes are moving forward, though it is hard to say whether or not the Pittsburgh Sociable City Plan is also. There is some verbiage about “code compliance” with respect to “bar inspections” that deals with the “occupancy code,” and some other qualified verbiage regarding “loitering.” I’m sure the Dept. of Public Safety and the Police Bureau is under a world of stress right now, especially with respect to how security at commercial hot spots is maintained.

That’s why I have this genius idea. Can’t municipal firefighters get active in enforcing occupancy and “fire” codes and safety violations? What do you think is better for business — a bunch of jaded, stern-looking police officers filing in the doors like it’s prohibition, or a bevy of fire men and women concerned with caring for your safety? The loudest drunks on Carson Street will be manning the doors to help them get proper head counts, “to do their duty!”

If we need more recruits, we’ll get more hired. Pittsburgh will be rolling in increased dinner and entertainment receipts and expanded and higher-paying job diversity once young and older adults get also to partake of the South Side again.

Controller Michael Lamb earned the Democratic party committee endorsement, and Councilman Bill Peduto earned that of the Steelworkers. State Rep. Jake Wheatley has checked in to the race, as has Michael Larkin, who funnily enough works for the ACJ.

That’s it for today. Remember: if you don’t have swift service, you can’t have any transit. How can you have any transit if you don’t have swift service?

A/V EXPERIENCE: David Bowie – China Girl (Live); We’re off to see the wizard…; Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall (live)

Scrabbling together Monday’s post…

It will be one of those fancifully curated link assemblages, and now with those two out of the way, most will be related to other, under-appreciated matters. Does anybody have any special requests?

In the world of political data, Civic Science has been one-upped by Keystone Analytics. Who’s next? And what will it indicate?

The Artist: Tina Turner

The film series: Mad Max

Your Guide to ‘Burgh Drama: Ep. 2 – The General’s Avenue. New Season starts Tues 5/21.


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whom some call “the Mad Mayor,” has ruled Pittsburgh since 2006, but will step down at the end of this year having become so embroiled in controversies he will not run again.

In 2007, once his triumph in the special Democratic primary to be reinstalled as mayor was certain, Ravenstahl shuffled out of the administration three aides held over from his predecessor in the public communications and gate keeping fields. It will be left to philosophers of history to determine whether Ravenstahl’s own mildly infamous succession of communications aides did a greater disservice to his mayoralty, or vice versa.

Today in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, a grocery store at the grocery store site is rising thanks to redoubled effort by the URA and the philanthropic community as well as a new outside developer more connected with the City. In the Strip District, the reigning establishment now seems to be doing right by the Pittsburgh Public Market. The story of Buncher Co.’s fanciful and quintessential Pittsburgh origins remains instructive to civic debaters on the matter of cavalier character assumptions interfering with arguments.


During the days of the Mayor’s revelation, a bevy of fresh reporting on the federal investigation into the Police Bureau was published and new public information issued. Even connecting the choicest portions in the context that they arose, one can only make assumptions about rivulets of misspending allegedly occurring under the aegis of the police which would interest the Federal Department of Justice to the point of scrambling the FBI in a sustained flurry.

Quickly thereafter the decisive, incisive mayoral appointment of Regina McDonald as Interim Chief stunned the police union numb, but that has not at all slowed her assertive pace of making change even in this painful, querulous, sometimes obtuse environment. We are all watchful of federal officials issuing further smoke-signals, and getting on with life in the City of Champions.

Our mayoral candidates! I used to wonder what democracy could be, until yinz all shared its magic with me…

Rainbow Dash (HUB, Hasbro)

Former PA Auditor General Jack Wagner indicates he’s up for another big adventure, and sooner rather than later. His demands of Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal continue to echo in Harrisburg, his audits of technology contracts are spurring calls for reform, and he continues to advise a ban on school district interest-rate swapping. The last time he made waves in Pittsburgh politics, he criticized the sale of a State Office Building as a “ripoff” although that sale had become tied by a state oversight board to releasing City gaming revenue dedicated for the purchase and installation of modern municipal accounting software. No, really.

Pinkie Pie (HUB, Hasbro)

City Council President Darlene Harris must think this looks like tons of fun, announcing her candidacy as formally as one ought on Twitter. Harris this week introduced, fast-tracked and motioned to approve, hold and amend three bills related to cash management and cost recovery. She also went to bat for C-TIPS when questions about that police unit arose, being one of the few to perceive its role in her neighborhoods. Harris’ approach to city challenges has been daring and audacious, and her relationship with Ravenstahl has prior to 2010 and since 2011 been one of alliance, though they grew estranged during that interlude.

Rarity (HUB, Hasbro)

State Senator Jim Ferlo has a beautiful heart, responding to Ravenstahl’s crisis by rallying their retreating cohorts and inspiring them to collect in preparedness for a glorious issue. He has been combating Governor Corbett’s privatization push by proposing to “modernize” State liquor stores and is now appealing to the state to address waste at VisitPittsburgh although that is a creature of the County. Mayor O’Connor first appointed the fellow Murphy antagonist to the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, where spotlights fell onto his campaign contributions and where it was briefly implied he gave his assent to a hush money settlement. Ferlo’s close alliance with this Mayor additionally seems to have affected his interpretation of the 1st Amendment as it applies to government’s ability to tax corporations.

Applejack (HUB, Hasbro)

City Controller Michael Lamb is faithfully pursuing the local Democratic Committee’s endorsement and will receive it by a strong margin, and probably without pledging anything too too costly. To illustrate the case for his diligence as the city’s financial watchdog, Lamb has said the police credit union account under inquiry “was set up specifically for the purposes of keeping it secret from me.” Though frenetic recently in his financial oversight role, Lamb has yet to preview positions on issues as dear to the Comet as urban redevelopment or public safety — but has long staked out organizing territory in public education and municipal relations.

Fluttershy (HUB, Hasbro)

State Senator Wayne Fontana is sharing a kindness by volunteering for the leadership post as a way to heal fractiousness and further vitalize the South hills. The pro-growth Democrat is presently shepherding an “angel” investment tax credit through the Senate, and would like to see progressively expanded tax credits for the film industry. In the past he has legislated to enable Allegheny County voters to eliminate the property tax in favor of something else, but being a fan of government that works he has also proposed applying its costs equitably to the major nonprofits. Fontana’s reluctant but concerned presence in the campaign might be said for style purposes to be replicated by Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson, whose kindness extends as well to investigative transparency and pursuing clarity with the nonprofits.

Twilight Sparkle (HUB, Hasbro)

City Councilman Bill Peduto‘s reserved confidence makes it all complete, with favorable early poll numbers, a growing list of endorsements and a well-funded organization encouraging that perception. Differences with the Ravenstahl administration in regards to delayed implementation of his own diesel admissions ordinance threaten to draw him back into the fighting arena, even as he continues to emphasize that Chief Nate Harper should have been placed on a leave of absence pending the results of fuller investigations. In 2007 after Mayor Ravenstahl scuttled plans to manage the assignments and costs of police side jobs in security, Peduto instead urged acceptance of that plan to guard against unadvisedly entrepreneurial city officials as well as guard against misfortune. Peduto today pledged that increasing diversity in the Police Bureau through partnerships and organized neighborhood engagement is a “top priority”.

Dave Reid, Flickr

Speaking again of the Police Bureau, many of the people of Pittsburgh are eager to begin having a conversation about a new Chief and a reformed Bureau. The qualities sought after for that position range from experienced and accomplished to courageous and honest to engaging and interactive, with model candidates ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Mahatma Gandhi. Notable consensus seemed to emerge around a desire for the Bureau to re-adopt the orders of the 1997 federal consent decree as the “hammer of justice.” Notions such as employing social or psychological profile exams are being bandied about, given the thirst for trust and integrity.

Dr. Whooves (HUB, Hasbro)

On top of everything else Professor Chris Briem, oft-cited economist and oft-published writer, is crying that the sky is starting to fall in the vicinity of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority. Its special debt arrangement became controversial in the last mayoral election, and now threatens to inhibit the metro region’s capacity to convert a decidedly old-school wet weather infrastructure plan into something more local, piecemeal, sustainable, and equally satisfying to federal authorities.

Our mayoral candidates. Don’t you know they are our very best friends? And together, their powers combined, are Pittsburgh’s best opportunity to marshal coherent solutions to many challenges?

Our city is sure to remain an exceptional place to live, love and struggle because we ‘Burghers have a special thirst to build and excel. Just remember that during foundational power shifts, full-grown dragons may find themselves disturbed. The recommended approach to any unavoidable conflict with these big meanies is sternness and compassion.

Jack Wagner, Darlene Harris, Bill Robinson, Wayne Fontana & Jim Ferlo Crash Mayor’s Race.

REPORTING: Trib, Bob Bauder.
MORE/LESS: PoliticsPA, Keegan Gibson.

UPDATERRIFIC: City Paper Blogh, Chris Potter.

MONEY: Early Returns, Tim McNulty, click thru to CP 

Meanwhile, Luke Ravenstahl’s camp is playing political roulette at the table along with police and firefighters’ unions and others, and the Democratic Committee concerns itself chiefly with retaining all of its power in government. Terrific.

Pittsburgh deserves this election. But it could still get a little bit sweeter.