Category Archives: guide

Race for Pittsburgh Mayor’s parameters sharpen as 8-Week sprint begins

P-G, Grace Patuwo

In March of 2007, a rather young mayor of only several months’ experience was thrust into high-stakes negotiations on behalf of the City with Rendell, Onorato, Lemieux and the Penguins, and the NHL. A deal emerged, a hockey team was saved, and Mayor Ravenstahl earned ‘attaboys in the afterglow of the exhilarating first sensation of getting “it” done.

Yet even now, central business district development is going like gangbusters: chic wellness villages, a dining and entertainment complex, something distantly involving both Toby Keith and the Steelers, and a proliferation of Point Park University theater options. The Skinny Building will provide the fruit, flowers and seasonal favorites in a fit of dering-do. The National Institutes of Health can’t get enough UPMC.

The Police Bureau situation continues to be what it is. There is strong evidence of at least one as-yet unknown co-conspirator in the theft conspiracy. Within and around a determined department, a decisive shift towards openness and transparency is sought desperately and with conviction.

The Fugitive

Controller Michael Lamb‘s candidacy is in serious danger of getting strangled by the fraud revelations, despite the fact that the Police Bureau and credit union wrongdoers, the Public Safety director, the Finance director and his Treasurer in charge of receipts all got access through this data beforehand, and despite the fact that questions about and auditing of those accounts neatly preceded the federal activity. Nobody wants to hear that in-depth audits are not a routine Controller’s office function for the entirety of government, that in-depth audits including several within public safety have been numerous and bold, and that the Controller’s office budget for staff is what it is since Act 47.

Lamb fights for fairness in tax exemptions now towards the head of a large crowd. He once fought for honesty in investment accounting with less visible support, against pension spiking with none to speak of, and for comprehensive sex education and youth reproductive health services without uncouth sensationalism. Arrogance, elitism, intemperance and shadowy political patrons are all relative strangers to him, yet his profile and record both seem hostage to the criminals that eluded him.

Willy Wonka

Bill Peduto was the chair of City Council’s Finance Committee for two two-year terms, from 2008 through 2011. Previous to that he was among the Council that overlooked certain police fee formalities, but somehow he has not been driven against the wall by general skepticism. His formal campaign marches confidently with bands of placard-waving supporters.

Peduto’s last few daily rations of wonk-bait have included collaboratively leveraging innovative tools to fix blight, centralizing and streamlining new business development with collaboration, and curtailing some job development incentives to preserve natural areas and limit sprawl, but not without regional tax sharing. With ever more traditional support accruing behind the early front runner, his detractors are left grumbling darkly about political deal making and another machine.

Gene Hackman

Jack Wagner alone among top-tier contenders needs plea to no conceivable culpability in the Police Bureau scandal — but apparently had only a small-time and negligible effect on the breadth of the Pa Turnpike Commission scandal: a lavish, longtime, notorious pay-to-play pipeline. Although Wagner has for some time been addressing ruinous bond swaps deals by boosting transparency and more recently recommended terminating Turnpike bond swaps, we await eagerly any similar advice on our ongoing Water authority swaptions.

Though his campaign has operated a bit under my own personal radar thus far, some of his supporters are enthused to highlight Wagner’s 1993 advocacy for an assault weapons ban as a member of Pittsburgh City Council, and his expansion of hate crimes law as State Senator to include sexual orientation. Having been dogged a bit in the past by segments of the Democratic constituency on “social issues,” Jack Wagner volunteered to the Comet by telephone that “I didn’t do everything correctly, we all learn a lot in our lifetimes.” While he is fiercely proud to support and advocate for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender adoption” privileges, his opposition to gay marriage hinges on a concern for churches, and his position if any on civil unions is undefined. Efforts by the Comet to pin Wagner down neatly on questions of abortion rights were met with similar disinterested parrying; he preferred to redirect the conversation toward equality in promotions and quality public education.


Jake Wheatley seems to be overcoming launch difficulties, Darlene Harris seems not quite fully collected and A.J. Richardson is what a far-out candidate is like in Pittsburgh, which is pretty cool.

Although we all knew Joe Brimmieir was neck-deep in the Pa Turnpike noise, John L. Tague Jr. seems to be a breath of fresh air from the policy and advocacy community; whereas the visibly shaken, whole-town indicting Jack Brooks is a retired Carpenter’s Union official appointed by Dan Onorato around the same time the North Shore Connector morphed from a bridge into a tunnel.

While the Post-Gazette is tracking down the details of a nearby fracking settlement, Pat Ford is bringing millions in international investment to Cleveburgh to manufacture natural gas extraction and storage valves and fixtures.

If the Race for Pittsburgh is like every other big political race, expect some nasty twists and surprises very soon. These candidates are all burdened with informing us specifically why they are better than each of the other alternatives — and without mincing words, sparing feelings, or sweating details. Before long some of them will actually wind up believing their own stories! Just keep your laughter, kindness and honesty dialed up. This has been Your Guide to ‘Burgh Drama, Episode 3: The Hon. Mayor Waters.

MORE:  Pittsburgh City Paper.

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.

Your Guide to ‘Burgh Drama: Democracy is Coming! New Season starts 5/21.


Mayor Tom Murphy, whom some call “the Mad Mayor,” ruled Pittsburgh for twelve years — until he became so unpopular he could not run again.

Mayor Bob O’Connor succeeded him with fresh energy and optimism, but ran the City just half a year before abruptly terminating a City Hall power arrangement from what would become his deathbed. Pittsburgh took this maneuver, and a seeming embrace of Council President Ravenstahl, to signify Mayor O’Connor’s dying wishes for a term of office under served… and Luke Ravenstahl assumed the Mayoralty of that government.


Mayor Ravenstahl, buoyed by accolades and civic investment, is fighting to win his second full term and is calling attention to the South Side Market House and Phase 2 of its renovations. On What’s the 412? and elsewhere, we are assured that the deal the City is getting with Buncher Co. in the Strip District will lead to thriving growth and comply with the letter and the arc of the Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan almost 100%. Prestige and distinction are once again heaped on that Jewel of Larimer, Bakery Square — but the talent show at Google’s offices had to make do without the guest of honor. It has been a little while since Mayor Ravenstahl hit us over the head with the Promise.


Police Chief Nate Harper has been shown the door by the Mayor for setting up the framework of a business with his subordinates, for allowing money to be misappropriated, and for whatever Ravenstahl learned after two hours of questioning by federal authorities.

It is revealed that debit cards were linked to misappropriated funds, and that some of these were given to the Mayor’s security but allegedly without the Mayor’s knowledge. An ex-bodyguard publicly accuses the Mayor of being in on the impropriety, and gets smeared. In a discussion of the cost of overtime pay for bodyguards, a sensational photo is aired. Although the Mayor uses his own legitimate and accounted-for City card for travel and special expenses, it is revealed he routinely uses it to pay for others even though he was strictly instructed against it. Many crave more supervision to increase police performance.

The Pgh Channel, NBC

Controller and mayoral contender Michael Lamb is fresh off a field day. He suggested that the intermingling of city receipts and private side-job compensation created the potential for fraud and laid the blame with “the Finance Department” and the “Office of Management and Budget” for passing along budgets stuffed for pilferage. The wear of criticism for his own negligence has if anything spurred him to create an anonymous city “Fraud Hotline”: 412-255-4777. He has demanded of the Mayor answers to a series of succinct questions, and stuck a political flag solidly in Greenfield.

P-G, PublicSource

In the East we hear calls to enforce the city’s lost and stolen gun ordinance and concerns that compliance with oversight extend fully to campaign finance law. Councilman and mayoral contender Bill Peduto wants to put GPS chips in snowplows to step up the War on Snow, and communicators in traffic lights to reduce travel time, fuel emissions, and worker hours spent at traffic lights.

People for Peduto tweeted out a headline and a link to a story favorable to the Controller’s press conference. He is on record as having recommended early on that Chief Harper take a leave of absence, and connecting metaphorical Ravenstahl dots at Public Safety, at the URA and at PWSA to illustrate a pattern.

Peduto and Lamb both ran for mayor in 2005. Lamb drew some of his support from Mayor Murphy’s cadre. Peduto finished in second place to O’Connor. Peduto considered running against Ravenstahl in the special election held in 2007 but withdrew, drawing public fire. Lamb opted to run instead for City Controller in ’07. Both men yielded to other Democratic challengers in 2009.


Has anyone noticed all these closed schools? Not just Reizenstein making way for Bakery Square 2.0, and not just Schenley with its spirit and legacy, but everywherereally everywhere. What to do with all the buildings? And people seem miffed about public transportation, badly enough to oust a Port Authority CEO. There will be incentives for regional transit consolidation at play, whatever crises or opportunity that may present. Alcosan has urged the EPA to give us an extension to begin considering source-control or “green” wet weather infrastructure.


Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is famous in Marcellus Country for having instituted a ban on natural gas drilling which its mayor does not like. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald signed on to a $500 million, 20 year deal with Consol Energy to drill for fossil fuel from Pittsburgh International Airport. A coal burning power plant in Muskingum River Ohio is converting to natural gas at the EPA’s blessing. And in Chester WV, former local URA Director Pat Ford is touting on behalf of a regional economic development corporation the “campus setting” of a purchased, demolished and environmentally remediated pottery plant site for lease to prospects in the oil & gas industry. All while advancing projects from Weirton to Beech Bottom.

The strategy is the strategy. Nothing important has changed. The night is dark, and full of terrors. Election Day is May 21st. Click the video above and review this post from top to bottom. Here is the elections calendar.