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Comet Voter Guide: Feeling Surreal in the Pittsburgh of 2019

Politics is getting out-of-hand. Right?

Were I closer to Andrew Carnegie’s winter home, for example, my permission to have an abortion would have just been revoked.

True, I am biologically male. But “stuff happens” and sometimes men find themselves needing to help secure and furnish the costs of an abortion (or “go Dutch”) or arrange for a ride, or actually help a pregnant woman past any anti-choice protestors outside of some clinics, or just generally hold their hand and help them make that parenting decision. We men are not undergoing abortions ourselves, but in most senses they happen due to own actions and impact our own lives, so they’re “ours” as well. And sometimes we experience those abortions to our benefit.

If people start losing dearly held rights, things are going to get volatile.

So, in my capacity as Blogger in Chief at the Pittsburgh Comet, I’m sure I speak for all of Pittsburgh when I say we would welcome any of yinz Southron refugees who find your way up the Ohio River, or who come down from the east over the mountains after having made it up the Atlantic, to live as free men and women again. Bring us barbecue.

But then again, we don’t want to have to deal with chaos and dissolution forever, do we?

When it comes to fascism, this is just one convenient tactic. Eliminating reproductive freedom strikes a chord upon traditionalism, patriarchy and religious majoritarianism, not to mention cruelty in domination for its own sake. It’s a useful whip with which to order society under strongmen.

But fascist excitement is only one of our problems. Peoples have dealt with it before, and they eventually outlast that authoritarian perversion one way or another. Unsettlingly, we are also merely one generation or so into the Dawning of the Interwebs, and “coincidentally” only now entering the Era of Climate Change.

And so it’s hard to think about climate change without reflecting on colonialism and industrialization. Surreality has crept into political life since the bombs dropped and the Cold War began, a recognition that the world is only violently and precariously organized, and could turn on us at any moment. Climate change however reminds us that moment is approaching at ferocious speed, or indeed already past.

So what’s a blogger to do? Here I am, a White, middle-aged man, with an Internet connection. I don’t know to how to stop from getting crushed by our world falling down around us, but I must feign tell you what to do, it’s in the White middle-aged men orientation handbook.

Local politics. Of course! We’ll discover what to do on the global stage by paying heed to politics at its most basic, the nitty-gritty. Elegant, right? And what town could be grittier than Pittsburgh? Our coat of arms bears a fort, which in 1762, White invaders defended by distributing plague-laden blankets against a native siege.

But local politics requires a certain effort. In dealing with these people. Ugh. No, hold on. Let me put on my game face.

County Council, countywide Democratic At-Large Seat: Definitely the marquee race in this election cycle. 20-year incumbent John DeFazio is 78 years old, oversaw the leasing of Deer Lakes Park to the natural gas hydrofracturing industry as a spectacle of profitable possibility, and otherwise tends toward the conservative. He also used to be a studio wrestler, along with his County Council colleague the late Chuck Martoni, who has also served on that council 20 years, which may give one an insight into that part of County culture. Meanwhile, Bethany Hallam is a political millenial who has done an enormous amount of homework, and has overcome challenges which make her relatable and have informed her worldview. Vulnerability looks good on a candidate, in this day and age. If you’re even distantly progressive, Hallam will come as a wonderful breath of fresh air to you for the 15-member group.

County Council District 13:  Challenger Liv Bennett is running on “Affordable Housing • Save the Environment • Criminal Justice Reform,” which is honestly everything I’d personally like to hear concerns a regional politician. Her opponent, incumbent Denise Ranalli Russell, is more staid and conservative.

City Council D1 “The North”: If you hate Mayor Bill Peduto, and/or you are rather conservative for an otherwise pro-labor Democrat, and you can live without strategic planning or much change at all (new fountains aside), Darlene Harris is your woman. Bobby Wilson is again seeking to unseat her, and again has the support of Peduto. If you’re liberal or progressive, an admirer of Peduto, or just not enthused about Harris’s signature leadership for any of myriad reasons, Bobby Wilson is your guy.

City Council D3 “Southside/South Oakland”: The District has two great progressives to choose from in incumbent Bruce Kraus and challenger Ken Wolfe, and a more conservative alternative in Chris Kumanchik. It’s a really tough district to navigate, what with Carson St., and anyone who needs to cross two bridges to get there needs to defer to the locals. Separately from who best represents that area’s interests, I will say that City Council seems to lack a certain hammer to Mayor Peduto’s anvil lately — an optimizer. Council President Kraus’ assignment of Councilman Burgess to the Finance Chairmanship was a recognition of shifting coalitions, but I wonder if Kraus’ term of leadership on that body still has relevance.

City Council D5 “South Squirrel Hill / Hazelwood”: Corey O’Connor is running unopposed for the party nomination to his third term on City Council, which makes things easy for me as I am a constituent. But I can’t let him off the hook that easy. He knows that broad patch of grass across from Big Jim’s has grown long and far to seed this spring, and he knows that it never ordinarily is permitted to grow like that. And so he knows DOMI is digging its talons deeper in the pie, to pseudo-blight and then transform the parcel into servicing the robotrail through Schenley to Oakland. And you know meanwhile the Run rats are inventorying fallen chunks of concrete from the underpasses, and making records of landslide and flooding activity, and spilling ink. O’Connor better be sure that PWSA and the Parks Conservancy does an excellent job with the stormwater remediation. Be sure officials focus on that, and on leaving no conspicuously unnecessary traces in the park.

City Council D7: “Greater Lawrenceville”:  I’ll be darned if anyone can seem to tell a difference between incumbent Deb Gross’ record and what challenger Dierdre Kane says she wants to accomplish. As near as I can figure, this is about how Gross came up with Peduto as part of the “New Pittsburgh”, and Kane came up via Lawrenceville United and the old. I can’t say who would be preferable, but I will say that I’d miss it if Gross left Council and then nobody was left to challenge the Mayor archly from his Left, all Lisa Simpson-like.

Burgess, by Megan Harris, WESA

Burgess, by Megan Harris, WESA

City Council D9: “Greater Homewood”: 12-year incumbent Rev. Ricky Burgess may be the most powerful member of Pittsburgh City Council. The nine-member body will never elect him Council President, because nobody trusts him that much to be a heartbeat away from the mayoralty. But his influence stretches from the powerful Finance Committee chairmanship, to the Pittsburgh Land Bank, to the Housing Authority, and much of the hottest land in Pittsburgh.  And he’s a trained parliamentarian, a teacher of rhetoric, and of course of course a preacher. How he manages to fly under the radar in all these stories about Penn Plaza and other gentrifying increments, I’ll never know. Whether one of his several opponents like Cherylie Fuller will unseat him seems doubtful, but every vote against him is a reprimand.

District Attorney for Allegheny County: Police reform and oversight together with police-community relations are a tremendous topic in Democratic politics today. 20- year Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. hasn’t demonstrated the initiative and concern requisite to a Democrat of this day and age, just hasn’t treated the issue with the anxious seriousness his constituents sorely require. Maybe he missed a generational, cultural shift, maybe his politics are so good he’s never had to sweat it. Meanwhile Turhan Jenkins has demonstrated the qualifications, the willingness to listen and to evolve, and the fortitude. Jenkins deserves every vote he can get, and Zappala deserves to see them.

Mind you, we’re not demanding Zappala march out into the wilderness, never to darken our door again. His experience and expertise would qualify him for any number of jobs at the federal Department of Justice, if indeed he wouldn’t care to name his price in the private sector for a while. In Pittsburgh, we don’t banish people who lose elections, we immediately ask them for help with other projects. Everyone’s a value, sometimes it just takes more figuring out where to place everybody for optimal performance. Sometimes — more often that we do — we just need to cycle through some new blood, and point the old towards a new challenge.

Pittsburgh Public School Board of Directors, D4 “Squirrel Hill / Shadyside”:  I am a constituent of this district. I must have first met activist Pamela Harbin two superintendents ago, when Mark Roosevelt grievously overreached and (among other Godzilla-esque transformations) shuttered Schenley High School because it was old and in the way. We both fought and deplored the sale of that jewel.

During the following administration however, Harbin and I grew to respectfully disagree about more and more. I thought merit-pay for teachers with excellent performance reviews was a worthy idea; Harbin believed merit pay would open the door to administrative favoritism. I favored last year’s countywide referendum to raise taxes to fund before-school, nutrition and after-school services for all students (which won within the city limits of Pittsburgh, and did best in municipalities like Braddock, Wilkinsburg, Homestead, Duquesne and Swissvale, as well as Penn Hills); Harbin thought the money would be an unaccountable “slush-fund” to enrich consultants and nonprofit executives. I thought city leaders and the foundations could be helpful to the board in organizing a nationwide executive search for new superintendent and a public outreach campaign to establish priorities, much like Pittsburgh undertook to find Police Chief Cameron McLay; Harbin thought that would be meddling with the new board’s prerogative.

Fast-forward to one week ago, when a local left-leaning education policy blog published a sensational expose painting Harbin’s opponent, Anna Batista, as hopelessly indebted to education privatizers, developers, and corporations — mostly because, as a longtime organizer with Great Public Schools Pittsburgh (backed heavily by the teacher’s union) Harbin is restricted to a fairly inflexible set of ideological positions. If you want an open mind to a variety creative partnerships or initiatives, you’re probably looking to support an alternative, just to be given a fresh hearing!

Fast-forward again to yesterday, when a local friend on Facebook asks something like, “Does anybody know what Batista or Harbin make of Superintendent Anthony Hamlet? Because for a long time I’ve been hearing little but disturbing news!”

And this was my honest answer:

Facebook

Facebook

A report on plagiarism and inconsistencies on Hamlet’s resume applications adjoins a picture of Harbin here, who was helping to pass out the petty signs.

If Labor believes in Harbin, that’s outstanding. I think she’d be well suited to take a run at City Council, and maybe disrupt what seems like the actual Peduto machine. Or, she could continue to break ground pairing labor advocacy with organizing around racial equity, a worthy project. But unlike the City, the School District has had an overabundance of labor’s political influence for the past couple years. Voter backlash to the Roosevelt era drove it so far left into labor’s arms, it evidently wound up overcorrecting and sliding in the gutter.

screen-shot-2019-05-21-at-6-30-44-amMeanwhile, on Anna Batista’s website, I was thoroughly impressed by the breadth, scope and clarity of positions she’s taken, and particularly smitten by what she had to say at the very bottom about making testing for “Gifted and Talented” students universal. As a Colfax 2nd-grader, had my mother not complained when my friends were getting tested though I was overlooked, my life might have turned out a bit different — though stratification of the “eyeball the kids to see if they might be gifted” system, along with the “whisk them away to the Gifted Center once a week” system, was felt by all us students as profoundly weird.

Did Batista and I agree on everything? I tracked her down and asked her about merit pay based on teacher evaluations.

No, she replied at first. There’s no way to control for which teachers have higher or lower-performing students. It’s inherently unfair.

Sure there is, I insisted! It’s possible to control for poverty, for other socioeconomic markers, or simply for relative improvement for relatively poor-achievers. They’ve done this with math, I think I whined.

“Sure, if you want a fight with the teachers’ union,” Batista responded with resignation. “If you open up Merit Pay, you’ll get in a fight with the teachers’ unions. If you open up Gifted, you’ll get in a fight with some Squirrel Hill parents.”

Not only does Batista think all children should be tested for gifts and talents meriting special nurturing, she thinks there ought to be ways to provide that enrichment within each school, and to work it into curriculums so students don’t feel so profoundly separated — and so that designated “gifted” students don’t, ironically, miss out on machine-shop and other fantastic Vo-Tech offerings while experiencing computer science and public speaking workshops.

“Some parents [of ‘Gifted’ students] don’t like that,” she explained. “It makes them feel special. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” she allowed, seeing as how Colfax Elementary “is like half Gifted” these days, “but I’ve never been afraid of a fight.”

So that’s Anna Batista’s idea of equity: she emphasizes the need to measure progress and demand greater equity in results. The concerns she says she hears in the District most often are “ineffective teachers who have either checked out or don’t care, access to guidance counselors and good guidance counseling, and segregation.” And while she agrees wholeheartedly with Harbin that public schools should be receiving more state funding, as a Board member she’s not going to rely on the “sledgehammer” rhetoric of complaining about funding in response to all concerns, but little else. She wants to wrestle creatively and collaboratively with whatever resources, in the meanwhile, are actually being made available to our children.

Labor’s answer to a lot of this demand for innovation has been “Community Schools”: providing “wraparound” services through other agencies in school buildings where children need them. It’s been slow and steady going getting them off the ground in Pittsburgh, to as-yet uncertain results. However, Harbin and her allies in labor seem singularly resistant to allowing key local leaders a seat at the table, and I don’t see how these Community Schools can scale up with that much aggravated, ideological mistrust between stakeholders.

screen-shot-2019-05-21-at-7-29-17-amI very much like Anne Batista, and I’m worried about the pattern the District has fallen into: a tug-of-war cage match between labor and the marginalized groups it organizes on one side, and the “New Pittsburgh,” on the other — with the former dominantly in charge right now, though quite unsteady on its feet, suggesting drunkenness. Last election cycle, I recommended to readers three soon-to-be school board members, all of whom labor also backed. I asked each of them how they “balance” the ideas of labor with those of the innovators, the foundation-types, A+ Schools — and they each gave me a balanced answer about their need to walk that tightrope. Lynda Wrenn, however, actually walked that tightrope more faithfully than any of them — that’s why they gave her the Chair after the prior board leader (backed by the teachers’ union) stepped away amidst controversies. Wrenn’s endorsement of Batista was extremely encouraging to what were already my leanings. I’d like to keep that independent-minded torch alive.

SCHOOL BOARD D2:  A decade or more ago, I used to play ultimate frisbee with Kirk Rys, and found him to be a bright, positively spirited, compassionate, dare-I-say sweet? teammate and competitor. I’m positive he’d be an excellent school board member. At the same time, representation matters, and it would be a shame for many if that district lacked African-American representation it felt it could relate to and trust, and Devon Taliaferro also comes highly recommended. I don’t think you can make a wrong choice between those two.

OTHER PPS SCHOOL BOARD SEATS: I don’t know. Try to find someone who doesn’t sound like they’re carrying water for the Superintendent. The board has to provide oversight, and it has to provide more of it than it has been.

What does that say about labor, though? Anything bad? I hate being on the opposite side of working people, in any respect. While labor needs to keep a hawkish eye on district administration to restrain any abuses, I don’t think it does itself any favors by getting out all over its skis when it comes to politics. Let the School District engage with and respond to the broader political reality. To put my advice into just 7 words borrowed from 38 Special:

~~HOLD ON LOOSELY, BUT DON’T LET GO~~

Oh, and as long as I have Big Labor’s attention… when this is over, let’s you and I not forget to support the P-G Newspaper Guild! We literally couldn’t while away the hours like this kibitzing about regional politics, if they weren’t doing such hard work. And for years, without a contract! C’mon gang, let’s get something on the schedule to show them some support.

SEE ALSO: City Paper Guide, The Incline Guide

We’ll catch up with everyone later this week… good luck out there!

Monday: Grief and Resolve from Squirrel Hill

Squirrel Hill is in mourning for its slain and cherishing their memories, grieving for their families and for those who held them dear. We are worried for the injured, grateful for our heroes, and caring as best we can for all those who are left bereft, sorrowful, fearful, shaken and disturbed.

We are heartened by the special outpouring of national and international sympathies, after this Saturday morning’s act of hate and terror.

Some youths who attend Taylor Allderdice High School organized and led a vigil for the as-yet unnamed dead on the evening of the horror — which was good, because too many of the neighborhood elders would have been too intimately impacted and involved to organize an appropriate public service that quickly. (Another vigil and more fulsome community responses were in the works at the Sunday hour of this writing, and more will follow.)

After a prayer, some words, a song or two and a moment of silence, a bold young female voice declared from the speakers, “We are still Squirrel Hill.”

This earned the night’s only applause, which was sustained, and built, until it was replaced by hushed, low chanting: “Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote.

Because after all, ours is a proudly diverse community, and this was a political terror.

This is no question of policy — of gun control and safety, or mental illness and prevention. It’s not even a question of whether or not the deadly violence ought to be politicized. The shooter was politicized, and not only through racist prejudice. He was radicalized.

We American Jews tend to have a soft spot for refugees, migrants and other minorities, having a strong ethnic identity steeped in both Biblical oppression and diaspora, and more modern mass persecution and migrancy. That liberal solidarity frustrates White ethno-nationalists, who want to live in a nation wholly expressive of their own cultures — asleep to how even their most relatively meager securities are furnished by a legacy of ethnicized plunder and exploitation. Their strength lies only in their own numbers, and wounded pride.

Jews also enjoy the privilege of a heritage strong in both education and migrant industriousness. As Jews thrive, our habit of moralizing conscientiousness with respect to rights indeed helps keep us safe — and, it is whispered, protects our self-interested schemes. So sometimes, if your Jewish bill collector is annoying you, it might temporarily feel like it is because they’re of the same tribe of people that made up the Holocaust and invented the bomb to win Israel, and now control Hollywood and the media. But of course that’s all nonsense. The Holocaust did happen, people are individuals, business is business, artists tell stories of justice, our major organs of journalism try to report the truth, and life is complicated. The random murder of innocents is senseless, and as vile as murder on an industrial scale. I’m not fond of when today’s “antifa” movement encourages answering White supremacist speech with physical roughness, but so far they’re not opening fire, and at least they’re on the side of life! Refugees and migrants responding to suffering and pressure deserve at least an honest process and compassion, because that’s human rights and humanity.

To argue that those suffering mental illness might latch onto any vengeful excuse for wreaking violent mayhem, requires demanding leaders therefore discourage all pernicious, deeply etched narratives justifying ethnic and group loathing, especially when these are aroused and becoming heated. Migration pressures may test our political equilibrium and national security, but these must be managed with dispassion and sensitivity, not fired and stoked for cheap political points.

And to think it highly probable the gruesome massacre in my hometown or many others are all elaborate “false flag” operations is a malady — either of wits, political defensiveness, or complicity in too many false-flag stunts.

Paranoid anti-Semitism gets tied up in undermining Black and Brown success by rendering their pain and politics as no more than a theater of the ignorant, manipulated by Jewish puppet masters. Then the same scapegoaters turn around and raid the public treasury by warning that high taxes are just redistributive welfare for lazy colored people.

All that racist resentment brews in Trump’s coalition alongside angry reaction against womens’ liberation and they way women choose to wield their power, against Hispanics to the point of deceptively separating migrant children from their families, and against anyone with any perceived weakness he might exploit to demonstrate his own power to dominate.

We know this to be fascism. Trump’s right-wing populist bluster employs enough of the fascist playbook to strike the chords which stir fervor in souls to align with strength for strength’s sake, ethnic majority, masculine aggression, identification with the state, idealization of its past, the scapegoating of minorities, foreigners and the mentally ill, and a cocky, bullying disregard for the weak and any need to speak truth.

The lure of fascist rhetoric is not unique to our circumstance, merely unusual. It seems endemic to the human psyche. Democracies are proven breeding grounds. Since the matter is pregnant, we might pause for a moment to consider how to counter it. I don’t know much about fascism outside of what’s available on YouTube, but one might begin by trying to envision its “opposite”. What sort of person would subvert fascism on the most levels?

Willing to break with traditions.

Enthusiastic for human rights.

Celebrates others as whole human beings, without regard to political prejudices, confident in ultimate victory over darkness and disharmony.

Exalts our diversity, grounding our cohesion in the bewildering array of our journeys and struggles, all with hardship and humiliation.

Teaches how hatred rises from trauma, and trauma is cyclic.

Embraces idealism, and seeks to alleviate the sting of depravities unique to the modern manmade world.

Loves peace, and so tamps down rash fears of criminality and elite conspiracy

Recognizes the military’s capacity to consume treasure and blood in the name of our interests, enmeshing us in conflict.

Feels the corruptive tethers of personal enrichment and political patronage, and gladly seeks to act free from them.

Supports the poor and the working classes, to provide real economic security.

Reveres the feminized roles and virtues, is committed to equality and autonomy for women and for womens’ general advancement, and so is relaxed and reserved in masculine expression.

Highlights that which is admirable in those who are weak, marginalized, ill and unfortunate, and invites suffering and toil so that others may have life.

Values artistic and media freedoms, intellectual criticism and debate, and is openly self-reflective.

Honors truth and evangelizes important truths, with clarity and fair language.

Wields power gravely, with care for the outcomes.

Protects a broad voting franchise and the faith we keep in elections, and promotes sound democratic reforms.

Reveres our Providential journey, and regards the world’s spiritual movements with equanimity.

That still leaves plenty up for debate. I for one am liable to mansplain my feminism to some women, for example; the devils are in details, and life is an aggregation problem. How best to apply such lofty principles in real time? But the point is to seriously envision, pursue, elevate and reward such instincts, and thereby beat back this existential, eerily karmic threat. If you don’t like those in particular, I’m not surprised; they’re sloppily drawn, and I relied on a rigid and arbitrary method. But meditate on the idea of a life-affirming, omni-nurturing, vulnerability-transcending Antifascist Archetype during the interlude.

Yet the eruption of far right-wing fascism is not even the root cause of our disquiet. There is a surreality to this era that extends back before our self-promoting playboy billionaire president, and has been building.

Farcical cruelty and humiliation visited on too many Americans has been tugging on our hems with mounting urgency, making us susceptible to division and cynicism. Our core dissatisfaction and alienation runs as deep as the contradictions upon which our union was founded. Now the pressure is grown fearsomely critical, as even the environment lurches.

The risks to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood and many like it are beyond the aid of autonomous vehicles and smart street lights, or any other type of innovation and economic development. We will need to assign value to humanity, and account for it.

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Foundations + Machine = Winning?

By my spirit animal, as told by Rawrist.

 

Comet Presumes: Council District 4 = Coghill

He will still have to face off against a Republican in the fall: Cletus Cibrone-Abate. But welcome to the mix, Tony! Let’s see what you bring.

Comet Projects: Mayor = Peduto. 4 More Years Unlocked.

Comet endorses Bill Peduto again, hopes for the best!

Bill Peduto is actually a pretty good mayor, as mayors go. If you don’t believe what I have to say below, google it, or google the things I’m writing about. Because I’m not providing links. Either you’ll know it already, or you’ll find out.

screen-shot-2017-05-16-at-7-55-53-am

Even though B-Piddy’s first term as mayor of Pittsburgh was awful hit-or-miss and herky-jerky (and he might be losing his majority on City Council) he is still worth going out and voting for today because he applies himself diligently to statecraft, is open to reason, has a lot of compassionate instincts, a lot of experience, plenty of know-how, is generally accessible, and has kept his administration free from any rank incompetence or sordid scandal, though not mistake and error.

That profile alone is a lot better than the Universe often likes to serve up, in terms of major executive officers.

Usually at this point, somebody objects: “What a low bar you’ve set, for our public officials!”

But is it really? Let us take a moment. No, really. Think about it.

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Is Peduto a neoliberal? Well, he is being dragged in that direction. There is this thing called capitalism, which is presently in command of the means of production.

Some people ask me, “Bram, are you a Democratic Socialist?” I like to tell them, “Yeah, I’m a democratic socialist, but I’m a democratic socialist who gets things done.”

If I don’t vote for Bill Peduto today, that means I’m either voting for John Welch or I’m staying home. And if too many of people do either of those things (in this very sleepy municipal primary) then we wind up with Mayor Darlene Harris.

Now, Mayor Darlene Harris would be an interesting ride. There are fewer flies on her than many seem to realize. But her entire platform and constituency consist in hostile, specious reaction to progressive reform:  from campaign finance, to affordable housing, to reproductive freedom and many vendettas in between. I say “specious” because if she’s not any longer complaining about the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections, then she was probably crying “wolf” the whole time. So now when she says we need a “federal investigation” of the Water Authority, we can see another reckless overreach. What’s been going on over at PWSA over the last 3 1/2 years hasn’t been criminal, it’s just uncivil and unfortunate.

Rev. Welch is calling for a State of Emergency. Now that’s interesting.

Before we drown in our water woes, it’s time to acknowledge John Welch, who hammered away on matters of real urgency: our drinking water, livability for the poor, and corporate accountability. That urgency was as informed as it was disciplined and dignified.

Yet Welch seemed to have a such small campaign operation, for a big city like this. He was no doubt hampered by his inexperience as a political candidate, not to mention the incumbency advantage, and a field split unfavorably against him. If John Welch makes a mark on this election, it will likely be as a spoiler.

And I don’t want things spoiled. There’s a reason Peduto drew only small opposition over what not long ago was a highly sought-after office. Peduto appears politically and competently in charge; many people feel like they can work constructively with him, and it not end in embarrassment or outrage. That’s not always on the menu.

The Pittsburgh Comet endorses a second term for Bill Peduto. Go vote for it. Better that way, than backwards and uncertain. Let’s count our blessings.

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And yet…

Though Mayor Peduto has retained the public’s confidence, and some still cherish high hopes, he has frittered away a lot of the enthusiasm that leads to real political capital, the kind you can exert while governing. The Water Authority after all is only just now entering the “task force” phase. Note also how the Land Bank and affordable housing are taking conspicuously forever, and wonder what that means for PWSA. Nor does any “deal with the nonprofits” show any real signs of being around the corner. Meanwhile, if you’re on the supply side of things, you’re probably noting that progress in the Lower Hill and at the Produce Terminal seems very, very, very tentative at best. Add to this stew how the tenants at Penn Plaza were chased out yet the Whole Foods fell through, and you can see how nobody’s really thrilled. Maybe Nova Place is catching fire, but it sounds quiet. Even Almono is at a snail’s pace; the Oakland Transit Connector sure as heck didn’t happen; if anything that whole Smart Cities Challenge diversion generated more dissonance with Uber than anything. If he spent half as much time in the Run pitching the OTC as he did at the conferences with “innovators,” there would actually be those podraces in Schenley Park. It’s getting a little trite to ask, but is Peduto fundamentally a good “negotiator?” Let’s say the jury is out. He doesn’t always have great negotiating instincts. There had to have been a better way to engage the School Board in their superintendent search, than find himself so thoroughly alienated. He ought to realize that leadership in regards to our water infrastructure is going on MSNBC and talking about how bad these 5,000 cities have it, not going on the City Channel or Twitter to downplay it so defensively. There was no reason to put Chief McLay in such an uncomfortable position at the Democratic Convention and in front of OMI that we had to lose him so soon. There was no reason to sacrifice his defenders’ ability to argue for his integrity, by having his redevelopment chief exploit this one weird trick to hit up developers for bonus stacks of campaign cash.

You may take such impatience and dissatisfaction for so much whinging backseat driving, but it all adds up. While it is voguish to deride political idealism, rebellions are built on hope. I wonder what happens today in District 4 between Tony Coghill and Ashleigh Deemer. Is Peduto’s brand of progressivism still seen as vital and worth fighting for? Or after 3 years of seeing it in practice, are people more in the mood to give the technocratic idealists a break, and instead try something old? Who even becomes Council President if Coghill wins? I’m having trouble counting to five for Bruce Kraus, and that’s trouble for Peduto’s coalition. Without Rudiak to kick around anymore, Peduto allies like Kraus, Gilman and Gross, the so-called “progressives,” might find themselves on the outside looking in. And how would Peduto adapt to that? There’s a very real possibility that the great progressive reform wave in City Hall that began in 2007 might have already reached its high water mark. We’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, I want to see how Peduto finishes this…

… so if you’re still making up your mind, do consider making certain he gets the chance.

Bus Rapid Transit: Four Years Later, Does It Look More Tempting?

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When Bill Peduto was elected mayor, one of the first things he proposed together with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was a new “Bus Rapid Transit” or BRT corridor through Uptown, to be completed hopefully within 3 to 4 years.

3-4 years later, and they are literally back to the drawing board, trying to earn that project’s first green light.

The Post-Gazette in particular seems to like the idea. We mean, really, really like it, in the coordinated promotional “news” article sort of way.

Little wonder: Continue reading

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Flood Rescue on the Scene: Preliminary “Green First” Plan Unveiled

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-2-51-00-pm“Anywhere we have the word ‘Run’, we have floods.”

That’s how Mayor Bill Peduto described the problem to City Council today, at a special meeting on flooding called by Councilor Darlene Harris. Peduto came prepared with a preliminary “green first” stormwater plan and the backing of about eight Departmental officials.

By the end of this year, they intend to finalize a plan that will both “keep water from ever being able to get into the system, and make our rivers cleaner.”

The plan consists of engineering in seven primary “action areas” including Negley Run, Four Mile Run, Sawmill Run and Streets Run for increased green infrastructure: restoring streams and lakes, wetlands, rain gardens and bioswales, Continue reading