Patrick Dowd, former school teacher and father of five, was schmoozing it up at the front of the room with a bunch of uniformed young tikes sitting on the floor.
“And if we think it’s a good idea, we’ll vote for it. If we think it’s a bad idea, we could vote against it, or…”
Darlene Harris entered behind them, and Dowd stopped to introduce her. “Now, not only does Councilwoman Harris care very much about the people who live here, but Councilwoman Harris cares a lot for dogs and cats too! She loves animals!”
In walked Bill Peduto. They discussed how he lives near Frick Park.
“Oh, now here’s Councilman Deasy! Now he’s really really important, because he’s about to be a State Representative!”
Councillors began making their way slowly towards their seats, saying hello to a constituent or media member here and there. Dowd was now entertaining the Schenley High School girls soccer team.
“You guys didn’t do very well this year!”
“Just kidding! Ha ha ha.”
Reverend Burgess entered and began working the room a little more briskly. “How are you. How are you doing, sir. How are you.”
Council President Shields assumed the dais and made some Let’s-Get-Started noises, whereupon most everyone took their seats. Dowd had to be gently nudged to attention by the Sergeant at Arms.
The City Clerk was instructed to call the role. Mr. Burgess — here! Mr. Deasy — here! Mr. Dowd — present!
The schoolchildren giggled.
These kids were introduced by Shields as the Ellis School 2nd grade class, and were asked to lead the room in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. In Council chambers, this means addressing two big American flags crossing one another over a gold bust of a Bald Eagle, high above the rostrum. After the pledge, each of the girls was invited to introduce themselves by first name into the mic, whereupon followed an orderly procession of at least forty that was so cute you could stick a fork in your eye.
Next, Shields acknowledged Tonya Payne, who introduced the 2008 city champion Schenley High School girls soccer team. Payne praised the young women not only for their athletic prowess but for their brains and grade point averages. She emphasized how well-positioned they are to do anything or be anything in this world. She then gave special props to her own niece, who is “this good at every single sport she tries,” and the Council declared Nov. 18th Schenley Girls Soccer Team Day in the City of Pittsburgh.
Payne had a 2nd proclamation to introduce — in recognition of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, who are holding it down locally for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. HCEF was thanked in particular for some initiatives undertaken in Council District 9; Ricky Burgess rose to stand with them during the reading. Council declared the whole week Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in the City of Pittsburgh.
Our final proclamation would be presented by Doug Shields himself, and it would make Wed. Nov. 12th (retroactively) LIHEAP Day, or Low-Income Energy Assistance Program Day. Equitable and Dominion gas companies, Shields said, took part in an event at Heinz Field on that day recognizing and promoting the program. He also thanked Franco Harris for his advocacy.
Shields stressed that “low-income” pretty much means “any income” these days, and he was keen to note that several council members’ households would certainly qualify for assistance. Larger families in particular were encouraged to investigate, but at $23,000 in income or less, even a family of one can qualify. Others can pitch in for the holidays by checking a little box on their gas bills that adds $3 or $5 to the Dollar Energy Fund.
The City itself should get further involved in bringing down the cost of energy, he insisted, since working families are in need. He recommended that the URA conduct energy audits on all its buildings, since there are programs available from state and federal governments to fix up existing buildings. Things like that have been delayed for too many years, he insisted, while draping the President’s rostrum with black-and-gold LIHEAP t-shirts.
After the public comment period — in which mayoral candidate Les Ludwig urged us to move from “Yes we can” to “Yes we will”, and assured us he is the same man he was in 1960 — and after some routine approvals, one important piece of legislation was considered.
Dowd sponsored a resolution authorizing the Mayor to enter into an agreement with the URA to develop “a single, uniform, and readily administered set of requirements concerning the Authority’s retention and use of the Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) loan repayment proceeds”.
As Jim Motznik explained to me the following day, a previous URA director had earmarked these moneys to be spent directly on salaries at the Authority. Dowd’s bill was seeking to provide clarity on what this grant money can be used for, and to reestablish the Council’s oversight over it.
Darlene Harris proposed an amendment putting more strict regulations on use of UDAG money right away — Bruce Kraus seconded it. Dowd objected to these changes, declining to go through them point by point, but assuring the Council that many of her concerns either already are addressed in the nature of UDAG money or will be in the process of developing the standards. Bill Peduto praised the intention behind this amendment, but marked his intention to vote against it to keep reform moving clean and orderly.
Shields allowed that it didn’t look like Harris’ amendment had the votes, but declared his own support for it, saying that both UDAG and CBDG monies at the URA should be brought under closer scrutiny, and hers were perfectly solid measures. Then he called for a vote.
Burgess — no. Deasy — no. Dowd — no. A cell phone began beeping loudly.
Motznik fiddled with his phone’s controls to no avail. He then rose, opened the door, set his phone on the marble floor of the hallway and slid it about thirty feet away, like an Olympic curler. Then he shut the door and returned to the table.
Harris — yes. Kraus — yes. Motznik — no. Payne — no. Peduto — paaauuse — yes, after all! With Shields the Chair voting yes, the amendment was defeated only by a close 4-5 margin. Councilman Burgess could be seen leaning back in his seat with his eyes closed, rubbing his forehead.
The vote for final action on Dowd’s legislation succeeded 8-1, after which Harris thanked Dowd for taking leadership on the issue, and Dowd declared his expectation that more will be done to straighten out URA budgetary issues by January.
Since there was no more pressing business and no announcements, the Council would recess for an hour and a half before holding a special meeting on a proposed handgun ordinance. Shields flagged me down to ask me to promote the LIHEAP program on the blog.
Dowd came over and somehow we three started talking about Facebook and MySpace, and then the future of the Democratic party. Dowd floated the idea that since he’s such an “extreme” Democrat, a real Democrat’s Democrat, he was thinking of maybe switching over to the Republican party.
“Oh, no,” advised Shields. “You don’t want to do that.”