by Bram Reichbaum
*-UPDATE: Forgot to mention: this is all scheduled to be taken care of on Monday. Unsurprisingly, there are indications the state House’s thinking on passing transportation funding is being dragged into this discussion.
Mass transit is about to undergo a shake-up, and the local public servant with the most to say about it is brand new to most City and inner-ring dwellers.
Sen. Randy Vulakovich (vu-LOCK’-uh-vich’) arrives at our political shores via a unique path. A former police officer from Shaler Township, in 2006 he won the GOP nomination and general election to replace State Rep. Jeff Habay, who was convicted for corruption. And in 2012, he was selected by the Republican party to be its candidate in the special election to fill Sen. Jane Orie’s seat, also convicted of corruption.
People may keep turning to him in the aftermath of these debacles because he takes a pretty hands-off view towards accepting perks.
Finally, due to legislative redistricting, Sen. Vulakovich’s district is grabbing a lot of what will soon not be Sen. Jim Ferlo’s seat. That sort of makes him Pittsburgh’s Republican in the State Senate.
Most Republicans have lost most of their patience with the Port Authority of Allegheny County, particularly in regard to its efforts to budget effectively. Lately, it may have occurred to them that their era of total control — GOP Governor, GOP House, GOP Senate — simply cannot last forever.
Despite the fireworks playing out on personal levels, that’s why Senate President Pro-Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson County) is now moving a bill that not only would strip County Executive Rich Fitzgerald of almost all his control over the region’s mass transit agency — but when you do the math, would also go a very long way towards ensuring it stays in Republican hands.
Make no mistake: Randy Vukovich is a Republican. It’s true, he may have been among the first to begin discussing an impact fee for gas drilling, and he seems have a better understanding of unions than most owing to his experience in the FOP. But his conservative bona fides are crystal clear.
The two questions are: does he have a recognition, or at least soft spot, for the economic importance and potentials of transit? And/or does he look forward to engaging in dramatic ideological trench warfare near his backyard?
By all accounts, local progressives seem fine with distributing more board seats on the Port Authority board to more stakeholders. There’s even a sense of relief that Republicans have decided to engage directly. Taking responsibility is great, familiarity breeds understanding.
But that’s why Shawn was talking about compromise. If this is seen as a “hostile takeover” — one party (the one Allegheny County voters can’t seem to elect in large numbers) cleverly taking over majority control of the Port Authority in a backdoor way — that sort of thing actually verges on usurping our own representation. Add to it the indignity of the new folks in charge not being from here, or not having ridership experience, and I told Pittsburghers for Public Transit straight-up: that would be time to break out the tri-corner hats and the Don’t Tread on Me’s flags. That’s verging on unusually Unamerican.
Of course, not everybody is going to be happy with any result, and things do have to change. Something real, not a token. Something that encourages further compromises at the Port Authority down the road, constructive ones, stretching the possibilities in addressing costs. But let’s not let this thing spin into a lab experiment in proxy warfare and subjugation.
Pittsburgh is exhibiting some real positive energy, and it would be nice to capitalize on that economic potential by helping everything from Connoquenessing to Zelienople be part of that engine. Let’s focus on getting to the point where that’s a conversation that can happen.
Besides which, the rank and file Dems of Pittsburgh aren’t the most loony-tunes partners when it comes to transit governance. Remember that one-week story when the County Executive tried to make the wrong guy Director of the Port Authority? It failed to happen. Remember when he tried demanding resignation letters from the board to compel strict obedience? Those were torn up. We’re more practical than we’re given credit for.
We don’t know anything about the new Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Pittsburgh yet, but we’d like to be able to say, “He’s good on some issues,” or “He’s good on transit,” or even, “You can work with him.” After all the only way things happen if you can make connections on these other sides. Otherwise it’s just… well, it’s Harrisburg.
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