Monthly Archives: April 2007

Interview: Michael Lamb

“I decided to run for this office before he got sick — I actually talked to Bobby about it.”

That would be Mayor Bobby O’Connor, and this was sometime around June of last year.

“He was very open about it” Lamb says.

So, does that mean back-slaps, and cigars all around?

“No, no.” Lamb laughs. “At the time, Tony [Pekora] was the only other guy interested. He said I should probably talk it over with Tony.”

Since the tragedy that befell the O’Connors, had he ever thought about switching gears, and running for Mayor right now in ’07 instead of City Controller?

Not really, he says. “You have an incumbent, in a multi-candidate field — well, I might have given it more thought.”


“The city code says there should be fiscal audits of every department every four years” Lamb explains. Some departments, he says, have not been audited in over ten years. He claims there have been years when they have not audited a single department.

He doesn’t remember City Council ever having been audited.

We asked if he was sensitive to the intense budget cuts at the Office of Controller. He admitted that conducting the audits to meet the letter of the charter is out of the question right now. And he also allowed that the annual report takes a lot of manpower and energy.

Still, he insists, “There just hasn’t been leadership for the basic stuff.”

We asked for his priorities on day one, and he kept harping on two themes: improved information systems, and greater city / county collaboration.

The controller’s office and many city departments are not even using the same accounting software, he says, and that makes it hard to function.

He has encouraged city government to make some upgrades, but, he says, “I’m dealing with that resistance.”

Is “that resistance” what he would call a “Pittsburgh thing”?

“I don’t want to say it’s not disciplined,” he begins, “but there’s a failure to stay ahead on the tech curve.” He describes a city that reacts to stress by falling back on what is familiar — even if it fails to address the actual problem.

He suggests that the city piggy-back on some good and flexible software already utilized by the school board. He says that will save not just the cost of a new system, but a ton of work.

That brought up the subject of School Board audits. “Clearly the Controller is the Controller of the school boards — but we still need permission to do any kind of performance audit.” He recommends making a more persuasive case to the school board for these, asserting that these have been shown to save the schools money in the past.

We asked if something similar was going on with the Pavement Management System. He says in that case, when the city could no longer afford to pave all those roads, it solved the problem by generating the full list, and then picking and choosing off that list.

“Once you start picking from the list, though, it becomes a lot easier…” and he kind of trailed off.

This gets him on the subject of data-driven decision making, on which he is passionate.

“When I talk about the kind of government I talk about on the stump …” he talks a lot about a government Pittsburgh can be proud of … “the key is having a government where the decisions are data-driven.

Okay, we asked. Aside from science. Will you use the office to advocate for anything in particular?

“I will tell you this. We will not do an audit without advocating a collaborative effort,” usually between the city and the county. Although they may wind up recommending against collaboration in a given review, he doesn’t seem to think it’ll happen that often.

Even on issues of diversity, he recommends a merger between the two redundant offices charged with assisting qualified minority contractors, at the city and county level. He thinks this would be much more efficient for the interested businesses.

Given the city’s looming fiscal crisis, we asked, where exactly in the budget he would begin to look for savings?

He wants that decision to be “data-driven” in itself — he is stubbornly messianic and serious about this. But we pressed him, and here’s how he broke it down:

“You need to have someone asking questions. How do you buy smoke-busters for offices in a smoke-free building?”

Lamb also points out that over 70% of city workman’s comp is collected by firefighters. Yes, he agrees, that’s a dangerous job, but how about the police? Public works, even?

He shrugs. “My guess is it’s about training.” He even joked wryly that although it’s a wonderful thing to have brave firefighters, maybe ours are a little too brave.


Speculation abounds that Michael Lamb is running for Controller as a stepping stone toward running for Mayor in ’09. But with all these reforms on his plate — surely he would rule that out?

He says something about the office of controller being a good challenge for him, for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve actually stood for office in every municipal election this century” he sighs. “I’ve had enough.”

“Besides,” he says, “I have a feeling that by 2009, this current mayor will be doing some things — he’ll be well on his way.”

Review: Big Momma’s House of Soul

Big Momma’s House of Soul is a new take-out restaurant near the corner of Penn Avenue and 16th Street. You go now. They put shrimp in the cornbread.

The sweet potato pie is made fresh every morning, as is the apple cobbler. Both made us weak in the knees.

The grilled chicken sandwich is just a big honking cutlet of chicken, with a thick slather of extremely zesty barbecue sauce, slapped between two buns. The side-order of collard greens made it all good for us.

The prices are right in the zone. The decor is tasteful / adorable, although a little seating would be nice.

UPDATE 4/10/08: What are we saying? When the weather is nice, the empty lot next door converts into the a picnic area, replete with giant outdoor grill. WHY HAVEN’T YOU VISITED YET?

Now It’s Time For An Update

Ah, the joys of editing the blogroll! The Comet welcomes the Pissed Gazette [no relation] whose editor is the winner of the movie-poster contest. We eagerly await her submission.

Cognitive Dissonance has been long overdue. Also, good old Skip.

To make room, the Comet bids a fond farewell to Tunesmith & Anthony. Fans know how to reach them through PittGirl.

We welcome the Steel City Stonewall Democrats to our expanded Resources section. Since the Man still kind of sucks at blogging, much of the contents have been collapsed therein.

Speaking of Resources, have you ever checked out those City Paper Gyrobases? One click brings up a list of everything going on in the city tonight. Any night. Now that’s a service we’re happy to pirate!

Four Hundred Miles into Mexican Territory

In advance of Memorial Day, Null Space brings to our attention the Battle for Vera Cruz in 1914, which took a heavy toll on soldiers hailing from Pittsburgh.

The battle took place during the thick of the Mexican Punitive Expedition, for which Mr. Briem links to a history in a Part 1 and a Part 2.

We don’t know if Mr. Briem was getting at this or not, but the parallels between the Mexican Punitive Expedition and current U.S. conflicts are numerous, obvious, and salient.

So how did the M.P.E. work out? Spoiler alert:

Despite its failure to capture Pancho Villa, the Mexican Punitive Expedition can be deemed a success. Secretary of War Baker praised the efforts of Pershing and his men by stating that “its objective, of course was the capture of Villa, if that could be accomplished, but its real purpose was a display of the power of the United States into a country disturbed beyond control of the constituted authorities of the Republic of Mexico as a means of controlling lawless aggregations of bandits and preventing attacks by them across the international frontier. This purpose is fully and finally accomplished.”

After a strategic and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. forces, everyone lived happily ever after. The End.

Monday, Monday

The P-G’s Joe Smydo finally breaks down the big fight for District 2 School Board in a way we can understand.

Heather Arnet is a strong supporter of Superintendent Roosevelt, and has the backing of Patrick Dowd, the departing incumbent. Stephanie Tezca is more ambivalent about Roosevelt’s heavy-handed reforms, especially as they impact special-needs children. Although Tezca had originally pledged to respect Dr. Dowd’s choice for a successor, we suppose things change.

On a separate page, the P-G editorial board endorses Arnet, not seemingly on those issues, but because she is a “bright, young professional” that is “brimming over with ideas.”


The TRIB’s Jason Cato examines the House Judiciary Committee’s interest in speaking with local U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. We weren’t expecting this:

Her office has opened at least five investigations into prominent Democrats over the past five years. Critics say she has ignored allegations against fellow Republicans during that time.

Editorial Aside: The Comet reserves judgement until some of these critics come forth to make a case. (UPDATE: Their name might be “Arlen,” h/t Early Returns).

So far it would appear that Ms. Buchanan is only guilty of identifying strongly with the avowed priorities of the Bush administration. Of course if the Congress feels a need to question her, we hope she acquits herself better than Attorney General Gonzales. Here we go, Pittsburgh.


You all must hear the podcast and read the post on the Ethics Board beat from the Busman. The upshot:

All three are very circumspect in their answers. They emphasize what they see as the educational and service role of the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board.

He reports. We’ll decide.

Interview: DaMon Macklin

DaMon Macklin is desperate not to be pigeon-holed as the African-American candidate for Controller. It is true one of his central campaign planks is to “demystify” the bidding process for city contracts, and to be far more pro-active in encouraging qualified minority-owned businesses.

But it seems more accurate to pigeon-hole Macklin as the youth candidate.

He received a Bachelor’s in Finance from Slippery Rock University in 2005. He got a job as a loan officer for the North Side Community Development Fund, but after a time, he got laid off.

He applied to many companies, and got called back to second and third interviews — but never crossed the finish line. He tried opening his own company, but Pittsburghers thus far have been resistant to trust the new kid on the block.

“This is an old city, pretty much run by an old guard.” he says. “People tell me, go to another city, you have these credentials, you’re feisty!”

“We have some of the brightest minds in this city, with all the colleges and universities,” Macklin laments, “but when you graduate, it’s like, Happy Trails!”

Stubbornly refusing to abandon the city that he still loves, he decided to channel his emotion into politics.

He admits that on the campaign trail, people are leery of voting for someone they see as running for a job. But he’s hard on “lifetime politicians” who aren’t performing — let alone political dynasties. “You’re telling me your family is the only one that knows how to think?”

“Look around the city, you see blight, despair, no hope. I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on.”

“If you look at the qualifications of the people who are in office…” Macklin frequently reminds audiences of his finance degree. “You talk about experience — but we’re moving backward.”

Macklin sees doesn’t see public office-holding as a career. He thinks people should be popping in and out of the private sector more frequently. “I want to do a service, lay a foundation, and pass it on.”

“I want to help Ravenstahl — if he fails, that’s a hindrance on me.”


Macklin plainly states that “small businesses are getting murdered.” That’s the focus of his reform measures, in terms of seeking out and awarding city contracts — he wants to cater to smaller businesses, minority-owned or otherwise.

“We invest heavily into structures,” Macklin asserts, by which he means buildings of all kinds. “What I want to do is invest into people.” He wants to have a person in the Controller’s Office that specifically deals with community issues.

On fiscal policy, Macklin is a pragmatist. He says the biggest problem we face as a city is a declining tax base, and so would recommend lowering some taxes and offering phased tax-incentives to attract big business.

At the same time, with the budget crunch we face, Macklin says we need to utilize the tax base we do have to generate more revenue. “Take a look at the occupation tax — it should be on a graded scale.”

He also recommends a commuter tax, and cites Philadelphia as an encouraging example.

Macklin is also a big one for government transparency. “No one likes an auditor — but every city council person needs to open their books.” He also wants to watch closely that the city gets its fair share of revenues from the new casino.


Despite his veiled threat to skip town if the May primary doesn’t work out his way — remember, every time a young professional leaves Pittsburgh, an angel dies — Comet readers should be pleased to hear that Damon Macklin scored a local job in his field. He acknowledges his underdog status in this race.

“I put myself into the fire,” he explains. “I wanted to learn, and to experience. Pittsburgh does sort of have a mentoring problem,” which he looks forward to addressing, either way.

Drama at the ACDC

The headquarters of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee is investigating a former committee member / office holder / operative.

The departing party is said to have “mucked up the system,” and the ACDC claims to have proof of this.

Legal department / law enforcement is getting involved. A detective, and/or perhaps a private investigator, has been engaged.

One Strong Candidate

Char, blogger-editor of the soon-to-be-linked Pittsburgh Pist-Gazette: One of America’s Great Web Newbies.

Moving Forward, and Backward, Forward, Backward, Forwardbackwardforward YES!

The new slogan on the marquee of the Garden Theater:


According to Diana Nelson Jones, the city rejected at least 44 other ideas (if you take the literal interpretation of adding “dozens” to “another score”) submitted by neighborhood residents and P-G readers, because none of them adequately marketed the property to potential investors.

In other words … again with his name on stuff.

Comet readers wise in the ways of Photoshop are invited to superimpose Mayor Ravenstahl’s image (if you can find one) onto a movie poster — perhaps a “Garden style” movie. The winner will get to write a new subheading on the Comet title banner, unless we don’t like your idea.

Women of Pittsburgh PLAY ULTIMATE

Ultimate Frisbee is a sport that resembles football and soccer, but is totally non-contact. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself, if you like getting in awesome shape, meeting cool people, and frolicking in the sun.

A Skills Clinic for women will be held this Saturday the 21st, and a beginner-friendly Women’s League will commence the following week. Check out the thread on our bulletin-board hyeah, and let Jenny know you’ll be attending.

Next comes the truly massive, legendary, co-ed Pittsburgh Summer Ultimate League!

Ultimate has been exploding in our region. The Pittsburgh Highschool Ultimate League features 36 teams from 22 different area schools, and administers its own scholarship for the best student-athletes who choose to attend college in the ‘Burgh.

Meanwhile, the club level, Mens, Womens, and Masters teams have been breaking through UPA Sectionals and Regionals to make some noise at the National Championship tournament.

Get to know us a little better by eavesdropping on the following b-board threads:

Student seeks advice for recruiting new players.

Discussion about the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
Ideas on celebrating our 25th Anniversary