Monthly Archives: May 2007

The Mark DeSantis Post

The P-G’s Rich Lord frames him as Marcus the Consolidator:

“When I think of consolidation, that is something that on Day One we would go after,” he said yesterday. “Every function of government, every single function of government, is on the table to possibly be merged.”

That contrasts Mr. DeSantis with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who has cautiously approached the folding of parts of city government into the county.

However, this puts him in striking accord with incoming controller Michael Lamb. We wonder how Mark DeSantis feels about data-driven decision making.

He said he’s heartened by the Democratic primary victories of three city council challengers, and the pro-change platform of Councilman William Peduto, who abandoned a primary run against the mayor in March.

“This will cut across party lines,” Mr. DeSantis said. “If you want change, profound change, that’s what we’re about.”

Oh, it’s we now, eh Kemo Sabe?

Not to be grossly outdone, the Trib’s Jeremy Boren keys in on finances more broadly:

“The debt and liabilities are really off the scale,” he said. “Unless it’s addressed right now, directly, on a grand scale, it will overwhelm this city. It will overwhelm our ability to take care of ourselves. And to me that’s a big deal.”

We wonder how long it will take until DeSantis is cast as a dangerous pessimist, and an anti-Pittsburgh’s-futurist.

We learn that DeSantis has a master’s in business administration, another master’s in technology management, and a doctorate in public policy.

He worked for George H.W. Bush and for Senator John Heinz; two more palatable Republicans you can not find.

At the present moment, the media — from the mainstream to the backwaters and everything in between — is largely inclined to report on what Mr. DeSantis has to say.

If Mark DeSantis and his cheerleaders ever learn to stop describing their aspirations as “at least getting Ravesntahl to debate,” then little will stop him from being perceived as a serious candidate — and those rusty Republican cash spigots might finally start turning.

All Eat n’ Parks Go Smoke Free!!

The Trib’s Kim Lyons has the scoop.

“We’ve been following the smoking ban situation in Allegheny County, and the state’s efforts, and we just decided we couldn’t wait any longer,” said Eat’n Park spokesman Kevin O’Connell. “We want to be nothing less than the world’s best family restaurant, and this is an important step in that direction.”

This will surely alter the composition of Eat n’ Park clientele somewhat — we are thinking of the location on Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill, filled with rebellious teenagers and college-age night crawlers through the wee hours of the morning.

Then again — mightn’t they continue to show up, and simply wind up smoking less as a result? Mightn’t just a few of those kids, who would otherwise have been exposed to the ultra-cool world of smoking over Cookie Fudge Fantasies, actually dodge the nicotine bullet altogether?

Fantastic Voyage

P-G columnist Brian O’Neill wistfully recalls an accidental car trip he took down the East Busway, some 18 years ago. A wrong turn on Baum Blvd. resulted in a miraculously swift, strikingly beautiful, utterly stress-free trip straight to the heart of downtown.

Former County Chief Jim Roddey has been enjoying personal busway privileges since he stepped out of office, but that perk was just recently stripped away. O’Neill used the occasion to beg Roddey into taking him along for one last glorious ride, for auld lang syne.

Editorial Aside: If it means that much to you, Brian — all together now — RIDE THE FRiKKiNG BUS!!!!!

Casino Master Plan Unanimously Approved

The Planning Commission hearing we witnessed yesterday, which ended in a unanimous vote of approval, was full of spite and acrimony.

The chair of the Planning Commission itself lacerated the mayor’s Gaming Task Force for not having provided a single, comprehensive report of the progress it was charged with facilitating, and for providing no representative to the hearing.

City transportation planner Sidney Kaikai fumbled through a long synopsis of sixteen traffic-related conditions the casino must meet for approval, and avowed repeatedly to much progress already made, and the nearness of agreement. However, this rosy assessment was repeatedly and emphatically contradicted by all stakeholders concerned.

David Hillenbrand, president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said the casino development project posed an “existential” threat to the Carnegie Science Center. Other science center officials testified that PITG Gaming had not been remotely cooperative, and in fact the few new modifications over the past month will make things even worse.

Steelers representatives also testified to zero progress, and described a pattern of PITG promising cooperation, accomplishing nothing, and taking advantage of deadline pressure to get what they desire.

The Pirates also objected to approval, and disagreed with the Planning Commission’s legal definition of “shall.” In their view, to say roads “shall be provided for” means the plans must be concrete and the roads yet-to-be-finished; not the plans themselves yet-to-be-envisaged.

The Commission itself seemed chronically unaware of its own procedures, precedents, and especially of its powers to enforce the conditions. At one point, a science center official interrupted to tell them they absolutely did have the power of enforcement, and that they should consult their solicitor.

For its part, a PITG official seated behind us kept muttering that giving the commission powers of enforcement would be “opening Pandora’s box,” and that all the stakeholders could “just line up.” In public comments, the PITG rep accused their neighbors as being unreasonably all-or-nothing and too quick to resort to bashing the casino’s intentions, and of shutting them out of negotiations.

After the comment period, during the brief “deliberations,” one commission member lamented that no one had come forward to argue on behalf of taxpayers, who must be impatient to start realizing casino revenues. He said that the commission “should not be seen to hold things up,” seeming to beg the question of whether something ought to be held up for good reason.

They wasted little time getting to a vote, and although ironically it was the casino that tried to object at the last minute to a condition involving a gradation, the master plan, with the city’s sixteen conditions, won unanimous approval. The Comet gauges the likelihood of legal action at the state Supreme Court as high-to-definite.

It may or may not be instructive to note what a mid-size birdie just told us: that two Democratic committee members (one a ward chair) were appointed to seats on this Planning Commission by Mayor Ravenstahl in the week just prior to committee endorsements.

Wednesday Briefing

Mark DeSantis got a whopping 910 write-in Republican votes, enabling him to face-off against Democrat Luke Ravenstahl in November. A preview of the big showdown, care of the P-G’s Ann Belser:

“We need to bring back the spirit of public service and excellence to government,” Mr. DeSantis said. “This is just a great wonderful city and it’s not fulfilling its potential.”

And this from Ravenstahl:

“I look forward to continuing to govern the city of Pittsburgh, which ultimately, in my opinion, good government translates to good politics, so that’s what the focus will be.”

Ravenstahl kicked off his bid for election by proposing to eliminate the 1.25% amusement tax on non-profits, reports the P-G’s Tim McNulty. This will save performing arts groups $450,000 per year, much to the delight of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Or, if you prefer, it will cost the city roughly 4 (four) McNeillys annually.


The Trib has two (two?) articles by Andrew Conte about the history of illicit gambling in the city.

Did you know that the city charges a $485 annual licensing fee per video poker or slots machine utilized “for entertainment purposes only?” Perhaps not for much longer.

Simone Hickey holds licenses for five machines at her South Side gift shop. She said she doesn’t pay out money to players, but worries about losing customers when the casinos open.

Without the income, she would have to work longer hours or offer more merchandise. She fears the city will outlaw the entertainment-only games.

“Why now kick us to the curb?” said Hickey, owner of Simone’s in the 1400 block of East Carson Street. “(The games) are part of my income. If they do that, aren’t they being hypocritical?”

Editorial Asides: No sympathy for such scofflaws? Check out the other, more historical article:

Gus Greenlee, a numbers runner in the Hill District from the 1920s to 1940s, used his proceeds to open the original Crawford Grill nightclub, form the Pittsburgh Crawfords Negro League baseball team and build a $100,000 stadium in the neighborhood.

Tell us again why the state feels it so important that only a select few get to “run numbers”?

And finally:

“Go to some of these social clubs, and who goes in there to politic, to drink beers?” McCabe said. “It’s the police chief, the local politicians meeting in different social clubs where they have these slot machines going.”

Why are these politicos unable to get their work done over an innocent root-beer float?

From Newark to Pittsburgh

The New York Times has a gargantuan story by Andrew Jacobs called Newark Battles Murder and its Accomplice, Silence. It describes a scene common to many American cities, very much including our own.

It covers outdated police equipment, political patronage, and lack of opportunity in poor areas. Yet what struck us most is the universality of these kind of tales:

One night, the rookies clambered over backyard fences in pursuit of a mugger, tackled and handcuffed the suspect and marched him to the crime scene, only to have the victim snatch back his wallet, refuse to press charges and saunter away without so much as a thank you.

This cannot be simply attributed to a wildly successful “stop snitching” campaign. It was the reality that caused the slogan. Mistrust of the police now comes naturally and easily.

In the few moments it took officers to scurry down the block, the killer had vanished, leaving a man slumped in the street with a bullet in his face and bystanders who treated investigators like a band of pesky door-to-door salesmen, shrugging that they had witnessed nothing.

It really, really, really is like Iraq.

Just as the article was becoming too depressing to read, the futility too overwhelming to bother with, comes this note, tossed-in as an aside after fifty paragraphs:

Most of the killings are drug-related, and while a new citywide narcotics unit is making a dent, Newark’s reputation for having the purest heroin in the region keeps the customers coming, and the South Ward’s four highways bring them straight to the Fifth.

One reason the cops operate in isolation is because everybody has something to hide, or somebody to hide. Respect for the law has suffered because the law is now consumed with hypocrisy and trivialities — and is complicit in creating opportunities for lawbreakers.

There is a solution to urban violence. Or rather, there is a hugely necessary first part of the solution, and it is sitting right under our noses.

The Week in Comments

The facts are that during the heat of a political battle much is said and much must be forgotten.
Tony Ceoffe, on the Burgh Report, reacting to criticism of his son’s letter in the P-G.

All the cat-fighting, the snits & snipes, the embarrassing disarray and airing of laundry … These are all good things. They mean an earthquake DID shake Pittsburgh on the Tuesday primary. I’m uplifted.
Char, on the Comet, inspired by the leaked e-mail from Mayor Ravenstahl

Luke wasn’t there? But he was just in Harrisburg! Please, tell me that you are wrong and that he made it to this one. There is nothing — nothing — more important than getting a handle on gun violence right now.
Richmond K. Turner, on the Comet, referencing the recent PA mayor’s conference on gun violence

The problem is that each time something is dangled in front of Doug for his personal benefit (e.g. the promise of the machine endorsement or council presidency), he completely loses his mind and dives into shark infested waters head first, abandoning his sense of what’s right.
Anonymous, on the Burgh Report, about Councilman Shields

The animal control contract was on Councils agenda for next week. COSTA AND KLIMOVICH tried to push it through without council approval. THE PRICE PER ANIMAL WOULD HAVE WENT UP TO $182 an animal. MAYBE THERE WERE KICK BACKS INVOLVED???????????????
Animal Lover, on the Burgh Report, in reference to Puppygate

Look down along the left-hand side of your keyboard. See that one labelled “Caps Lock”? Hit it one time. Then remove it from your keyboard so that you are never tempted to use it again.
Richmond K. Turner, on the Burgh Report, on blurghosphere decorum

Right, so apparently actually there might be a level of agreement that it might be nice if Mayor Ravenstahl were to place some images of Mayor O’Connor around the city. The teen employment program might be a perfect opportunity; Bob O’Connor’s picture should be on those Redd Up t-shirts. Just my opinion.
Ed Heath, on the Pittsburgh Hoagie, on respecting the O’Connor legacy

In a weird way I think that this is one arena being a woman does help – men get to wear navy or grey or black or pinstripe suits, basic ties, buttoned down shirts and that is about it. We get to have a bit more creatiivity with what we wear and I think because of it more personality actually gets to shine through to the voters.
Heather A, on the Ideas Bucket, on politics and fashion

Let’s Over-Analyze!

The prickly e-mail sent from Mayor Ravenstahl to Councilman Shields and his colleagues has already been reported upon by everybody from Rich Lord to PittGirl.

For the record, our favorite part was the subject header: a caps-locked “WELCOME BACK!”

Our first impression was if Doug really had been M.I.A. for a few months, then maybe Luke was not really so out-of-line. It even occurred to us that maybe the mayor’s office itself leaked the letter.

However, whether or not the sentiment was warranted, there is little doubt that the missive was — for lack of a better word — snotty. Gratuitously snotty, considering that Luke is the nation’s youngest big-city mayor, and he should be anxious to demonstrate his gravitas.

This morning’s P-G described a “feisty” council “rebuffing” the mayor on a couple of items, so we are left to conclude that Ravenstahl is alarmingly unaccustomed to feistyness and rebuffery.

Surf over to the Busman’s Holiday and listen to the podcast of Councilman Koch reflecting on his own election defeat. He muses that maybe council turnover will be “good for the city,” and will provide more “checks and balances” for the mayor.

If this thought occurred to Koch — who would have every reason to be bitter — then a mood of indignant resurgence must certainly be prevailing throughout council chambers.

Besides which, that kind of frustrated sarcasm can not have arisen simply from a car-sharing bill and a dog bill alone, IOHO. Something boiled over.

Seeing as how Luke carbon-copied his snit to the rest of council, we are guessing that it was Doug’s office that released the e-mail: it (and his measured response) only reflects well on his image as a council leader and stander-upperer.

Smoking Ban Fails on Appeal

Allegheny County was dealt another defeat yesterday, when a three-judge state appeals court ruled that we do not have the authority to enact and enforce our own smoking ban.

No, this did not already happen. The courts had previously filed injunctions against the ban, until a future ruling. This was the appeal at the state level, and Allegheny County lost.

From the P-G’s Ward and Srikameswaran:

“If it’s a statewide ban that includes everyone, including casinos, I don’t have a problem with that,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Everyone knows smoking is bad for you. We’re just trying to protect our livelihood here.”

From the Trib’s Justin Vellucci:

“This is a victory for all citizens, because it means our rights haven’t been eroded,” said James Mitchell, who owns Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bar. “Do we want more government? Most people would say a resounding ‘No.’ “

Which is it?

From the Comet:

“We enjoy the atmosphere of gritty, nihilistic rebelliousness that smoking affords us,” thought Mr. Mitchell. “We don’t want to have to look at those prissy Highland Park types. Plus, the dump trucks full of cash provided by R.J. Reynolds are a nice bonus.”

Allegheny County can still appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Last Chance City Paper!!!

The cover may have said Summer Guide 2007, but this last edition of the City Paper was all about violence.

Charlie Deitch took a dimmer view of the mayor’s Homewood press conference than most of the mainstream media. Ravenstahl’s emphasis on law enforcement contrasted with the community’s demand for jobs, sometimes in the form of heckling and counter-heckling.

Chris Potter columnitated on the need for tighter gun control legislation, and was hysterical about Republican attempts to cast widespread gun ownership as a solution.

Dr. “Kimberly Ellis” Goddess bemoaned the casualties of “an economic war and the lost war on drugs” — but calls only for some “new civil rights movement,” not daring to directly voice support for an absolutely necessary and extremely overdue withdrawal from this insane drug war.

Finally, Violet Law chronicles some bizarre and alarming random acts of violence against city bikers, making us wonder if our whole culture in general has gone to pot.

This all would have dovetailed nicely with today’s mayors conference on gun violence, organized by the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities. However, our own Mayor Ravenstahl seems to have spent the day in Washington, DC, building relationships to shore up city finances.

We hope his eight-point plan turns out to be a real corker, anyhow.