Monthly Archives: December 2009


Still the man you love to hate:

In a New Year’s Eve surprise, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl this afternoon vetoed prevailing wage legislation passed unanimously by city council 10 days ago Coming at the end of council’s two-year session, the timing of the veto was apparently meant to leave council no chance to vote to override. (P-G, Rich Lord)

You know, lately there’s been a lot of chatter about a wing of Council that is very concerned about being able to work “collaboratively”, “cooperatively” or “interdependently” with Ravenstahl. It was based on a fallacy that was so divorced from reality, it was hard to spot until just now.

After many meetings, Council came together to pass this law unanimously, 9-0. The administration chose not to take part in the crafting of the legislation, chose not to oppose its passage, and chose not to veto it in a manner consistent with the sensible and fair operation of government. They chose to veto it on New Years Eve, at 3:30 PM, after the Council term came to a close (and one member had actually resigned to become a judge), thereby spitting in the eye of their governmental partners, and of the institution in general.

And we’re supposed to believe it’s Bill Peduto and his ilk that is the source of friction, resentment and ill will on Grant Street. Right. Happy New Year, Luke, I hope it was worth it.

Happy 2010, Pittsburgh!

To: Daniel Lavelle, Theresa Smith *

From: Bram Reichbaum
Subject: Council Prez

Hi folks! I hope you’ve both enjoyed the holidays immensely, and trust you’re both very well-prepared for your first full terms as council members.

I’m addressing this to you both because according to the recent Rich Lord article, you are the two remaining undecided votes for Council President — the “swing votes” if you will — and I see no reason why I shouldn’t take that at face value, at least for the purposes of this blog post. As you’d expect, I have some heartfelt convictions on the matter that I hope you’ll both find constructive in organizing your own thoughts.

First, let me get something out of the way:

“I have issues with both [declared contestants], to be honest,” Councilwoman Theresa Smith said yesterday. Mr. Burgess seems too close to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, she said, and Mr. Peduto seems too far away. (P-G, ibid)

Wow! Theresa, it looks as though you’re open to arranging a “surprise” compromise scenario in which Mr. Dowd — whom you complimented effusively last week as terrifically helpful in joining your coalition working with the non-profit community — emerges as President. Frankly, I’m impressed. You two share a lot of the right things in common, and in truth a world with Council President Dowd would be far from a disaster. However, let me put this as plainly as possible:

Trust me. Abandon ship.

Let’s continue looking at this decision as what it is:

On its surface a contest between Councilmen Ricky Burgess and William Peduto, it is also an opportunity for council to declare either a more collaborative approach to the mayor’s office or a more independent stance. (P-G, ibid)

You both realize that is fine grist for the pundits and the hoi polloi, but nothing more. Regardless of which one wins the Presidency, the same nine individuals are going to be on the Council, and they’re all going to get to voice the same opinions, at the same volume levels and with the same personality quirks, either way. The math doesn’t change. The arguments won’t change. The degree to which a majority of you pull it together to either cooperate with or collectively resist Mayor Ravenstahl in any given situation won’t change.

Which is not to say the vote doesn’t matter, obviously. I think we can acknowledge what’s really at stake here: with Dan Onorato likely to be moving into the Governor’s mansion this time next year, Luke will be exceptionally well positioned to make a run for County Chief Executive in the ensuing special election. And if he is successful, by rule the Council President then becomes Mayor. I think we all have that scenario in the back of our minds.

And to that point, I can’t really influence you; it’s not like I’m going to change your politics here. I guess I could argue that Mr. Peduto is an eight-year veteran on Council who before that was chief of staff to member Dan Cohen for like five years, so not only has he earned it but he could hit the ground running without missing a beat if need be. Rev. Burgess is finishing his sophomore year in city government with some distinction, but I honestly don’t think there’s a comparison to be made there. We can’t afford to be cavalier about these decisions anymore, there’s a city out there to think about.

It also leads me to my main argument, and if you’ve been skimming so far (which would be understandable) you’ll want to stop here and read this. The real reason a Council President matters is not how often they agree with the Mayor, but how well they get along with the other members of Council. Or more to the point, how they run a meeting, how they grind through a discussion, how they comport themselves during a good-faith disagreement.

And on this point, I’ve got to say: these past two years at least, Bill Peduto has been composed, contained, civil and fair to everybody on that Council, every day, hands down. I guess I haven’t watched each and every council meeting, so maybe I shouldn’t overstate the case, but man. He takes some abuse from the other side of that table, right into his face, and not at all veiled or circumspect or anything. And through it all he just sits there, gavel relaxed in his hand, with a neutral expression, slightly glazed over but bearing the patience of a saint. And when it’s finally his turn, even during very heated discussion in which he holds a very hot position, he hasn’t been taking chip shots at other members and waging verbal drive-bys on people. I think that gets back to experience — he’s been there, done that, and had it drilled into him that it doesn’t work.

Which brings us again to Mr. Burgess. If I’m on Council, man do I want him as an ally. Smart, eloquent, knows the rules, knows politics — but if I wind up on the opposite side of an issue from him, and he has that gavel in his hand, do I trust how that meeting is going to go? When he has the floor — and Presidents will give themselves the floor an awful lot — is he more likely to engage an argument, or to disparage the fact that someone is trying to even have an argument, shame the folks on the other side, and move on as fast as possible? And is he more likely to increase or decrease the emotionality of an issue? Compared to Peduto? Two years would be an awful long time to be stifled and disparaged, is what I’m thinking.

It all just gets back to seasoning, to experience. Burgess could stand to get rapped gently on the knuckles for the rough spots in his game, give him something to dwell upon until next time. For Bill Peduto, this is his time. He’s been where you are, and next year wherever you are he’ll still have been where you are. I’m not asking you to pledge your allegiance to him, but I am asking you to trust him to run your meetings. I think you’ll be grateful that you did.


Participants in those meetings said that if Mr. Peduto wins, he has pledged to give the high-profile post of finance chair to Mr. Kraus. Mr. Burgess is said to have promised that job to Mr. Dowd. (P-G, ibid)

Wow, if I didn’t know better — and I’m not sure that I do — that sounds like some “blogging” right there boy.

I don’t know if that’s as done a deal as it sounded, but let me give a shout-out: PATRICK DOWD FOR FINANCE CHAIR. That’s your unity-government move right there, you guys might want to suggest it to Bill if you haven’t already. Dowd brings passion and energy to spare, he brings a demonstrated interest in financial minutia, and lord knows he has the desire. I’d honestly love to see what he could do with that gavel, at least on days when the votes don’t count much.

Frankly, if I’m Bill Peduto I don’t know what I’m gaining by pledging Finance Chair to Bruce Kraus. He’s less likely to vote for Burgess than this moldy piece of pizza crust that I need to throw out. Kind of a politically dunderheaded move of Bill if you ask me, but that’s why we love him. Of course, I’m sure Kraus would make a very capable finance chair also — great, now I’m sure he’s going to clobber me next time he sees me, while Darlene holds me in a headlock.

Anyway. Congratulations on your respective victories once again. If you’d like to discuss the political future in greater depth — yours, mine, ours — maybe we should organize a retreat sometime soon, at the Embassy Suites in Murraysville. They have a bar next door that does karaoke, and I have a coupon.


Whatchu talkin’ bout, Delano?

Let me get this straight. Payne, an incumbent with the party endorsement and the Mayor’s support, just lost an election to Lavelle. Now Ravenstahl is promising to ride to the rescue of Whealtley, a state-level incumbent who will have the endorsement, from this challenge by Payne? Danny, let’s say this is true and Jake is really influencing you to do that. Now let’s say this is you once and for all demonstrating your boundaries vis a vis Jake n@, and call it a day.

Doomed: 1,466 of an Interminable Series

My dad also has a 311 story, one that he has been agitating for me to relay to you all for some time. He called to confirm what he thought he had heard on the news: that the casino parking garage was charging $80.

“Please stay with us, your call is very important to us”, a computerized voice told him. “You are the sixth caller in line.”

So he waited five minutes, ten minutes, close to twenty minutes.

“Please stay with us, your call is very important to us,” the voice returned. “You are the seventh caller in line.”

He hung up. Never called back. Hasn’t visited the casino either.

Me? I once called to figure out whether my street was due for a recycling pickup the present week or the next. My call was answered in under one minute. I was expecting to get transferred to Public Works, which would keep me on hold for an hour and eventually send a team out to my house to give me noogies and a wedgie. But the guy at 311 told me instantly, “Yup, looks like you’re due for recycling tomorrow!” I guess it was an easy question. I wonder if it wound up in the “resolved” or “completed” file.


If you ask me, the policy question ought to be whether we retain our parking garages and hike parking rates ourselves, or lease the garages and let private companies hike them for us. Driving is anti-environmental, regressive, and done largely by suburbanites you know.

“That we would plug a hole in the pension fund by making the city even less attractive to developers, shoppers, business, etc., is simply incredible to me,” wrote David Paul Gleason, senior pastor at Downtown’s First Lutheran Church and chair of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Transportation Committee, in an e-mail. (P-G, Rich Lord)

There are no legitimate ways to fill the pension fund. All means of generating revenue are incredible, awful, immoral and fattening.


If this was The Old Days, you all would already be commenting on this article by now (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones).


It occurred to me a little while ago what is the real purpose of Allegheny County’s brand of home rule government. Not only does it vest a ton of power in one person, but instead of calling that person “The County Commissioner” or something equally commonplace, we call it “The Chief Executive”. You know, as in Chief Executive Officer, as in Executive Power — something that sounds real good when running for statewide office. It’s a governor-building device, and we’re about to see if it works. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)


Don’t get me wrong — we should be celebrating. There was a lot accomplished this year. I do wonder whether we will be needing to revisit either campaign finance or ethics reform just to tighten the bolts, and make the limits, you know, limiting. And I wonder whether “friends” will be needing to register as such on, and whether every hour spent providing friendly “advice” to a politician or simply hanging out at a sporting event will be logged as “lobbying”. But we made our statements and put something on record and that will be very helpful for years to come. (P-G, Edit Board)


And of course! Thanks to the G20, Pittsburgh is on the tip of the tongue of influence makers halfway around the world. No publicity is bad publicity! (NYT’s The Lede, Robert Mackey)



Some items of note been coming crost the blag-o-wire:

2 Political Junkies posts a tweet by Sue Kerr relaying an 11 PM KDKA-TV news report that Officer Hlavac has been terminated by the Police Bureau (bckgrnd). I know that’s a long way to go but I can’t quite believe I don’t yet see it confirmed on any news outlet’s site. *-UPDATE: Clarification, of sorts.

**-UPPERDATE: This is the story (WTAE)

Infinonymous highlights — literally and figuratively — the import of a quote by the defense attorney for state Sen. Jane Orie. The whole idea of a defendant being able to pursue that particular avenue of discovery seems fanciful and a bit impractical. Still — if the D.A. is seen to back down off of Orie now, after that has been said, then confidence in the D.A.’s office will never be the same. Or will remain exactly the same, depending. So it’s kind of an interesting moment.

Null Space
points out helpfully that The Rivers Casino bonds are currently trading at rubbish bond status with no particular cause for optimism in sight. I wonder whether The Great Recession has more to do with the poor performance than anything, and as soon as we experience The Great Recovery along with all its Lagging Indicators then everything will be alright, or at least not quite so scary.


The Slag Heap offers a typically smart post-mortem on the Tuition Tax debacle. The post seems to evaluate the episode’s utility along two avenues: how much cash money the City received (we don’t know if that’s even been worked out yet but we’re assured that it’s “more”) and the degree to which it shook up the system and will provoke further attention (we can’t possibly know yet, only predict). And then it reaches the conclusion that both “sides” — Luke and Good I suppose — will try to spin the results to suit their own purposes, but the truth must necessarily be somewhere in the middle. Wherever the author is, for example.

Allow me to illustrate two other avenues by which the misadventure did damage:

One is that it sacrificed too much of Pittsburgh’s moral high ground in its continuing and very necessary attempts to secure revenue. It ought to have been easy enough for the Little City That Could to win hearts and minds against cash-soaked medical centers and insurers, ever-expanding universities, or even oblivious commuters — but to choose as our target “students” and “education” and “cuteness” surely soured a lot of neutral Pennsylvanians, and even Pittsburghers, against these efforts. It was as though we attempted to knowingly stake out the moral low ground. And now, folks are ill-disposed towards the Money Grubbing City That Hates Youngsters, just when we need sympathy most.

The second is simply that, according to the Mayor’s victory-tale, he bluffed and outmaneuvered the non-profits into making concessions. Yet he did so extremely publicly. And so like the — like the Grown Man Who Cried Wolf — this will necessarily erode his political trustworthiness down the line. The next time he rolls out a major initiative, or threatens action, people will wonder, “Yeah, but what’s he really getting at? What’s his angle? Is he serious this time?” That hesitancy could add real friction to other situations.

I don’t want to oversell all that, though. The fact of the matter is, the New Pittsburgh Coalition — for all its present foibles — is the best vehicle we have going. What we should do, if we are serious about expanding the city’s sovereignty and tax base in the face of these horrendous challenges, is commit this New Pittsburgh Coalition to our memory: editorialize on what a great idea it is, remind ourselves to keep reporting on it somehow, keep asking hard questions of its members, and treat it with anxious hope and guarded optimism for months and months to come. Embryonic as it is, it is nobly enough conceived and could yet grow to do the trick.

Tuition Tax to go Unvoted Upon as Nonprofits Pledge to Do Something *

Details (not) emerging.

The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Highmark will make contributions, although they were unspecified. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Highmark? Huh? Duquesne Light?

*-ANALYSIS: Well, this is certainly not the kind of deal you’d want to take home to mom. The mayor agrees to shelve his Student Tax proposal, and in exchange the universities INSERT RHETORIC HERE. However, to the extent that Pittsburgh has now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it does not have six public officials that are willing to situate themselves inside a pit of live public relations scorpions along with what would otherwise be the rest of their city, this is a day for back-slaps and cigars all around.

Spoken Like a Scientist!

Google is moving its local offices from CMU campus to two floors in Bakery Square, and is said to be “aggressively hiring” to fill the rest of that new space.

“I’m so happy!” said Audrey Russo, president of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. “Our self-esteem should start to go up now, don’t you think?” (P-G, Erich Schwartzel)

Whattaya’ think, Pittsburgh? (& see also Pgh Is A City)

And by the by: is this whole continuing Barack Obama / Bill and Melinda Gates / Google megacloud swirling over the City okay with everybody? KCool…

Brian O’Neill’s Call to Arms: “CONVENE!”

By now you will all have reviewed Mr. O’Neill’s proposal:

Using whatever grammar we like, Pennsylvanians need to take a cleaver to our oversized, over-compensated statehouse and begin anew. (P-G, Brian O’Neill)

And then again:

If there’s a state constitutional convention (as we surely must have), changing the me-me-me culture of Harrisburg should be Job One. Mr. Dawida, for one, suggests that a convention shrink the size of the Legislature by 20 percent, depoliticize the redistricting process and set term limits of, say, 12 years. (P-G, Brian O’Neill 2)

First of all, I’d like to recommend that if we do this, the big heavy rock at the tip of our battering ram should not be “an online petition“. Those are not so intimidating — people fully apprehend how little physical and psychic commitment goes into affixing a name onto a computer form. Get those people on the streets with paper and pen, or with quills and cameras if possible.

Secondly, I’d like juxtapose Mr. O’Neill’s frustration at Harrisburg with a portfolio published recently by PoliticsPA:

The Pennsylvania Influencers list is made out of the Commonwealth’s top business, legal and civic leaders, whose opinions are respected by peers and elected officials alike. The writers consulted with a wide variety of geographically and politically diverse individuals who helped identify these 100 people as the “insiders who insiders turn to when in need.” The group is a mix of donors, organizers, confidants and consultants. These are the people whose opinions matter in the Keystone State. (View from Burgh Chair –> .pdf)

The single-issue magazine came out just in time to hype the year’s annual Pennsylvania Society dinner held in New York City. It is divided into the top 50 Democrats and the top 50 Republicans. John Verbanac is listed 40th or so and as a Democrat — which is fair enough work for an anonymous blog that’s good at “influencing” things.


My points about the Influencers in regards to a possible Constitutional Convention are as follows:

1. I imagine things are the way they are in Harrisburg because individuals such as the 100 Greatest Influencers are generally content with it. Lots of stability, lots of protective inertia, power spread thinly and accumulating in predictable, trustworthy nodes of control. A culture of, “Wait your turn and earn your stripes first,” and then, “You can do anything you want.” Difficult for the average person to use, easy for the right persons to operate reliably.

2. Do we imagine the prospect of a Constitutional Convention along with it’s stated aims will earn support, neutrality or opposition from most of the 100 Greatest Influencers? (It is worth going through and asking them. They are not all History’s Greatest Monsters.)

3. Nevertheless I believe most of them would be sorely disinclined to see slashed the number of their clients legislators to petition, to see cut short the reigns of some of their favorite and most dearly cultivated vendors legislative leaders, or to see reformed the agreeable, “civilized” way in which we manage redistricting every decade.

4. So. While I’m dubious about a Convention ever being convened, I’m not above capitalizing on that inspirational concept to stoke political demand for those specific reforms: overall shrinkage, modest term limits and neutral redistricting. Make no mistake — those are necessary reforms in that body.

And if we’re going to circumvent the Influencers, it’s probably best to do so with a measure of populism.

5. Which means more tea parties. Much respect 2 online petitions, but if I’ve learned one thing about politicians it’s that nothing scares ’em like a bunch of feisty people showing up uninvited.

Parking Authority Hires Yet Another Consultant, Will Pay It Instead of City *

This blog post will expand as time allows, but the questions begged in this news (P-G, Rich Lord) should be immediately apparent.

For background on the policy, see this archival post from the New Pittsburgh Hoagie (and many other sources).

Maybe it begs one main question — what are the five four board members of the Authority purported to be experts in, if they can’t make decisions on anything?

Morgan Stanley has been paid $3 million out of a prospective deal to manage its brokering, and Scott Balice was paid just $30,000 to provide “a second set of eyes.” Now $600,000 out of the city’s operating budget is being paid to “a consultant” to analyze the final decision, and upload its findings to a closed network — for which we are paying an additional $25,000 to a company called Transperfect.*

SLOGAN SUGGESTION: “It’s better than transparent — It’s Transperfect”.

From the home page:

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs) can shorten the due diligence process by over a month. TransPerfect Deal Interactive offers the fastest VDR solution in the industry, allowing you to host and close transactions in record time.

I’m picturing the Director of Finance, the Director of Operations *-UPDATE: the Chairman or Director of the Parking Authority, and the Manger of Policy all bursting into Council Chambers one day, screaming “Sell! Sell!”