Monthly Archives: June 2013

“Flag on the Play…” The Voting Rights Act – The Supreme Court Calls a Penalty – On Congress

By Shawn Carter

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964

“Supreme Court voids key part of Voting Rights Act”

Ever since the high Court delivered its ruling yesterday in Shelby County v. Holder, I’ve been trying to figure out how to pen this missive.

There are myriad angles which one could cover, every single one of them a legitimate course.

But the more I read the Opinion, the more one singular point jumps out at me.

The Chief Justice warned America, and Congress, four years ago, that a majority of the Court held serious reservations about the constitutionality of the very “key” part of the Voting Rights Act that they struck down earlier this week.

Let’s start there.  Because this decision should not only have not come as a surprise to the advocates of the Voting Rights Act, but forces us to ask some very uncomfortable questions of those we depend on to defend our rights and liberties.

From  Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District One v. Holder, Attorney General, (2009)

The evil that §5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions. 

For example, the racial gap in voter registration and turnout is lower in the States originally covered by §5 than it is nationwide. 

Congress heard warnings from supporters of extending §5 that the evidence in the record did not address “systematic differences between the covered and the non-covered areas of the United States[,] . . . and, in fact, the evidence that is in the record suggests that there is more similarity than difference.” 

(“The most one can say in defense of the [coverage] formula is that it is the best of the politically feasible alternatives or that changing the formula would . . . disrupt settled expectations”).

The parties do not agree on the standard to apply in deciding whether, in light of the foregoing concerns, Congress exceeded its Fifteenth Amendment enforcement power in extending the preclearance requirements. 

The district argues that “‘[t]here must be a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted to that end,’”

The Federal Government asserts that it is enough that the legislation be a “‘rational means to effectuate the constitutional prohibition,’” 

That question has been extensively briefed in this case, but we need not resolve it. The Act’s preclearance requirements and its coverage formula raise serious constitutional questions under either test.

So there you have it.  In clear, and unmistakable terms, the Roberts Court told Congress EXACTLY what would happen as soon as Sections 4 and 5 were properly before the Court.  In 2009.

Pop quiz:  Who exactly controlled the White House and BOTH houses of Congress in 2009?

The Democratic Party.  The party of voting rights.

Even as it reauthorized the Voting Rights Act, in 2006, Congress knew there were problems with it. They just had no readily available means to fix it. The Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It wouldn’t be until January of 2007 that Democrats regained control of Congress and another 2 years before they regained control of the White House.

But in 2009, when Democrats regained control of all three, for the first time since 1993, no efforts were undertaken to cure the Voting Rights Act, even after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District One v. Holder.

However, we did get ObamaCare and the Stimulus.

That is where we have to begin asking questions.

For sure, there is no immediate way to re-write Sections 4 or 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And from the record of the scholars, there is no easy way to do it even if the votes were there for it.

We would need to reclaim a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and regain an operative majority in the House, in an upcoming election year where we are unlikely to regain the house, period, and will be fighting for our lives to maintain the majority Democrats have in the Senate.

In the meantime, the previously “covered” states are now free to pass as much legislation which potentially suppresses voters as they like free from the cumbersome leash of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Because there is no way, on Earth, that the Republicans in Congress allow that formula to be revised and adopted while there are so many voters to intimidate and suppress nearing both the 2014 Midterm and the 2016 Presidential Elections.

Or put another way, had the Supreme Court issued this ruling in 2011 or 2012, almost every state in the South would have passed voter ID laws in advance of the 2012 Presidential Elections, like Pennsylvania did.

So, in the interim, the Attorney General must aggressively use Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and act as the “Public Advocate” to litigate these issues in the stead of the citizens who will be potentially disenfranchised.

Better start calling your Congressperson and demanding nothing less. Some of the previously covered states couldn’t wait a full day before announcing their immediate intention to write new laws, laws they dare not have attempted just one day prior.

Better yet, take the time between now and the November 2014 midterm elections to obtain photo ID and VOTE!

Voter intimidation and voter suppression only work because so few of us actually vote.

These laws, regardless of what they look like, are only designed to curtail the voting behavior of a very small portion of the nation’s registered voters.  In 1870, when the 15th Amendment was ratified, many States used these laws to keep Blacks from voting at all.  Nowadays it is far more difficult to just deny minorities access to the franchise.  But they no longer have to, as we largely remove ourselves from the democratic process by just not showing up.  And because voter turnout, nationwide, is so low, all those who wish to keep their power (and keep many other people down) have to do is just shave off another few percentage points from the margins, because elections are largely won and/or lost within the margins.

DOMA, §3, falls to “States’ Rights” argument


By Shawn Carter

As the title of this post indicates, the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, ruled that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) is unconstitutional.

What specifically?

“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” 1 U.S.C. §7.

What does this mean?  If you marry in a State where same-sex marriage is legal, then the federal Government must recognize it for legal purposes.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the following:

The State’s power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance in this case quite apart from principles of federalism. Here the State’s decision to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import. When the State used its historic and essential authority to define the marital relation in this way, its role and its power in making the decision enhanced the recognition, dignity, and protection of the class in their own community. DOMA, because of its reach and extent, departs from this history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage. 

The Federal Government uses this state-defined class for the opposite purpose—to impose restrictions and dis- abilities. That result requires this Court now to address whether the resulting injury and indignity is a deprivation of an essential part of the liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment. What the State of New York treats as alike the federal law deems unlike by a law designed to injure the same class the State seeks to protect.

Justice Kennedy goes further to say:

“While the Fifth Amendment itself withdraws from Government the power to degrade or demean in the way this law does, the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment makes that Fifth Amendment right all the more specific and all the better understood and preserved.”

Straight Dope

Essentially after years of seeing states’ rights, long a code word for segregation and prejudices of all types, finally used to vindicate the constitutional rights of many, I chuckled as I hearken back to a very long conversation I had with someone on this very subject three years ago today.

We were talking about same-sex marriage and marriage equality under the Law.

But first, this from the dissent filed by his Honor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

The Court does not have before it, and the logic of its opinion does not decide, the distinct question of whether the States, in the exercise of their “historic and essential authority to define the marital relation,” may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage.

This is an important distinction for reasons upon which the Chief Justice subsequently elaborated:

The majority extensively chronicles DOMA’s departure from the normal allocation of responsibility between State and Federal Governments, emphasizing that DOMA “rejects the long-established precept that the incidents, benefits, and obligations of marriage are uniform for all married couples within each State.”

But there is no such departure when one State adopts or keeps a definition of marriage that differs from that of its neighbor,for it is entirely expected that state definitions would “vary, subject to constitutional guarantees, from one State to the next.”

Which brings me to the central point the Chief Justice is making here on this topic:

Thus, while “[t]he State’s power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance” to the majority’s decision to strike down DOMA here, that power will come into play on the other side of the board in future cases about the constitutionality of state marriage definitions. So too will the concerns for state diversity and sovereignty that weigh against DOMA’s constitutionality in this case.

In other words:

We may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples.

You better believe it.

Three years ago, I suggested that if properly challenged, there can’t possibly be a way for the government (state or federal) to justify the constitutionality of prohibiting any two adults the right to marry based on a definition of marriage so deeply rooted in “tradition.”

Associate Justice Alito opines in his dissent:

In asking the Court to determine that §3 of DOMA is subject to and violates heightened scrutiny, Windsor and the United States thus ask us to rule that the presence of two members of the opposite sex is as rationally related to marriage as white skin is to voting or a Y-chromosome is to the ability to administer an estate. That is a striking request and one that unelected judges should pause before granting. Acceptance of the argument would cast all those who cling to traditional beliefs about the nature of marriage in the role of bigots or superstitious fools.

That is precisely what America is asking.  It is precisely what the issue here is.  And it took some time for me to fully understand and appreciate that point as well.

Justice Alito delves further:

The first and older view, which I will call the “traditional” or “conjugal” view, sees marriage as an intrinsically opposite-sex institution. Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”) notes that virtually every culture, including many not influenced by the Abrahamic religions, has limited marriage to people of the opposite sex.

Except that here in America, we are a nation explicitly founded by a bunch of white men who revered their sovereign right to practice their Abrahamic religion(s) free from intrusion by the government and then established States where many of the laws and customs were based on a morality that could come from no place other than those very Abrahamic religious beliefs.

Ask MOST defenders of opposite-sex-only-marriage why they are right, and they can cling, only desperately, to religion.

TCPalm; Christopher Arnold

 And I thought to myself three years ago today, “At what point does that not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?”

Because if not inherently violative, this peeks awfully close to a near-naked violation of the separation of church and state envisioned by the First Amendment.

But back to the Chief Justice for a minute, because his dissent, I believe, was measured, and stands as a warning to those celebrating in the streets and to those who would let loose the dogs of the culture war on them:

We’re a long way from home on marriage equality.  Today’s decision merely reaffirmed that the federal government was constitutionally constrained to respect the definitions of marriage as defined by the many States.

It won’t be long before that creates conflicts between States, as citizens of this Republic also have the Constitutional right to Interstate travel.

The Supreme Court will eventually, and likely sooner than later, have to resolve, to re-quote the Chief Justice:

We may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples.

But progress is progress, nonetheless.

And to those who fight the often thankless fight for the rights of Citizens in our Nation, I salute you.

Now, let’s get Congress to re-write Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

House Republicans attempt to gut our public transit system

By Helen Gerhardt: Community Organizer for Pittsburghers for Public Transit
(This post does not reflect the official position of the organization.)


Rep. Dick Hess (R), majority chairman of the PA  House Transportation Committee, has introduced amendments to the transportation funding legislation which, if passed, would gut most of the funding sources for public transit originally proposed in Senate Bill 1. Required local matches for state funding would be significantly increased, most probably requiring various tax hikes on working people here on the home front, with no mention of local corporate and “charity” giants such as UPMC as possible contributors to the infrastructure they profit so handsomely from. Instead, the amendments would mandate that 10% of public transit routes in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would be put up on the block for private companies to bid on for their own profit. 

Without the very basic life-support funding that SB1 seemed to provide for our own region’s public transit, Port Authority will, as Republican Senator Randy Vulakovich emphatically stated to PPT representatives just over a week ago, “enter a death spiral.” If these new amendments pass, we would almost surely see cuts in service starting in September of 2014. Many communities and working families in the greater Pittsburgh metro region have already been terribly damaged by the 30% cuts over the last ten years.

And privatization has been tried around the country again and again, with mostly seriously negative results for the riders, drivers and regional economies that depend on a healthy, well integrated mass transit system. Dr. Lynn Scholl highlights a few of the common consequences of turning over public transit systems to for-profit companies in Privatization of Public Transit: A Review of the Research on Contracting of Bus Services in the United States:

…under-insurance; substandard vehicle maintenance; higher levels of pollution, congestion, and accident rates; as well as inadequate coordination and integration of routes and fares….private transit operators may leave the less profitable routes underserved. The lower wages and benefits paid by private bus companies has often resulted in higher labor turnover, less qualified drivers, and lower productivity, leading in turn to declines in the safety and quality of service.

The Republican amendments have not yet been posted at the General Assembly website but the current word is that House Republicans will try to pass them by Tuesday. The bill would then go back to the Senate.

So there’s time yet to raise a ruckus over this great transit wreck. Recent ruckuses by riders in Brazil caused their government to reverse bus fare hikes. Such examples may provide some inspiration for some public transit supporters whose hopes have been crashed by the failures of more traditional forms of democratic communication with their elected officials. 
I’ll be commenting far more extensively on current developments when I have direct access to the text of the new draft of SB 1. Previous drafts can be found here.


The ICA’s Journey of Understanding (and a bumper crop of blog links)

Bernard Langraf

Call it one or several changes of attitude, a “misunderstanding,” or a moving of the goalposts until “by 2014”, but the ICA (the State’s financial oversight panel) is now easing off the whip in its drive to get Pittsburgh to implement suitable universalized accounting software.

Administration officials made effective presentations that there are still a considerable number of technical steps to iron out. These include attaining strategic mastery over the present hodgepodge of financial systems and the vendors that will be needed to merge them, as well as addressing hurdles that may be found in collective bargaining agreements.

A status report by what this blog is calling the ICA’s “private investigator” was more interesting. While Gleason & Associates clarifies that it has not observed any fraud or cash-skimming, it sounded an alarm that several business processes found throughout the City do keep too wide a door open to that opportunity.

Due to their volume of cash-flow, to what is known preliminarily about their different processes, and to any logistical issues on the part of the inquirers, the following departments were listed by the forensic consultant as proximate “fields for review,” and not in alphabetical order:

Department of Public Works

Department of Public Safety

– with an emphasis on the Bureau of Building Inspection

Department of Parks and Recreation

– emphasized very small amounts & many neighborhood ad-hoc processes including volunteers

Treasurer’s office (housed in the Department of Finance)

The main things to look out for when it comes to opportunities for fraud and cash-skimming, said Gleason & Associates, is an inadequate segregation of duties — receiving money, balancing books and receipts, depositing money — and making these deposits as infrequently as quarterly, as well as a lack of automated card acceptance which would buttress the paper trails.

Some of these departments (DPW and Parks & Rec, as well as City Planning) presently utilize the same accounting software upon the point where the cash gets electronically recorded. City Innovation, Performance and Strategy Manager [CORRECTED] Chuck Half told the Comet that the game plan presently is to add the Police Bureau’s Special Events office to that batch, owing to a streamline around building and permitting functions.


That’s Church: “The Steelers want more public money. No.”

P-G City Walkabout: A foreclosure by Dollar Bank is gifted to something called the Homewood Renaissance Association

Homewood Nation: Calculates 18% voter turnout within its sphere of interest.

Hillombo: Penguins development plan is moving forward, despite concerns including affordable housing in the Lower Hill

PURE Reform: Isn’t being principal at Westinghouse hard enough?

Nullspace: Only itself and Jim Ferlo see sense in a merger with the Wilkinsburg school district, for some reason.

P-G Early Returns and PoliticsPA: Each showing trouble for Tom Corbett

PoliticsPA: Must-see politico-celebrity lookalikes.

City Paper Blogh: Byrne is shocked her name was mentioned

2 Political Junkies: Reminds us that Revenge of Gasland is coming tonight.

Transit bill passes Senate: opportunity for Equity component being bypassed

A Sensei’s Journey

It’s headed to the state House, but may lack for one easy amendment:

If the bill becomes law, there would be five appointees from the state — one from the governor and one each by Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate — and six from the county: four appointments would come from the county executive and two would come from county council members of the opposite party of the executive.

Two of the county executive’s four appointments would need to come from a list of potential appointees developed by disability groups, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. (P-G, Kate Giammarise)

As far as the board structure, I’m fine with it. Maybe even a little impressed.
As far as the funding for a study of systems consolidation and privatization, I’m personally also fine with it. It’s only a study, and we eat studies for breakfast.
What concerns me is the part about the “groups.” The constituents of the Allegheny Conference don’t have particular trouble being heard in any corridors of power as it is, and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (due to its own board structure) tends to lean conservative and Republican as well.
If this legislation recognizes that those with disability issues have a special stake in good public transit and deserve a seat at the table, why no other conspicuous populations, such as low- and moderate-income communities or Black communities? With all the recent talk of food deserts, and the degree to which Pittsburgh is capable of generating talk about “equity” and “two Pittsburghs” when it wants to, one would think that seeking to bolster the interests of geographically segregated and poor minority communities when it comes to public transit would be a no-brainer.
Pittsburgh has more than a couple of State Reps in a position to raise that point. And if doing so messes with the separate transportation funding bill, that would solely be the fault of the people insisting on holding transportation funding hostage to their every wish. When we wait for it to be “the right time to talk about equity,” we end up waiting our whole lives.

Terrible Tuesday: Financial Software, Patrick Ford, and the Mexican War


Three major stories.

1. Wednesday’s meeting of the ICA is set to be held in Pgh. City Council Chambers, and be pretty hairy.

One of Pittsburgh’s state oversight boards is demanding that city officials explain this week why they haven’t implemented a financial management system that was supposed to be in place by the end of last year. (Trib, Bill Vidonic)

We’ve been waiting on the purchase and implementation of this transparent, unified financial software longer it seems than we’ve been waiting on road and bridge funding. Only natural to begin assuming: maybe it’s the transparency and unification that is being resisted by the administration. That’s at least what the ICA is getting at in referencing its own “ongoing forensic invistigation” of the Harper affair (see also P-G Early Returns).

A disquieting thought, moving into…

2. InvestigatePGH has taken a new turn towards the Urban Redevelopment Authority

Though the process outlined in the requests called for a vote of the URA board before any lease award, and set maximum rental payments as the first goal, neither occurred. Instead, in June [2008] the URA staff, then led by Rob Stephany, picked the winners [incl. William Penn Parking] based on other considerations in consultation with Mr. Zober. (P-G, Lord & Balingit)

Frodo lives!

At the times this parking lease RFP was conceived, issued and the bids first reviewed, Pat “Patrick” Ford was the director of the URA under Zober and Ravenstahl. At that same period, during the height of the billboard scandal which led to his fiery resignation, Ford pointedly demonstrated to City Council that he keeps “copious” notes on every meeting, every interaction, every phone call he takes a part in.

“The mayor directed Pat to issue the [request for proposals] at issue,” Lawrence Fisher, Mr. Ford’s attorney, told the Post-Gazette on Aug. 26. (P-G 9/08/08)

If federal investigators have any questions, Ford’s own records would surely fill in a more complete picture of how these contracts came to be, and how many other things dated to that time period came to be. Of course today he has business interests which may make a seamy spectacle undesirable.

My own notes on the supercharged five-hour Council meeting in which Ford brandished his notes can be found here:

Introductions, Legalese and Anticipation
The Problems Surrounding Mr. Specter
Who’s Running Things?
Having fun at Patrick Dowd’s expense
Pat Ford arrives
On Blogging, Part I

Looking back, the first lesson I take is that Pittsburgh city government was shamelessly and brazenly evasive about subverting all manner of rules back then, making the flimsiest of excuses and most arrogant of appeals against submitting to them — back when the Ravenstahl administration was still essentially unscathed, and its execution duly entrusted to Housing Authority chairman, Parking Authority chairman and URA executive director Pat Ford in spring of 2008.

The second lesson I take is, Pat Ford took copious notes on his every interaction. This parking lease with Mr. Gigliotti’s company would be reflected in them.

3. On the North Side, long-simmering tensions are boiling over in advance of a community development vote.

Proponents said expanding the historic district would raise property values and prevent developers from destroying historic homes. Detractors said it would force out low-income residents who can’t afford home improvements to meet the historic district code.

I think they should expand it. Owners should take care of their properties,” said Eliza Carey, 77, who has lived in the neighborhood for 57 years. Her home on Jacksonia Street is in the proposed expanded zone.

“It will keep the property values up. I’m having problems with a Section 8 mess around me,” she said. (Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

If this is what proponents sound like, I’m not surprised there is so much organized opposition. See also P-G.

Transportation Funding Needs To Happen… Now! An open letter to Senator Scarnati, Majority Leader Turzai and Governor Corbett

By Shawn Carter


Honorable Thomas Corbett, Honorable Joseph Scarnati III and Honorable Michael Turzai:
Throughout the course of the year, concerned citizens have advocated, begged and pleaded with you and your party for more transportation dollars.
Here in Pittsburgh, that discussion sometimes seemed weighted toward transit.
For good reason.  We happen to need transit, badly. 
But transit is only one piece of the transportation puzzle.
Unless no one in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County or Harrisburg concerns themselves with the dozens of spans across our rivers and valleys.
Pennsylvania needs comprehensive transportation funding, now.
Senate Bill 1 is the closest we will get to it.  And we thank the Senate for passing it.  Of course we’d like more, but we certainly can’t afford less.
I fear the day I turn on the television and see the Liberty Bridge in the Monongahela River, or the Greenfield Avenue Bridge sprawled across the Parkway East during rush hour.
I-35 Mississippi River Bridge Collapse
Trust me when I say none of you (and none of us, either) want to be asking or answering the question posed by this graphic.  It tends to be one of the single most expensive questions any government official ever gets forced to answer.
Lots of zeros behind it.
Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars building new infrastructure and potentially millions more settling implied liability claims.
We don’t need that either.  Let’s just build it now.
Speaking of urban expressways…
Many Pennsylvanians don’t realize, as we talk about bridges, that the Parkway East is essentially a 70 year-old bridge from Churchill to the eastern portal of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels and over the Four-Mile Run to Glenwood.
Parkway East Spanning the Nine Mile Run
In fact, the next time you’re stuck in traffic on the Edgewood side of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels, just look down.
On second thought, please don’t.  There are enough traffic jams in and near the Squirrel Hill Tunnels.
There is a steel diaper under the Greenfield Ave. Bridge to keep chunks of that span from impaling Parkway drivers.  
Greenfield Avenue Bridge and Diaper
Speaking of bridges over valleys, the ones that span the East Street Valley (I-279) are very, very high.
Swindell Bridge
My point here is that we care about transit around here to be sure, but even our buses and light rail need roads and bridges and tunnels.
The truth is, God forbid the day we lose an interstate highway bridge (I-79 over the Ohio River, I-579 over the Allegheny River) like Minneapolis or Tacoma.
Can any of us fathom the grief if one of the bridges over the Parkways failed, especially during rush hour?
Or the logistical headache?  Or the political headache?
Getting from Downtown to Cranberry gets more difficult if the Veteran’s Bridge is clogging the Allegheny.
I realize that the Turnpike Commission replaced its’ 70 year-old deficient span over the Allegheny River recently, and for good reason.  It would have eventually landed in the water, crippling the economy and damaging Interstate Commerce.
But many of Pittsburgh’s bridges, some of them 50+ year-old Interstate spans and many others, are at or near the end of their useful lives.
Over the preceding days, this blog and its authors have zeroed in on transit issues.  Our colleagues in other places have as well.  We know from all available data that transit is an economic engine.  The only “welfare” transit represents is that of the “welfare of our economy.”  How else does an underpaid workforce make it to their job sites?
We may disagree with you on education funding, mandatory ultrasounds, gun safety, severance taxes for mineral extraction or even drilling, period, and on and on and on, but keeping people, goods and services moving in, through and out of the Commonwealth has to be one of those issues that rises above our sometimes ideological, partisan divides.
Our two-party structure, while often leaving us diametrically opposed on a whole host of issues, can not be the justification for leaving the Commonwealth’s taxpayers on the hook for billions in implied liability actions, economic impairment and the potential and unnecessary loss of our single most treasured resource, the lives of our Citizens.
Roads and bridges are the tie(s) that bind Pennsylvanians.  The Lincoln Highway, the National Road, the William Penn Highway.  And when those couldn’t get people and goods from one end to the other fast enough,  Pennsylvania built the nation’s first superhighway, twenty years before the Interstate Highway Act for National Defense funded many of the rest.

And here’s the only cost-benefit analysis that matters:  The longer we wait, the more expensive the infrastructure our lives and economy depends on becomes to build (or rebuild).

Please keep that in mind in the days to come.

Councilman Patrick Dowd resigning to head new nonprofit

Bob Donaldson, P-G

Surprising to the last:

Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd will announce today that he will step down to head Allies for Children, a newly formed advocacy group.

Mr. Dowd was elected to council in 2007 to represent District 7, which includes the Strip District, Lawrenceville and several East End neighborhoods. He is also a board member of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. Prior to that, he served a four-year term as a Pittsburgh Public Schools board member. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

A loss for City Hall in terms of capacity and moxie. I was looking forward to him pivoting against Mayor Bill Peduto, whom he supported in the election, because screw all and just to keep him honest.

This presumably sets the stage for a very Special Election in the fall wherein party committees designate nominees. Suitable Democratic possibilities which leap to mind include Lauren Byrne, Tony Ceoffe III and maybe even Jim Ferlo.

MORE ON DOWD:  City Paper Blogh 
MORE ON CEOFFE: City Paper Blogh

Sunday: Summer Squalls

Gary Sullivan Online

Allegheny County seems poised to do some slant-drilling under certain County parks. As you do. Coincidentally, a free screening of Gasland Part 2 with director Josh Fox arrives later this week.

The grand jury hearing evidence for InvestigatePGH allegedly is going to be active this week. As I review that which has fallen under suspicion, I see a consulting business set up by the indicted former Police Chief listed in McKees Rocks, a “gentleman’s club” raided in McKees Rocks, and a Fire Bureau equipment contract with a company in McKees Rocks causing consternation. Do you suppose that’s a bingo?

Payday lending in Pennsylvania is apparently making a comeback under a new monicker in the State Senate, although apparently it has been shown to weaken national security.

On the Port Authority management bill, due for action Monday, the latest draft circulating as to board appointments looks something like this:

4 go to the Allegheny County Executive (but 2 among these must come from lists provided by groups such as the SPC, PDF, the ACCD and others)

2 go to Republican members of County Council (both of which must come from lists provided by CAT and perhaps SPC and/or ACDC too; again, this may become more clear on Monday)

1 goes to the Governor.

1 goes each of the 4 Legislative caucus leaders.

The strangest thing of course is the appearance of these lists of outside organizations which limit the local yokels’ choices. At least one of these, for example, represents interests already demonstrating significant ease getting the ear of political leaders. And if we have several advocates for one community specially impacted by transit options, why not certain others?

Sen. Vulakovich confirmed to Helen that this Port Authority bill (SB 700) is important to House Republicans to make the Senate’s Transportation bill (SB 1) “more palatable.” Road and bridge repair apparently is not sufficiently appetizing without a side-order of extracting maximum tribute over various trifling outrages.

Finally, there is “some language about privatization” being bandied about as part of this Port Authority bill — perhaps funding for a study, perhaps more. Helen says she has Vulakovich animatedly on record stating, “But I don’t care. I care about getting riders from point A,” he said, pausing dramatically, “to point B. That’s it.”

That’s it, indeed. Have a nice remainder of your weekend!

Pittsburgh’s Vulakovich Moment

Vulakovich advert

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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