Monthly Archives: May 2021

Wednesday: One Fortnight to Fortify

screen-shot-2021-05-04-at-12-57-41-amTwo weeks left until the primary election, at least four mayoral debates are on the record, and there are a thousand judges to learn about. Let’s hear some chatter out there!

In epochal news, US Steel is partially shutting down the Clairton Coke Works, rather than investing in environmental upgrades and expansion it had promised two years ago. This is even better news for our lungs, but for the region’s economy, it is a shock that portends worse and worse, with no “just transitions” on the horizon. If you thought the era of industrial abandonment was over in Pittsburgh, wake up.

In hopeful news, Mayor Bill Peduto announced a public-charitable partnership that will receive from our tax-exempt “Eds and Meds” industrialists, collectively four times as much annually as they ever donated to the City itself. The arrangement is a load-bearing and long-awaited part of his OnePgh vision, which has its roots in a series of local foundation-led “P4” workshops as well as Bloomberg philanthropy “resiliency” grants.

The new arrangement sacrifices City authority over the use such money, and accords the funders essential veto power. City Controller Michael Lamb notes it doesn’t do anything for the City’s operating budget, which has to operate a city whose mills have turned to nonprofit laboratories. And it can’t do anything for Clairton, the Mon Valley or anyplace outside Pittsburgh or for their school districts — in contrast to less collusive strategies.

In political news, mayoral challenger and State Rep. Ed Gainey thinks we should just tax those nonprofits which seem not to qualify as “purely public charities” — taking what the City learned in its previous faulty challenge of their nonprofit status and applying it to new ones, no matter the sheer number or luster of attorneys available to a UPMC, AGHN, or something with “Carnegie” or “Mellon” in the title. Plus he says he got tired of Peduto studying things to death, and would rather get on with pursuing equity despite some tradeoffs and risks.

But Gainey just got a lesson in how much homework and yard work has to be managed, to tackle that kind of executive responsibility. An independent political action committee with ties to him filed finance reports with discrepancies in the six-figures, and the County Elections Department sped the matter along for County Police to investigate, rather than customarily request an amended filing.

Usually I worry about the money coming into a PAC: who might be buying off the candidate? It’s mollifying how most of that discrepancy is accounted for on corresponding donors’ reports by the Western PA Laborers union, who seem cool enough for a Democratic primary, and from Ed Gainey’s own campaign fund, and it’s nice to invest in oneself. So maybe it really is a matter of gross negligence, at an operation from which Gainey is legally forbidden to coordinate. It would be better if that PAC declared the remainder of its inflows, though.

As to the money going out, we learned when Mayor Ravenstahl treated himself to Super Bowl tickets with campaign funds and nothing at all happened to him, that just about anything is justifiable. Clothing, food and beverage, I might imagine rental assistance — it’s not taxpayer money, it’s donations to your political efforts. Transparency here would also be ideal, if only for the sake of the donors. But one of the reasons for keeping what’s widely known as “street money” obfuscated is because its recipients fear the “Powers That Be” taking note and seeking retribution. It would be unusual to see a rash of shakedowns to verify amended declarations of a PAC’s spending without suspicion of any particular injury. And if he happened to win the nomination meanwhile, the party would rally around him.

For all we know, Peduto might have tipped the reporter after his own inside sleuthing. It turns out Peduto is tied to the founding of that PAC, as a vehicle for his 2013 election and as spoils for Gainey afterword. I’m not accustomed to thinking of William as much of a puppet-master, but this may be his bread and butter.

Peduto hasn’t yet attacked Gainey over African Americans for Good Government featuring the Western Pa Laborers union. The county police might yet clear the case with amended disclosures. But whisper campaigns bespeaking dire unstoppable consequence to Gainey himself are underway. And one must note with a trigger warning Peduto’s campaign ad, ED GAINEY: He’s All About Gaining For Himself.  Using Ed’s vote in July for a bill that passed 163-38 granting tax credits for petrochemical developers (Peduto might have forgotten he only came out against petrochemical expansion nine months prior) as its pretext, Gainey is framed for all the world like the Notorious B.I.G. in some bootleg material.

Why is Fuzzy Badfeet Mayor Peduto going so hard after this particular challenger? He has another to his Trumpist right, one in outer space, and Pittsburgh mayors are legendarily hard to oust when they reapply. It must be because so many of his frequent past supporters are making him feel under-appreciated. After 16 years running for mayor, taking office before either Black Lives Matter or  Sen. Sanders’ campaigns, and after all the sensationally overhyped expectations (Smart Cities Challenge! Amazon!) and mixed bags of returns (a bookstore will be coming to the historic Strip mall, joining the flower shop) it’s tough to be seen as a vehicle for progress that scales.

We’ve seen incumbent mayors boasting strong narratives before. Yet public, private and political sentiments all showed up with different plans. There’s no stopping evolution, you can only hope to obtain it. All that’s clear two weeks out is most Pittsburghers still have nobody but “Bill Prosciutto” on the brain: because if you’re a threat to the old money or UPMC, Mayor Bill will slice you up like prosciutto.