Debate 1: Standard Fare

I don’t think we need to put a lot of energy into dissecting “how the debate went”.

Harris and Acklin were both sincere-sounding, nervous, and lacking for any truly point-scoring hits. Ravenstahl on the other hand delivered a studio-ready and dynamic presentation, but that shouldn’t disguise the fact that it was all bullshit.

That’s what we’re going to explore here — but first I have to critique the ordinarily impressive Ken Rice for one thing: why lead off the program with, “The biggest question in this race — is this really a race?”

If you count Bill Peduto’s partial run, this now marks four straight elections in which our media obsessed, from their very outsets, on the idea that these were all forgone conclusions. And by implication, that any challengers should be described as “losers”. Ordinarily this falls under the aegis of punditry, but for some reason this is forever the lead story. It’s as though nobody is familiar with the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Admittedly, this particular contest seems contracted for a variety of reasons, but in general how is this compulsive fixation of odds — which always rears its tiresome head months and months in advance — in any way edifying to the viewing and reading public?

Spend energy communicating and investigating the ideas being exchanged, and leave the spin to the professional hacks already.


Ravenstahl asserted during his introduction that he has “laid out a plan for the future of the City”. Nothing has been laid out formally except the vaguest of platitudes, but a real plan is on display most visibly HERE and HERE, in two videotaped sessions that are best understood in tandem.That plan is to identify and secure large pools of taxpayer money and land, funnel these directly into the hands of large-scale private developers with zero accountability, prevent these same types of resources from being frittered away on smaller-scale community initiatives, slander neighborhood or quality-of-life oriented opposition and divide it against itself, subvert the zoning code and any other law that gets in the way of a private developer maximizing profit, and let any neighborhood that does not appear on the agenda for this kind of massive exploitation rot in neglect.

Oh, and when possible, do it all “greenishly” — because there’s free money being handed out these days for that anyway, and you are technically a Democrat.

Ravenstahl believes the police “did an admirable job in keeping the community safe” over the G20 and returned repeatedly to safety — but declined even to pay lip-service to the notion of balancing safety with civil liberties. It’s as though the objections of students, journalists and bystanders do not quite register.

He says he’s asked for “exactly what Kevin has suggested” in an investigation — yet Kevin asked for a “Blue Ribbon Commission”, that is, something new and independent; not the present police department investigating itself through its own methods. In addition, Ravenstahl would obscure any inquiry into the city’s public safety decision making by losing it within a Regional “How We ‘Handled’ the G20” evaluation with an infinitely broad scope (though I bet they determine they handled it real good).

How he can state point-blank that “there was no militarization of Oakland” is beyond me. It’s like there’s so little for him riding on this debate, he can say up is down.


I have to give it to Luke: we do need to come up with $15 million to balance our budget, and it’s entirely legitimate to find a way to charge our tax-exempt universities and health care providers (not “students and the sick”) in order to get there. I’m not going to let politics get in the way of what we have to do now.However, it’s distressing that we need to scramble to come up with this $15 million, considering that we had “no crisis” and “strong financial management” and were “moving in the right direction” and had a “$100 million rainy-day fund” and “held the line on taxes” all winter and spring — until the very day after primary Election Day, when all of a sudden it was acknowledged: we need to come up with a fresh pile of cash and there are only bad choices. It makes you wonder what will be in store for us on Nov. 4?


“95% of the investment at the URA in my administration has been in neighborhood business districts…”Well, I suppose Downtown and its environs is a neighborhood. If the URA invested in something somewhere that did not qualify as being “in a neighborhood” of the City, that would be a major problem. What’s up with the other 5% anyway? Is that headed towards the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia?

“…80% of the investment at the URA in my administration has been in small businesses of less than 20 people”

What’s the percentage if we discount Lawrenceville? More importantly, when we deal with a developer, do many developers actually require more than 20 full-time paid staff? If the URA invests in a developer that is involved in bringing in a Big Lots, and that developer is just a couple of guys, a couple of their accountants, a few draftsmen and their own personal assistants — plus consultants taken on as-needed — does that count as investing in a small business?


“Why should we write a blank check to the Carnegie Library or anybody else when we find out they have questionable spending habits?” Luke asks. Because we need access to books and computers.There are a lot of organizations that have been too kind to their managers. We could start anywhere Mr. Mayor, but there’s no political will to increase library funding with the times, so we’re unveiling this new ethic of monastic thrift in their vicinity. We would also have been right to investigate Library spending last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. Are we going to punish little Suzy in Lawrenceville because we’ve allowed big Barbara in Squirrel Hill a membership to the Duquesne Club, and now that there’s a crisis ,we’re suddenly outraged about it?

We need accountability. We also need to keep the libraries open. Making a big deal about the former will not help us accomplish the latter, it will only sooth our consciences a little.


Luke boasts that he introduced new campaign finance reform, and “looks forward to its implementation in January.” I think we can leave that there.


Which brings us to Acklin’s curve ball concerning John Verbanac and Ed Grattan. That will either be remembered as the biggest missed opportunity, or the biggest score, of the debate — depending upon whether or not he’s setting Luke up for a suplex down the road.

From what I can glean, both of these gentlemen are what are commonly known as “money guys” — big money guys, statewide money guys — fund raisers, business investors, lobbyers, relationship-builders. The interesting things would be whether they are invested in any of the companies that have received lucrative no-bid contracts from City and authority governments, whether they have been involved in lobbying for those contracts and for their other interests, and whether they had a role in transporting funds or other exchangeables from those businesses to the Mayor’s campaign or other concerns.

It’s hard to say because there’s so much seeming mythology involved. According to chatter, these are the guys that really own the town — it would make trying to change the course of Pittsburgh by criticizing Luke Ravenstahl something like trying trying to change McDonalds’ business practices by criticizing Ronald McDonald.

Curious however that Luke’s answer was so curt and definitive: they’re only “friends”. Friends that have no “formal” role in his administration. Got to wonder why that little qualifier, “formal”.

21 thoughts on “Debate 1: Standard Fare

  1. Mark Rauterkus

    The LEAD sin: “Pittsburgh's Done Deal Mentality.” The status quo media jerks sustain this ill and heap it upon us all too frequently.

    Where in the hell is our 'free will?'

    They're only business is for the management of the city's / region's decline.

    The Jon Delano news story on the Friday night news was also a hoot. It was all about KDKA and their insightful questions. They even gave themselves props for the “lightening round' — as we we got to see a scholastic honor roll quiz show. “Double the points gentlemen. No need to use your buzzers.”

    We need to put a pointer on the Wikipedia page about Self Absorbed Media to that story from Jon Delano.

    Now, for the rest of the story….

  2. Anonymous

    How about the John Verbanac and Ed Grattan stuff?

    Luke acts like they play no role in his administration and that they are only friends…

    Ask The Pittsburgh Hoagie who they are I remember seeing those 3 together during coghills run for office.

  3. Anonymous

    I watched the debate online this evening. I was on the fence also, and I now see myself leaning to one side.

    Some good points, Luke produced some interesting points in reference to Library funding and possible inappropriate spending. I also thought that was interesting in an atmosphere where to play with the big boys, you have to fraternize with the big boys, (ie; Duquesne Club affiliations)

    Acklin acknowledged the ignoring of the neighborhoods and the South Hills Section of the city, and Harris, brought forth the issues of inequity in the Mayors hiring of minorities. What Harris hit on was not the “contractual hiring of minorities that the Mayor answered to” (we do not need to hear anymore on the issues of hiring companies that say, on paper, that they are minority owned)

    Real jobs, in real positions of power in this city is where minorities, specifically women, have left the Mayor's cabinet and women are tired of being scape goated when issues are brought to the fore front. They (women) are easy targets, vis a vis no backing from the dominant white male hierarchy for obvious reasons (vultures in wait)…. Next…

    What was obvious, at least facially, is the mayor is a little more suavy in his delivery, which is good, but the level of maturity needed is still questionable. I did see the maturity necessary in Acklin. Interesting to see since all candidates are only a few years apart in age.

    I don't believe that any candidate needs to have been born and raised in Pittsburgh, however, it is extremely important to know and be able to relate to the history, the intense political history, the struggles, the reality of a city of where we came from, the work ethic, the labor side of it. That includes the good, bad and the ugly.

    To move forward with appreciation of where we came from, and I hope towards the continued future of a progressive city I am convinced that we have a good candidate running. I believe we have a young man, which all of them are, but a very mature man beyond his years, from the struggles of a real family, that so many can relate to, in Kevin Acklin.

    I am glad to see the Mayor seems to have a better grasp on things. I was happy to see the issues raised by all three candidates, (The issues rasied in this debate were more comprehensive and issues acknowledged as real issues more now than in the primary) and I think that promises cannot be made without a realistic plan to follow through with those promises. That said, right now, my vote will be going to Acklin. What this city needs is a serious, business minded, Pittsburgh minded, Mayor. 24/7. Not for a resume, not for a sound bite, not when the cameras are on, but 24/7 for substance for real.

  4. InsideAgitator

    Spot on post, Bram.

    I've been thinking of all those guys, the “who's who” in that EXCELLENT Dan Kirkpatrick PG piece from O'Connor's bedside.
    I am working on a visual diagram of these guys and their development hustles – Rockpointe and all – stay tuned. Yo Mark R.: Wanna help?

    re. the URA/Nationwide hoo-hah.
    Is it just me or does anyone else see a potential……

  5. Anonymous

    What is the PG smoking? Pat Ford Cigars? The only hope I have for Luke is that we get rid of Darth Zober…

    “Mr. Ravenstahl has been well served by various aides in his administration, including a capable chief of staff.”

  6. Bram Reichbaum

    Generically, we can ask if they are investors in any of the companies on this list, if they've ever done business with them, represented them, acted as their agents or received compensation from them. Any “yes” answers don't necessarily mean anything but it's a starting place. We can ask what is their role in the Ravenstahl administration if it is not a “formal” one. We can try asking how and when they became friends with Mayor Ravenstahl; was it around the time Mayor O'Connor was falling ill for example.

  7. JustAFriend?

    The Republican cut his teeth as a member of Sen. John Heinz's staff. After Mr. Heinz's death, he became executive assistant to then-Rep. Rick Santorum, and directed that Penn Hills Republican's landmark 1994 Senate win.

    After a stint at Ketchum Public Relations, he joined political marketing firm Brabender Cox.

    A 2000 effort to split that firm into two businesses devolved into acrimony. John Brabender and James Cox and their business sued Mr. Verbanac in 2002, alleging that he failed to uphold his end of the bargain. Mr. Verbanac was dismissed from that lawsuit in 2004.

    In 2002 he joined Harrisburg newspaper veteran Al Neri in launching a consulting firm and The Insider, a biweekly guide to the capital's back room deals.

  8. Anonymous

    Those 2 guys are the chief $$ people behind Ravenstahl and everyone the Mayor supports.

    They are also the ones who help decide on who the Mayor supports, they do polling and make connections to donors.

  9. Anonymous

    It sure isn't obvious yet to most people, but there is a lot of underground activity among rank and file Democrats supporting Acklin . . . not enough to win, but enough to keep him respectable.

  10. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 11:24 said –

    They are also the ones who help decide on who the Mayor supports, they do polling and make connections to donors.

    Well then they were not very good at it in re: Tony Coghill. Maybe the omnipotence of JV and EG are overrated, at least when it comes to politics.

    Then again maybe politics is not really their core competency.

  11. Bram Reichbaum

    On another subject: In terms of “landing blows” on the incumbent, Harris came as close as it got, bringing up Bakery Square and the TIFF. It really was a good idea but it was in response to something else, almost during moderator-approved chaos time, so although *we* knew what he was talking about the point wasn't introduced and driven home in a way that could hope to reach nonjunkies. You could call it the night's best 'glancing blow'.

    Gotta rehearse these 10 to 20 second informational hits, people, and be thinking about likely ways to work them in.

  12. Anonymous

    You do have to remember that Coghill was saddled with all of Matt H's baggage as well in addition to his lackluster campaign management skills. That was just too much to over come for Coghill as he was the “C” candidate to begin with.

  13. Mark Rauterkus

    As for big box development, Harris said he was against it – then okay with it too.

    Acklin wants to take half of the URA assets and turn the focus to neighborhoods.

    Luke's reply that they already did focus on neighborhoods and small businesess with the URA totally won that inning for Luke.

    The challenger needed to score big — and that could have happened by striving to liquidate the entire URA and turning all of its assets into debt reduction, or more police, or whatever.

    The challengers were not really so different.

    Likewise, if asked, would you, (as mayor) accept another invite to host a future G-20. All 3 said yes. No difference.

    Of course I would NOT choose to host a G-20 so as to have these world bankers meet in secret while our city became a ghost town. I'd offer them a closed wing of the airport at the very best.

    The aim and a central purpose of government is to protect freedom. With the G-20, many freedoms were lost. That's progress in the wrong direction.

  14. Anonymous

    “Matt H's baggage “

    You folks on these blogs think there is baggage because you disagree with his view points and who he supports but in reality anything he has said or done on the blogs didn't matter in that election.

    WAKE UP.

  15. Emma


    Rally at City Council Open Hearing Tuesday, October 27th 10 am

    Now is an absolutely crucial time for showing your support for our neighborhood libraries. We can stop branch closings and get our politicians to commit to real long-term funding in this election time. They've already started discussions so let's keep the pressure on and make it happen!

    3 Rivers
    6 Rings
    19 Branches
    NO LESS.

    Show up with signs and friends.

    City Council Building
    414 Grant Street
    Downtown Pittsburgh


    – Write a letter to the editor
    – Call the Mayor's 311 Line
    – Call your County Council Representative 412-350-6490


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