Kevin Acklin presented 19 pages worth of e-mails today seeking to illustrate that John Verbanac, CEO of Summa Development, has played an integral role in the Ravenstahl administration since its inception.
The e-mails were circulated among very small groups of individuals, usually comprising only Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober, Pat Ford, Ed Grattan and Verbanac himself. It should be noted however that their authenticity has not yet been verified! What will follow are only excerpts from some of them.
If genuine, they are enough to establish that 1) Ravenstahl was effectively lying on Saturday when he flatly denied that Verbanac has a role in his administration; that role appears to be one including senior communications director and city staffing sergeant, and 2) That Verbanac plays this role is troubling considering the way his business interests, at least in regards to Forest City Enterprises, intertwine with that of the City.
And if genuine, the mayor was certainly lying again tonight when he claimed Kevin’s more specific allegations about Verbanac “putting words in his mouth” and influencing decisions regarding “strategic planning” and “firing staff” were wrong.
Let’s start with the recollection that Ravenstahl supported the Isle of Capri casino bid for the Hill District as a Council person, later to move his support as Mayor to the Forest City / Harrah’s bid in Station Square:
From John Verbanac, 12/16/06, Subject: Your Attention Please
To: Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober, Ed Grattan and Charlie Zappala
Question: With all the buyers and the certainty of the two arena plans, why are the Pens saying the future is now uncertain and only the IOC answers the question?
Answer: Because IOC is the one plan that makes the most money for Ron Burkle. Ron Burkle is willing play Russian Roullete with the francises’s future to make the most money. It’s a gun to the head of Pittsburgh strategy that benefits few, hurts many and inproperly politicizes the gaming decision in an effort for Ron Burkle to simply make more money.
Verbanac was a lobbyist for Forest City / Harrah’s. Charlie Zapalla was to be an investor in the Forest city casino. He was and is Verbanac’s significant business partner. After Mayor Ravenstahl switched his support to Forest City, and former mayor Tom Murphy opined that “the fix was in”, the casino license was awarded to Don Barden of PITG gaming.
The relationship continued into 2007:
From Verbnac, 4/11/07, Subject: Team
To: Luke Ravenstahl and Yarone Zober
When we confront the real issues, we’ll need a strong team. A loyal team. A team that reflects the heart and minds of the RAVENSTAHL Administration.
When new leaders come in, the ranks are always turned over. A few make it through, but only a few. It’s not because they are ill motivated and political. It’s because they need their own team around them. That is the message around the moves you make. Ravenstahl is building his own team. Not trying to win over someone elses.
Tom Murphy left office with a 17 percent approval rating. Bob O’Connor left office before his numbers fell as the real performance of his administration became visible. I have 2009 and beyond on my mind guys. The future. Yours, mine and ours.
We need a team and we need it now. Not after May 15th. Not after the next crisis or artificial date we come up with that holds us back. Not waiting for the day that Rich Lord might give us a pass and take it easy on us. We’re at war now. We need our troops.
We? Our? Mine?
From Verbanac, 4/17/07, subject: High Level Issues!
To: Luke Ravenstahl, Yarone Zober
Issue Three: Strategic Planning I have talked with Yarone about this already as well. I would strongly suggest that you, Yarone, Pat and maybe a chosen “FEW” others hold a bit of a retreat to get together your strategic plan.
We have a great blessing not facing the voters until 2009. That’s a lot of time to do some things. It’s also ample time to fuck up if you don’t have a clear strategy and measurements for what you want to achieve. 4 or 5 hours of unfettered, facilitated time with some of your key decision makers would be well spent.
I offered to facilitate the discussion and to take notes and summarize the plan discussion.
Response from Ravenstahl:
The suggestion for us all to sit down is a great one — I would include no more than me, John, YZ, Ford, and Ed. Don’t see the need for anyone else. We can establish a clear plan and agenda and most importantly a way to implement it. Maybe a whole day-off location would work best.
Response from Verbanac:
Maybe Yarone can have missy schedule a day’s retreat? Maybe we should take a run down to nemacolin…
This e-mail may deserve a post of its own. The other three “High Level Issues!” detailed in this e-mail were State Rep. Jake Wheatley agitating for a CBA for the Penguins development, the Steeelers’ interests regarding the casino master plan (then owned by Don Barden), and yet again “staffing”, with special mention of the URA.
From: John Verbanac, 9/19/07, Subject: Last point
To: Yarone Zober, Pat Ford and Ed Grattan
Give the mayor 3 examples of fuck ups at BBI that hurt progress. Make Graziano and example of red tapke, bad communication and bureacracy. To support him is to stifle progress. Then you’ll bridge driectly to a response city open to progress.
Pat – if you don’t have examples I do. Like the 26 art students in a hotel right now because BBI changed their static air pressure requirement on a developer that has done 4 downtown conversions for students and just got crushed by the beloved Ron Graziano.
Fasting forward to 2008, and more staffing:
From John Verbanac, 2/25/08, Subject: URA Personnel
To: Yarone Zober, Pat Ford
You guys had mentioned, as part of your URA right sizing, ARt Fidel’s kid, Bob. Please be advised, this is Bill Rudolph’s brother in law. I recognize that he is less than an exemplary performer; however, this is Bill’s family and I think I speak of us all when I say he is a friend. Let’s just leave it there.
Robert Fidel is still listed as the “Business Liaison” in the URA’s Business Development dept.
The site is owned by a consortium of non-profits and other foundations called Almono LP.
Forest City Enterprises had been on the list of developers that had submitted bids for the site since 2003.
In August of 2004, Governor Rendell announced $6 million in RACP funds would be going towards the LTV Coke Works project. In March of 2005, when City Council officially requested these funds, it was reported that Forest City was the “preferred developer” according to a spokesman of the Heinz Foundation.
From John Verbanac, 1/09/07, Subject unknown
To Pat Ford
Heads up. I wanted you to know that I’m a joint development partner with Forest City for the LTV site. I understand you’re meeting with some of the folks tomorrow.
We know Verbanac had already been with Forest City since at least 2006, and that this was not a mystery to the City. The occasion of Verbanac’s declaration to Ford seems to have been the forthcoming meeting with “the folks”.
Bear in mind this was during the period we now know that Verbanac was sending out strategy and communications memos to the Ravenstahl administration on a regular basis.
From John Verbanac, 2/21/2008, Subject: The Truth
To Yarone Zober
I need to know the truth regarding what you are doing relative to the 6 million in RCAP that has been granted to Almono for the LTV site? Are you attempting to transfer these dollars to Piatt?
When I asked you about this yesterday, you indicated that the City was not doing this. I now learn that you specifically directed the URA to do this. I sincerely hope that is not the case.
You know very well of our interest in the site. To be involved in this issue and not have a conversation with me, is very hurtful to me personally and from a business perspective. It cuts my legs totally out from underneath me with my business partners, RIDC and a host of others. Further, it is highly troubling to me on a personal level
I hope that my understanding of this issue is wrong. To be prudent, I’m going to stop short of saying anything else pending a conversation with you.
Verbanac certainly seems irate that the City leaders which he works so hard to support would do something contrary to his business interests. Five days later, Pat Ford sends Verbanac a response which seems to mollify him.
From John Verbanac, 2/26/08
Subject: Re: CONFIDENTIAL: Brief on meeting with Don Smith
To: Pat Ford
Thank you. That jives with everything I’ve been told. Each and every point. That’s very good to know. Gives me further confidence. We were shortlisted by Almono on Friday. Stephenson informs that he feels we’re far out in front. Last cut by almono will be made April 15.
That Mayor and you and Yarone will need to get oaklanf focused. I’m not sure that it’s LTV or portal yet. It may not be either or. It will take further dialogue with pitt, upmc and cmu to arrive at a conclusion. It seems the pieces are in place and moving forward. The City must be the beneficiary in the end and oakland must get their act together. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.
Considering the “We / Me / Our” talk above, the frequent agonizing over Ravenstahl’s speeches, press releases and preparation for television interviews, and the dogged insistence on replacing so much city staff, I started to wonder whether Verbanac considers “The City” to be synonymous with himself.
The LTV contract remains unawarded, and the site remains undeveloped. One of the sticking points according to the Acklin campaign is the fact that a long-mulled over expansion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway would cut straight through the 178 acre development site. Without a plan for closure on that issue by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), the development must remain in limbo.
In an excellent 2006 article about awarding the casino license, we learned:
Mr. Verbanac said he met Mr. O’Connor in his role as a consultant to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. (P-G, Rich Lord)
That is only one front-door example of Verbanac’s immense backdoor government influence, employed for private enrichment, which makes me uncomfortable.
Because even back then:
“I have no official role with Bob O’Connor, and never did,” Mr. Verbanac said.
“If Bob ever asked me for my advice on something, I offered it to him,” Mr. Verbanac said.
“Bob continues to be a friend of mine,” Mr. Verbanac said. “I talk with Bob occasionally.” (ibid)
What luck, being such a close personal friend to two mayors in a row!
It’s understandable why Ravenstahl would want to stay a galaxy away from this subject, claiming that Verbanac is “just a friend” who he “has conversations with”.
Yet don’t we all deserve to be treated like grownups already? None of us were born yesterday, anymore. Mr. Mayor, you don’t see anything questionable about investor John Verbanac’s active string-pulling in your administration? Are you going to continue to deny anything that Mr. Acklin said tonight?
And we haven’t even discussed the fund raising yet.
MORE AND NOTABLE, FROM THE E-MAILS: Link.