November: Only the Dawn of Reason in Politics

We join our City of Champions already in progress:

Today I am announcing a major new initiative that will provide clear pathways for economic development across the city, from small residential projects to skyscraper construction.

It will create inter-agency cooperation among the Department of City Planning, Zoning, the URA, the Housing Authority, and what used to be called the Bureau of Building Inspection. BBI will be turned into a new Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections and be tasked with streamlining the city’s building permitting processes, proactively enforcing property maintenance codes, and ensuring the highest levels of building safety and performance. (Mayor Peduto, State of the City 2014)

But then, as quick as lightening:

[Peduto’s] office denied that Public Safety Director Stephen A. Bucar and BBI head Maura Kennedy cannot work together. But a City Council member and other administration sources said the two Peduto appointees have had problems for months.

“She does not want to accept the authority of the Public Safety director, which really scares me, because you can’t have a public safety emergency with two people trying to run the show,” said Councilwoman Darlene Harris of the North Side, the only council member to oppose Kennedy’s hiring in March. “This cannot be good for the city of Pittsburgh.” (Trib, Bob Bauder)

Local leaders have long agreed that this Bureau seemed poorly managed and in need of disruption — and it’s credible what this administration argues about the permitting demands of a growing vs. a declining city.

The safety concerns are probably being overwrought because the Mayor’s selection to head Building Inspection came in from outside the region, at age 32, with a vast array but a couple of different credentials than some suggested in the job application. Understandable how some workers would chafe at Kennedy coming in to boss them.

So this org-chart ascension of the Permitting function must also underscore how Peduto feels it is time for staff to suck it up and respect her expertise and authority anyhow.

Meanwhile, civic finances are coming together slowly. Compromises are being made with City Council, negotiations with the Big Four ed & med nonprofits involving public capital improvement and pension funds are being termed as “serious,” and our bad-cop State overseer’s game-playing with public hearings is much ado about nothing, since its balance of power [winces] will soon shift with Governor Wolf towards progressive Democrats.

In stealth good news, the sheer amount of different grants that the City is accepting for specific projects is somewhere between encouraging and bewildering.

In a stealth concern, the recent appointment of political officials to what will be the City Land Bank board preempted badly stalled work by an Interim Board to craft credible policies and procedures. But since Philadelphia has been even longer-stalled at the interim stage, maybe this will work out for the best.

Panning back to Allegheny County, things get exciting once again.

City Democrats recognize that the electorate across the County is more conservative than in town, and that the Fitzgerald-Peduto working relationship has a lot of potential to positively transform the region.

We also are little apprehensive of Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm to initiate public energy-industry initiatives despite underwhelming local economic impacts, and his spearheading of an Oakland-Downtown bus rapid transit line despite underwhelming transportation benefits.

Fitzgerald has an admirable record of coming around in response to enough public outcry. But that quantity has been harder to accumulate as the Executive has grown in power. That is why fostering a culture of Ethics compliance is so helpful to curbing the natural plutocratic tendencies of his position, and why County Controller Chelsa Wagner had to go to such great lengths to “dox” him.

It sure seemed like a political gift for Fitzgerald when it was discovered that Wagner had hired four former Ravenstahl officials. But if old friends from across the street were responsible for the substance and sufficiency of this public accounting, then her whole office is to be congratulated. If the County Executive’s dispossessed rivals are channeling their energy into holding him accountable on matters related to quantifiable public dollars, rejoice, for truly we live in the best of all possible worlds.

That’s how we roll in this City of Champions — the finest city that ever was, and that ever shall be. Yet since this is Your Guide to ‘Burgh Drama, let us take two steps forward…

Hometown hero Richard Florida just penned an interview with a colleague on the geography of economic disadvantage which touches on white flight, public educational disparities (ahem!), the importance of early childhood experiences, integrated public housing programs, shifting priorities from incarceration to services and making something called “durable urban investments.”

Neighborhood ties are strong, and the feeling of being chased out is never a welcome one, but another very natural option for poor families poorly served by their environs is always to pick up and move on. Yet thanks to the fractionalization of regional government, a move 20 minutes away to Penn Hills is considered civic abandonment. Should we be thinking this way? Or as desired, is that a praiseworthy exercise in healthful mobility?

Finally, Pittsburgh is a’twitter over what sorts of programming should inhabit the new August Wilson Center for African-American Culture.

A good friend of mine suggested that, in order to be more economically viable this time around, the AWC ought to focus more broadly on intercultural arts programming. That can be a sensitive topic, since Pittsburgh’s Wilson was no so much about a bland multiculturalism as he was about reclaiming a Black culture of, by and for Black Americans — a proposition already complicated by the foundations’ ownership of the property.

That is when it dawned, perhaps cross-cultural programming is a big part of the ticket to making the mission of the AWC energizing for all. We oughtn’t go too far afield from the African-American experience, but what are the commonalities and connections between Black and Irish arts, for example? Or between Blacks and Arabs? Perhaps we don’t even need to get that exotic… would anyone from Pittsburgh be interested in going to a rotating exhibition on Black history’s impact on Rock n’ Roll music? After all…

27 thoughts on “November: Only the Dawn of Reason in Politics

  1. infinitebuffalo

    Given Harris’s long-standing antipathy toward Peduto and his administration, have to wonder how much her issue with his BBI reform–and her attack on Kennedy–is just a badly-telegraphed attempt to throw him under the proverbial bus…?

      1. Anonymous

        BBI needed reformed. No doubt about that. Whether Kennedy is the savior is another issue and time will tell. She wasn’t qualified under state law when she got the job. She might be now. Again, time will tell. She was a political appointee in Philly and far from a “Talent City non-political person.” She might be something different now. Again, time will tell. But that shouldn’t confuse the issue that BBI needs reformed, streamlined and made more open. There is nothing worse than one inspector telling a developer one thing and another, well, another.

        Moving on to Fitz, that is a little more complicated. He has lots of problems brewing and is no progressive. He is a bare knuckle brawler that threatens opponents, berates colleagues and shakes down contributors with threats of getting things or not getting things. Simply liking him because he “is on our side” makes that side no different than the other. IMHO – Peduto should publicly distance himself from Fitz. Say what you want about Chelsea, but I think she was on to something. You don’t pay $42k in cash for nothing. Just doesn’t happen that way. Fitz’s long coming troubles may be coming home to roost.

  2. David Passmore

    I wonder when Fitz and Peduto will be at loggerheads over fracking? Seems odd that this issue has receded into the background. When Patrick Dowd sought to add substantive protection via a zoning ordinance, he was derided by a fellow councilman as a “whore for the industry”. I guess the landscape has shifted a bit, but apparently the drilling debate will be revisited if and when it makes sense politically?

    1. bramr101 Post author

      I think it would take a drilling proposal within City limits to put them at loggerheads, or else a drilling mishap at a County project polluting the Allegheny or Monongahela upriver. As to the former possibility, the City still has its drilling ban on the books — which might be a bit more substantive now that Act 13 was ruled unconstitutional.

  3. bramr101 Post author

    How come nobody has called me on ICA politics? Ann Dugan is fine, Ann Dugan is Corbett’s appointee and Ann Dugan seems not the problem. Well, she could be more aggressive, but let’s get real. Apparently either one or more of the Dem appointees is overtaken by a posturing, reactive hostility. It would be one thing if they were putting pressure on the ERP software upgrades or enacting other recommendations, but they seem to be bent out of shape over the uncertainty that our town full of Democrats is going to tax and spend: tax things which are obviously under taxed (new property assessments, billboards, eds & meds via PILOTs) and spend on things we need (equipment, deferred maintenance, bankruptcy avoidance). Reactive austerity can get in line until the system is stable. You might have missed it, but many contracts are now being bargained collectively. Up in the air. (Where are the stories?)

    1. Anonymous

      The politics are much more complicated than just R and D. Especially in Pgh, lots of R’s are registered D just so that they can participate. Bill is probably the most right wing mayor in modern history, while at the same time being very left wing. Dugan, while and R, is part of the City’s urban elite. That is Bill’s biggest core of support. The landed gentry don’t really care about someone’s politics on fringe issues so long as they keep the circle of power close. They will pay an extra small tax here and there and give away this and that, but keep power close and in the hands of the well connected. The problem with Luke is that he shunned this crowd. Now they have their guy in power. Dugan is very respectable but a member of that crowd and will help them. My guess is that the members that are giving Bill grief are more connected to the old school democratic powers – fire fighters, municipal workers, blue collar community.

      Don’t believe my analysis? The proof is always in the pudding. When different reactions are given for similar conduct. Imagine if Luke’s police chief gave away a contract to his buddy….. Didn’t Bill and Fitz use millions of public dollars to help steer a project (AWC) to their campaign buddy and supporter Grant Oliphant? The private bidder from NY was going to do the exact same thing the private bidder from Heinz is going to do – build a hotel and have the AWC operate in the lobby. But, only one of them is connected to the Mayor.

      1. bramr101 Post author

        Sorry, I must have been stunned.

        Bill is probably the most right wing mayor in modern history, while at the same time being very left wing.

        Why, that paints him as the sort of extremist nobody could possibly like. Nicely done!

        There are legitimate reasons to dig more into the police data contract (mostly because we haven’t found it yet) but it was competitively bid and the guy from Wisconsin was the only applicant. Same with the foundations and the AWC. I don’t consider the hotel to have been more than Dollar’s leverage to up the price.

  4. Anonymous

    Has this blogger (or anyone else) ever confirmed that BBI didn’t have email before, or do you just blindly accept political pr as the god’s truth? I know people who got emails from BBI before January.

      1. bramr101 Post author

        Well then that’s a failure not just of all media but the previous administration. When the laptops were locked up in a cage, it was widely reported that BBI inspectors didn’t have email, but nary a peep of objection, not even from Council.

        Do you have any evidence, or would you like to attach an identity to bolster your assertion?

    1. Anonymous

      The difference is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to confirm that BBI had email. You just refuse to take any action and exert any effort. Contrast that with what it would take to prove Ravenstahl is the reincarnate of Hitler.

      1. Joseph Stalin

        No, it would be very easy for somebody to disprove if the statement were meaningfully wrong. The claim, as I see it here, is that the offices weren’t wired for internet and lack of email was one symptom of this. If one person got an email from one inspector, that wouldn’t actually argue against Kennedy’s point that the office was not set-up to work with email.

    2. bramr101 Post author

      Can we all not, with the Hitler.

      Honestly Anon you’re claiming that every single reporter in the City is conspiring against you, as well as everyone in City Hall who would be in a position to know otherwise, including people who don’t mind blowing up the mayor such as Darlene and Doug. So there’s really no reason to take your claim seriously.

      1. Anonymous

        Doug Shields doesn’t mind blowing up the Mayor? This is an interesting twist. At one point Peduto named Shields a “mentor” and enthusiastically defended Doug’s absurd, childish histrionics.

  5. Anonymous

    I love it. Someone says the mayor is lying about whether BBI had email before January, and they get compared to Hitler, Stalin, and space aliens. I think I learned all I need to know about how the people on this blog feel about the mayor. I won’t be expecting that investigative report on how McLay steered City money to his buddies he worked with back in Madison anytime soon. As for anonymity, yeah the whole world knows who “MH” is.

      1. MH

        Thanks. He’s been away so long, I sometimes forget that people used to think that. I’ve had the initials longer than he has.

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