Winter Guide: Dealing With the March of Progress

Today, we clarify all the region’s business.

In regards to public law and order, the Comet has five notes:

1. Howard McQuillan, representative of the Fraternal Order of Police Local 1 of Pittsburgh PA, does not like racism. He (and presumably those in his circle) was greatly pained at suggestions that there might be racism amidst the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. That’s a laudable instinct, full stop.

2. The difficulty lies in ill communication over what racism is. I do not know what the Right thinks racism is. But the Left thinks of it like a household mold — something which will grow anywhere if not directly addressed: the unnoticed acceptance of involuntary positive or negative impressions based on skin color. Thanks to culture and upbringing, most Americans’ brains take longer to associate good qualities with darker people even when instructed. It’s simply not what we learned. It’s not a coincidence: Blackness is often over-played as poor, uneducated, lazy, criminal, bestial and violent, whereas Whiteness is somewhat more often viewed as pitiable, unfortunate and troubled.

3. It pays to acknowledge that we presently demand law enforcement officers intervene in violent conflict and investigate suspected criminality. It may not statistically be the most deadly job in the world, but it absolutely has to be the most stressful. To prepare for these situations as they come hourly, daily, yearly… it is a responsibility that is deeply affecting, and creates a debt that deserves appreciation every time policing is discussed. I for one think it makes little sense to think automatically of all arguably flawed police work resulting in tragedy as necessarily criminal, or “ordinarily” criminal.

4. If the bulk of our homicides stem from the illegal drug trade and criminality around that market, why don’t we decriminalize the drug trade? ASAP? That won’t directly address all honor killings or all crimes of passion, want or mental illness, but it sure will mitigate the structural incentive to pursue and search a lot of “suspicious characters” in our neighborhoods.This is controversial, but the public health approach to drug abuse is the right approach.

5. Pittsburgh needs to look at the facts of any given case and respond. Officers require the confidence to document accurately, internal investigations need to be matter-of-fact, and legal proceedings as they arise must proceed in a straightforward manner. Police rewards and discipline must be proportionate to stimulate good results for public safety, such as increased community collaboration. That’s just another part of “the job”.

Mayor Bill Peduto on FoxNews’ O’Reilly Factor was a righteous snooze. I submit to you that none of this is rocket surgery. Train, reward, respond, repeat. We can even negotiate a contract amidst it, though I would imagine slowly. A side-benefit of having so many things on the bargaining table, is that there are so many things to exchange.

The most controversial part of that sign borrowed by Chief McLay was the hashtag. Not “end white silence”, but the actual pound sign. It reeked of common rabble, youth culture and decentralized organizing. Such is the world — get to know it, engage with its creatures! Establish a rapport.

There is little value in blaming Al Sharpton or Barack Obama or Bill DeBlasio or Cameron McLay or Tim Stevens for something that precedes them, predates them, bubbles up with persistent consistency. If you must blame something in these times, blame widespread digital recording and Twitter. But don’t pretend these grievances need any special heating by the media, politicians or establishment advocates — these have been long-simmering in racially mixed communities throughout the nation. No sense pretending otherwise!

Here in Allegheny County, a “fairness hearing” is scheduled regarding Leon Ford, and we pray for as little brand-new friction as possible.

Now, let us turn to City Hall, where Councilor Natalia Rudiak is taking care of paid parental leave, as you do.

Mayor Peduto is being himself:

RIP, Sophie Masloff, 1917-2014. Gone but never forgotten.

RIP, Sophie Masloff, 1917-2014. Gone but never to be forgotten.

A. Apologizing for taking a while declaring the six Undercover Boss sponsors

B. Defending his Parks and Recreation hiring of a friend with a family in politics

C. Pledging 2 to 3% of future capital budgets to cycling infrastructure

Looking east, there is the matter of Downtown’s immediate neighbors…

It seems a neighborhood community development corporation has hired a local attorney of repute, in order to seek that the Penguins comply with some prior agreements.

Think of this as Skywalker weighing in suddenly against Count Dooku, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi or Emperor Palpatine… or better yet, as Varys sliding up to Prince Doran Martell…

This is what engrosses yinzers: wealth privilege vs. socialism vs. “Pro-Growth Progressivism” vs. various neoliberalisms. And it all boils down to Mario Lemieux and Bill Peduto and their respective councils and counsellors and critics, above a trench before a long-contested hill at the forks of the Ohio.

COMET ANALYSIS: Mario has more experience leading teams to victory, but one would hope this isn’t ice hockey. When Le Magnifique sues, he should sue for peace. That’s how somebody is going to suit and score.

MORE: It’s always fun to compare Our Mayor to Our County Executive. Mayor Peduto is hounded by his detractors, and County Executive Fitzgerald gets the business from a chorus of Progressives, Republicans and political reactionaries in even deeper harmony. The clock on brilliant efficiencies through consolidated services is ticking.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner has been making a strong showing of spotlighting procedures which can be fixed. City Controller Michael Lamb seeks a third term to point to past decisions which he still doesn’t think were very good.

If you reside in the City of Pittsburgh, possess a basic knowledge of math, finance and investigative accounting, have successfully managed an office of employees, are not excessively eccentric and love your City, this is a lovely time to consider public life.

Anything fun happening on County Council this cycle? Or the School Board… heaven help us, the School Board?!?!

Pittsburgh and ordinary Pittsburghers will do what they do, which is dominate. The likelier worst case scenarios ought not be that bad, or at least that much worse. But we ought not miss the grand opportunities of this epoch.

Criminal justice reform. The conflict over the Hill. Public education and public transportation. These are the necessary subjects of the Pittsburgh Comet’s orbit in 2015.

Throw some related keywords together, and one winds up with a video on Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History. So here’s to you, Barack Hussein! Bring it on home.

Education, Transportation, Law and Order and the Forks. And of course some updates and wise-quackery, but mostly from you. The Comet shall return anon and anew. Look alive!

SPECIAL DEDICATION: To Chief Paul Donaldson, a 39-year veteran of the force, a gentleman and scholar. We’ll never know how much he’s done.

40 thoughts on “Winter Guide: Dealing With the March of Progress

  1. Anonymous

    Hey what about Gable’s son’s company getting the contract to sell an asphalt plant to the City. Nothing to see here, please disperse. Hey, we thought the show would air in March, so we couldn’t release the list of donors. Nothing to see here, please disperse.

  2. Anonymous

    So now Visit Pittsburgh is doubling down on their contribution. So much for the idea that no taxpayer money will finance this stunt. Also…prepare for more RAD money going towards things like the AWC bid, as the long-time head is stepping aside. His dedication to responsible and transparent stewardship of those funds was so…inconvenient.

    The emerging story of this administration is that they are pretty casual about (or even unwilling) working within the boundaries of legitimate funding for their initiatives (if self-serving CBS spots and the AWC bailout can really be called initiatives), and they haven’t done their homework on the implications.

      1. Anonymous

        Well, since substantive replies appear to be on the outs, I’ll just suggest you brush up on apostrophe usage?

  3. BP

    Contrary to his statements at Cappy’s and elsewhere, the mayor used and will use taxpayer dollars for his gifts on Undercover Boss. He takes a credibility hit here, no question. One good thing may come of this…maybe someone will take a closer look at Visit Pittsburgh. Maybe they can contribute to paving and snow removal? Maybe they will consider a pilot, if that’s not too disruptive to executive compensation?

    1. Brian Tucker-Hill

      It would be great if the public took more interest in entities like VisitPittsburgh, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. They’ve been around since the 1930s, and are just one part of the massive web of local semi-independent public authorities and private non-profits through which local politicians, corporations, and wealthy individuals have long conducted a large portion of their “public interest” business in the region.

  4. Brian Tucker-Hill

    Just so everyone is clear on the facts, VisitPittsburgh is not a public agency. Rather, it is a non-profit run by and for the local business community (a variation on a Chamber of Commerce-type entity). However, it does get most of its funding through a cut of the County hotel tax. The basic justification for that is VisitPittsburgh promotes local conventions, trade shows, and tourism, and local hotels are among the direct beneficiaries of those efforts.

    Given that background, I don’t personally think there is anything wrong with Visit Pittsburgh choosing to contribute funds to this program–in fact, it seems like a highly efficient way to contribute to their overall mission. But I do think transparency in cases like this is warranted.

  5. Anonymous

    When we’re talking about how tax revenue is allocated and then spent, transparency is a must. It may be that Visit Pittsburgh’s allocation is too generous, and perhaps the tax itself could be reduced, undoubtedly resulting in some positives for those who pay for accommodations within County limits…which perhaps could generate more business activity for the county.

    Peduto’s “friends” are Visit Pittsburgh? Ponderous, wouldn’t you say?

    1. Anonymous

      Interesting comment. It does bring new focus to what he meant by “friends.” Who, exactly, ok’d or directed Visit Pittsburgh to do this? In other words, who are the “friends?” Was it the board of VP? If so, who are they? Was it the executive director? Was it both? Or was it the County Executive? The Mayor was clearly referring to some group of people or a person when he said his “friends” wanted to give money. Who was he referring to?

      1. Anonymous

        So far, the “friends” are:

        -Visit Pittsburgh
        -The URA
        -Some entity that pulled out when they found out they couldn’t remain anonymous

        Anonymous 8:53, you seem to worry who the friends could be… I think the issue is more who they aren’t. It appears they didn’t have donors lined up before they did this, so they used the URA coffers and made the assumption that other donors would beat a path to their door with money. No sense worrying about pay-to-play yet, when they don’t have the donors lined up. But the claim/boast that no tax money was used is undoubtedly false.

        Some people shrugged when Luke used the homeland security SUV to go to the browser country concert, I definitely wasn’t one of them. Similarly, I don’t think this should be shrugged at. Poor judgment in both cases.

    2. bramr101 Post author

      I still don’t think of this as a “big” deal — VisitPittsburgh more than anyone else has a mission that can be said to include making our city look good on TV.

      But this began as something not terribly well thought out, then evolved into something not handled very well, and now has clearly sprouted into a “mistake”. Mistakes are there to learn from. Ideally.

      1. Gabe

        Bram, I was with you on this but it does grow more troubling every day. Now it turns out they don’t have the money; some of the money they do have are public dollars that the VP board never voted to approve; and the URA resolution setting up the fund clearly states that NO PUBLIC DOLLARS will be accepted or distributed. If “mistakes are there to learn from,” they really have a lot to learn.

  6. Anonymous

    I object to giving money at all. Why should a gov. agency be distributing gifts at all. I found that part of the show distasteful. Also, something in the show hinted at more Wilkinsburg connections.
    When refuge was picking up at the border Peduto said how inefficient that street was, like maybe we could take over their garbage collection too. Then the schools and eventually Wilkinsburg will be Homewood 2.0.
    Peduto is such a disappointment as mayor. Just like him to give other peoples money away and act like it was free. Taxes to him is money to pass around and it’s never enough.
    Go ahead and attack me and call me names for my thoughts. This echo chamber is right up there with the tax and spend and gift political class from Grant Street.

    1. bramr101 Post author

      I don’t have my hopes up on this score, but honestly it’d be fabulous if we took on Wilkinsburg. And Mt. Oliver and Mt. Lebo and everything else. Annex them all, peaceably. Too many local governments.

      1. Anonymous

        We already have that, it’s called The County. Seems like the perfect banner under which services should be consolidated.

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        I agree consolidation of a number of services under the County would make sense, but there is an awful lot of resistance to that idea.

        Another interesting unit to know about is the Congress of Neighboring Communities (“CONNECT”), which is made up of the City and the neighboring municipalities (including Wilkinsburg and many others). That actually forms a unit fairly close to a more typical U.S. central city in terms of size relative to the overall metropolitan areas (Pittsburgh on its own is quite small by that measure, but all of Allegheny County would be quite large). They’ve done some work on issues which naturally invite wider cooperation (water management, land banking, and so on), although I have not heard much about them lately so I wonder how they are doing.

    2. Brian Tucker-Hill

      Take my Wilkinsburg–please! As a Wilkinsburg resident, I would like nothing more than a full merger with the City of Pittsburgh, although there are many on both sides who disagree.

      Anyway, Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh already have a contract for both refuse and recycling, and more recently (2011) they also merged the fire departments. There has been talk but no action with respect to police and schools.

    3. Anonymous

      I wrote the above 1:24, I love how Peduto stepped in it. He wanted the mayor job so bad and he’s mucking it up. What a mess he’s made, I hope the rest of his term isn’t the stinking nightmare that marked his 1st year. The Under Cover Boss shows that he’s a bigger goof than Luke.

  7. Anonymous

    It was hilarious how he feigned outrage over trash collection stopping at the Wilkinsburg border and used some fancy phrase about his genius ideas he has to implement to save us all with his efficiency, data, blah blah blah.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, the two municipalities had a contract in effect for years whereby Wilkinsburg pays the City to pick up its trash so we can all avoid the problem they ran into on the show. Guy Costa even signed it.

    It expired, and it was while Peduto was either mayor or on council.

    But at least he can now save us all with his data-driven whatever.

  8. Anonymous

    What contracts do we have in effect with Wilkinsburg? Fire, EMS, refuse? I personally don’t want to take on this troubled area. Good God, have Fitz go in there and straighten it out.
    Plus, Visit Pgh. is a county tax, where is Fitz, Chelsa, County Council? No comment?
    Anyway, thank you for not attacking me for my differing opinion.

    1. Brian Tucker-Hill

      To give a quick Wilkinsburg pitch–it has some rough areas but also some very nice areas, and many areas are now in transition from better to worse. It has a couple East Busway stations, easy access to I-376, and lots of historic architecture in both the commercial and residential areas. Rents have been increasing steadily in quite a few areas and that is attracting more investment, although that has been more residential than commercial.

      A good bit of what is still holding us back is the very poor state of the school district, along with property tax rates that are too high (although we have been instituting abatement programs, and the reassessment helped a bit as well). It also doesn’t help that we are currently a dry municipality (although the CDC is trying to pass a referendum to change that).

      So the potential benefit here for both sides would be to eliminate or at least greatly diminish those problems, at which point investment might accelerate, helping to grow the tax base. Combine that with efficiencies from consolidation and it could end up a win-win in the long run.

      Unfortunately, that argument appears to be too much on the speculative/risky side for the local (small-c) conservative mindset when it comes to municipal issues, and there is in fact lots of resistance in Wilkinsburg (not just Pittsburgh), basically from people who think we have been better off independent. So that’s why the talks have centered on more limited service agreements, where the risk is far less (but so is the potential reward).

      1. Anonymous

        Wilkinsburg has some great areas, sure…and houses are cheap. Why? Because of the schools. If Wilkinsburg kids could attend PPS, those property values would probably double right away.

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        By the way, Wilkinsburg also just received a state Main Streets designation. That is something we have been going after for a while, and it should allow access to a number of state programs.

  9. Anonymous

    That’s all Wilkinsburg needs is to introduce alcohol.
    Is this what Mayor Peduto is angling for? Take over Wilkinsburg? He needs to take it down a notch. He’s getting a little to close to the ledge and the whole city is gonna blow if he doesn’t watch out. He isn’t really leading this ship like I had hoped. I’m dodging bigger and bigger potholes in all parts of the city and he’s playing Santa, beard an all. WTF? He is getting to be a bigger goof than Luke. Just shut up and manage Bill.

    1. Brian Tucker-Hill

      I’ve never gotten the slighest hint that Peduto was actually interested in a full merger with Wilkinsburg. I’m not even sure he would support further service agreements, although I did take that line as suggestive that maybe he is interested in more municipal cooperation in some general sense.

      People in Wilkinsburg can, of course, already get alcohol. The inability of Wilkinsburg restaurants to get liquor licenses just encourages restaurants to locate around but not in Wilkinsburg. That’s very unfortunate because as we have seen in many areas recently, restaurants are often among the first businesses willing to invest in neighborhood commercial areas.

  10. Anonymous

    Somewhat surprising to see the Visit Pittsburgh contributions explained as in line with their efforts at marketing the City. I guess people missed the show, where Peduto “saved” a worker from the horrible fate of having a child attend PPS by providing private school tuition. Not exactly a vote of confidence in the city, to have the public school system rejected in such stark, prime time terms. People considering a move to Pittsburgh had better be doing more research than this about the school system, but this “gift” certainly didn’t shine a positive light on the City and how it is being run. And before you reply that “we all know PPS is doomed anyway”…try telling that to the folks who are trying hard every darn day to improve it. Try telling that to the people in his own administration who have been working to turn PPS in the right direction. This stunt was a slap in their faces, nothing less.

    Instead, let’s be honest…the Visit Pittsburgh contributions are happening because that’s really all they’ve been able to come up with, however bad a fit. Go ahead and make a mockery of the idea that they avoided tax dollars…just don’t insult our intelligence on top of it. And don’t hamstring efforts at effecting positive change in PPS.

    1. bramr101 Post author

      Just to clarify that one gift, wasn’t the student already enrolled in a private school, and at risk of being pulled out of it for cost reasons? If so that’s at least a little different. If a kid already enjoys a school, has made friends there, and has bonded with teachers and a program, then it’d definitely be disruptive and upsetting to be removed, irrespective of what that says about PPS.

      Although let’s keep being honest. Our public school system doesn’t have a PR problem because mayors talk about it the wrong way. Parents do copious amounts of research on where to send their children and it rarely involves network television — and they’re opting against PPS whenever they can swing it, despite hefty scholarships. The parent featured on the program wasn’t terribly atypical.

      And perhaps in general, employees of the Bureau, or of PPS, or of any Department or public institution need to be more accepting of institutional criticism, or it’ll be impossible to change things anywhere. We’re not running government primarily for the sake of its employees’ self-esteem. (The way politicians and their appointees get talked about constantly, by everyone, you’d think their employees could be a little less sensitive to every perceived slight.)

      1. Anonymous

        You’re not getting it. No one is claiming that PPS is perfect. However, is the answer to surrender? After all, we’re stuck supporting it with our taxes. Either you’re moving forward, or you’re circling the drain. Since we’re apparently settling on the PR value the Undercover Boss appearance supposedly generated, genuine advocates of PPS ( are not unclear on what message was sent about public schools on the show, regardless of all this juggling now that the dust is clearing.

        Again, we’re left to wonder…how many of these details would we be shrugging about if this was something the previous mayor did? The answer is none. We seem to keep walking back from what was supposedly achieved here, and the tracks are looking more and more ugly.

        Let’s admit it: going on TV to hand out money that came from Bill’s “friends” VP and the URA was not the greatest idea. Whoever thought it was a great idea was just not thinking it through.

        Is it a big deal? Maybe not…maybe it’s ok to claim you’re not using tax money, but for that to prove to be untrue. Maybe we didn’t need a mayor’s credibility to be unassailable after all.

      2. bramr101 Post author

        I’m not sure what is being communicated up there by referencing Yinzercation? I don’t see that they’ve taken any position on Undercover Bossgate. They may like me believe the actual state of our public schools to be more important than “the message that we’re sending” about our public schools.

      3. Brian Tucker-Hill

        By the way, as to whether it was a “great idea”:

        I do in fact think doing the show was a great idea for the City itself. To the extent people are trying to make it into some sort of political scandal, I’m not sure whether it was a great idea for Peduto personally. On the other hand, it looks to me like even as a purported political scandal, it really isn’t penetrating beyond the people already predisposed to think ill of Peduto. And in modern politics, that tends not to be worth worrying much about–there will always be something for people who don’t like you to be upset about at any given moment, which will be making noise in hostile newspaper editorials, on blogs and social media, and so on. And this feels to me like one of those sorts of things.

    2. Brian Tucker-Hill

      I can understand why some supporters of PPS might be a liitle upset over that element of the show, although I would suggest that all traditional public school systems need to get comfortable with the concept of school choice, and I would further suggest it is not actually the Mayor’s job to promote the traditional public schools to the exclusion of the City’s other school choices. The parents and children who choose to utilize charter and private schools are in fact his constituents too.

      But regardless of what one feels about that specific issue, is it seriously in doubt whether the show overall had promotional value for the City? Peduto got to do his well-rehearsed and very effective pitch about Pittsburgh being a self-reliant comeback kid, we got to meet several very charming, heart-warming, hard-working people, and as always the City looked absolutely gorgeous in HD.

      So I am pretty sure if you were an advertising and marketing consultant uninterested in the rough and tumble of local politics, you would definitely score this as a big win for the City’s promotional efforts. Basically, something like 8 million people watched an hour-long ad for the City, and I am pretty sure the normal price for that much marketing value is WAY higher than $25,000 or $50,000 or even much, much more.

      1. Gabe

        I agree with Brian. The city definitely received more than $50,000 in promotion from the show. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. The problem is that the hype around the new administration was that it would be the most transparent, process driven, honest and ethical administration ever. This story is just one example proving that the hype is BS.

  11. BP

    Following up on issues of transparency and ethics is hardly scandal-mongering. There are some things that need to be fleshed out on this topic. Does it constitute the demise of the Peduto administration? Surely not…no more than the Toby Keith affair did.

  12. Anonymous

    I love it when non-City residents lecture us on our elected officials. It’s great. We pay 3 times the income tax, have 3 times the potholes, don’t even own a snow plow, and then we have to hear it from people who don’t even live here.

    1. Brian Tucker-Hill

      Are you talking about me?

      It is true–as a Wilkinsburg resident I can’t vote in City elections, and I only pay the flat local services tax.

      On the other hand–I work in the City. My wife works in the City. Our daughter goes to daycare in the City, My son goes to school in the City. We dine and shop all the time in the City, and go to parks and events in the City. As noted previously, my municipality shares services with the City. We commute using PAT, a service shared by the entire County, and we also drive on City roads. And on and on.

      So we are what I would call “stakeholders” in the City, and as such I take an interest in what is happening in terms of politics and policies in the City, because it can have a big effect on our lives.

      There is an alternative–some people living in the suburbs think and sometimes say variations on, “To hell with the City, I don’t live there, why should I care?” I personally think that attitude is incredibly short-sighted. And I also think it is not doing residents of the City any favors. But if you think that is in fact what I should be thinking, feel free to ignore my comments.

      1. bramr101 Post author

        If you lived within City limits and they disagree with your opinions or dislike the facts you raise, then they’d just say you live in the wrong neighborhood, were born in the wrong neighborhood, are too much of an Internet person, or went to college or something… while commenting anonymously and likely from Cranberry, which we all know as the real enemy.

      2. Anonymous

        I am an anon who is often disagreed with you BTH, but i completely agree with you on this one. It is completely unfair for City residents to throw up the wall and claim you have no right to speak. Don’t forget, you also pay County and State taxes that then get routed back into the City. Every suburban resident is someone who used to live in the City and got fed up or someone who should live in the City but we haven’t convinced yet. You are far from the enemy, you are a target we need to rope in. Yelling and screaming is not the way to do that.

      3. busesarebridges

        Brian, as a City-dweller, I very much appreciate your intelligent, thoughtful comments at this site even when I most disagree with them, and am very glad to hear from a County resident that so responsibly and reasonably contributes your very credible perspectives on how your share of taxpayer dollars are spent on decisions that clearly affect your interests.

        Helen Gerhardt

  13. BP

    If criticism about critics from outside city limits was directed at BTH, it was unwarranted. However, it’s certainly a valid complaint overall. The suburban mindset where the City is concerned is generally corrosive. From that perspective, I guess the Undercover Boss appearance was a positive, as it’s generally the suburban crowd that is impressed by that sort of thing. Maybe this will translate into a more sympathetic view of City issues…but, just as likely it won’t…and meanwhile, the stunt isn’t looking any better from the city resident perspective.


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