Back in the early days of blogging, a couple local bloggers used to tease me about how they were going to put me and my MSM brethren out of jobs.
Personally, I don't see it. We MSM types are doing a perfectly good job of putting OURSELVES out of work, thank you very much. And these days, it seems like bloggers pose a more immediate threat to campaign staffers anyway.
The connections can be a little dizzying. A few days back, we had the Pittsburgh Comet's Bram -- who volunteers for city council candidate Georgia Blotzer -- praising a post by Maria of the 2 political junkies, who has also worked for city council candidate Georgia Blotzer. And the post that earned Bram's mentiion leads off with a press release from ... city council candidate Georgia Blotzer.
Meanwhile, Matt Hogue is the campaign manager for city council candidate Anthony Coghill. And there was been a minor kerfluffle over who had really created a couple animated short films Hogue has posted attacking two candidates' mayoral challengers.
I'm not sure why candidates can't post their own damn press releases -- don't they have their own Web sites? But beyond that, I don't care that much. I've said this before, but these are blogs, not public trusts.
Besides, there's a nice irony here. Online and elsewhere, one complaint with the MSM has been that too often, reporters just repeat talking points ... often without making any effort to get to the truth behind the claims. It's almost reassuring to see that, even if the MSM does go the way of all flesh, its most sacred traditions will continue.
Just when you thought the whole Joe the Plumber thing had finally played itself out ... plans are afoot to spring this idiot on us all over again.
Yes, Joe Wurzelbacher is apparently coming to Pittsburgh to speak out against the Employee Free Choice Act on March 30. Wurzelbacher, of course, is to politics what Paris Hilton is to Hollywood: proof that anyone can earn 15 minutes of fame and then some, provided they are willing to be utterly shameless. After playing the part of a bald sock puppet in the McCain campaign, he's done a laughable stint as a war correspondent ... in which he suggested that wars shouldn't have correspondents. There was also talk about hiim recording an album. We can only pray there isn't a sex tape in the works.
Anyway, now the talented Mr. Wurzelbacher is being offered up to us an expert on labor law.
EFCA, as you may have heard, is a measure desperately opposed by business groups, because it would help unionization efforts. Under current labor law, even if every employee signs a card indicating their desire to form a union, an employer can still require an election -- which gives the employer more time to intimidate workers into abandoning the effort. Naturally conservatives are opposing the measure under the pretext that it will ... allow UNIONS to intimidate employees.
Joe's visit coincides with Senator Arlen Specter's decision to oppose EFCA, dashing the hopes of many union supporters.
Coincidentally enough, Joe's visit ALSO comes just a week after janitors at the Carnegie Science Center held a demonstration at their workplace. The janitors contend that while they've all signed cards indicating their support for a union, the Science Center still refuses to recognize one.
It'd be nice if a couple of those janitors showed up to hear Joe hold forth on the bullying tactics of the union they are trying so desperately to join. I got a feeling somebody would be walking out of this event with a swirly.
Believe it or not, it's possible -- maybe -- for the city and county to pass a decent campaign-finance reform bill.
I'll explain why I think so at the bottom of this post, but I'll admit you couldn't see much sign of hope from yesterday's city council hearing on the proposed reform. At the outset of the hearing, city councilor Jim Motznik and county council president Rich Fitzgerald agreed they'd support the reform ... but only if both the city and the county passed the exact same measure.
That requirement has also been stressed by mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Dan Onorato when they first proposed the bill a few months ago. And some nattering nabobs suspected that requiring each legislative body to agree to the measure is a means of hamstringing them both.
In fact Fitzgerald, who was invited to the meeting along with representatives from Onorato and Ravenstahl's offices, made clear yesterday that there wasn't necessarily "broad-based support" for the bill in the first place. And further objections to it emerged yesterday.
City councilor Tonya Payne, for example, depicted the issue as a civil-rights matter.
"People can keep their heads stuck in the sand if they want to," she said, but "white males can outraise any of us." Payne, who is black, predicted the measure would pass with or without her, but "I'm just saying upfront, you're squeezing me, you're squeezing [councilor Darlene] Harris, you're squeezing [councilor Theresa] Smith. Any other woman, any other African-American, you're squeezing us... I believe it's not fair."
I'll confess that I found the objection murky. If white males can outfundraise everyone else -- and no doubt they can -- wouldn't the smart move be to deprive them of that advantage by limiting contributions wherever possible? Ensuring black customers could sit at lunch counters seems far more noble than demanding black politicians, too, can get access to unlimited cash at the campaign trough.
Then again, Payne said she favored action at the state level. Given Harrisburg's track record for killing such reforms, that's not much different from saying you don't favor action at all. But if big cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (which already has contribution limits) are the only ones who pass such measures ... that arguably does hurt the prospects for black candidates, who tend to launch their careers in urban areas.
But all this paled compared to the drama of city councilor Patrick Dowd -- who did you know is a mayoral candidate? -- grilling Ravenstahl aide Gabe Mazefsky.
Dowd noted that Ravenstahl had vetoed a campaign-finance bill passed by the city last year, and that many of Ravenstahl's objections to that bill could apply to this one. For example, Ravenstahl complained that the measure would put city politicians at a disadvantage in races for state office, where they might face suburban politicians who hadn't been cramped by the rules. Dowd noted that the same objection could apply to this rule as well.
"Why is the mayor suddenly flip-flopping?" Dowd asked.
"I think 'flip-flopping' is a campaign term ..." Mazefsky began.
"OK," said Dowd, "why has he changed his position out of convenience?"
"I believe on the school board, on which you served ... did you propose campaign finance reform?" Mazefsky shot back.
The answer is no. And Dowd's cross-examination of Mazefsky was met with some knowing smirks by Dowd's peers. "I can't believe mayoral politics was intruding in these chambers," one later told me in mock surprise.
But actually, mayoral politics may be the best chance this bill has of getting passed. Notably circumspect during this hearing was Bill Peduto, the city councilor who has done more to push this reform than anyone else.
Peduto knows better than anyone that Ravenstahl's reform is a flip-flop. And as sponsor of the vetoed bill, he has the most reason to be upset about it. Still, Peduto kept his remarks fairly brief. He noted the more strident limits put in place by other cities, and said the veto had a "devastating" impact on reform efforts at the state level. But he also emphasized his willingness to work with the mayor (and by extension the county executive) to get a bill passed, expressing a willingness to negotiate some points with them.
So it's possible, at least, that we could see a repeat of Peduto and Ravenstahl's compromise on installing energy-saving bulbs in city streetlights. Peduto and Ravenstahl have often been at loggerheads, but their willingness to negotiate this issue gave Ravenstahl a campaign boast, and it gave Peduto a notch in his belt as an environmentalist. It also left Dowd -- who also touts environmentalist principles, but who has long been on the outs with Peduto -- in the cold.
The situation here seems similar: Ravenstahl would no doubt love to put this reform issue behind him, to neutralize Dowd and anyone else who might pop up as an independent challenger down the road. Peduto would no doubt love to pass a bill, period. And he doesn't have much interest in helping Dowd either.
Like I say, it may not come to pass. But I have a feeling that in Pittsburgh, the only way to fight old-school politics is with old-school politics.
Patrick Dowd opened the doors to his Downtown office last night, but perhaps more importantly, he's seems to be closing the door on some fears people might have had about his campaign style.
For one thing, he's gotten a little less wonky. At his official campaign kick-off, Dowd had a tendency to wander into discursions about policy minutiae that seemed to test the patience of even die-hard supporters. He did that much less last night -- and when a supporter asked about Dowd's crusade against bond swaps at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Dowd kept things simple, charging that the process was a risky approach to financing, without delving into the intricacies of the bond market.
And in case you were concerned that Dowd wouldn't be willing to go after Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, give a listen to this clip, which charges the mayor with "celebrity chasing" and "pay for play" politics. (In fact, some material deemed too graphic by media executives was deleted from this track.)
In response to an audience question, Dowd also addressed his role in the closing of Schenley High School. Dowd, a former school board member, has been plagued by that move about as much as he has by his decision to remove former Superintendent John Thompson. While Dowd wasn't on the school board at the time the controversial decision was made, he supported the move. The closing was portrayed as a veritable conspiracy in some quarters: Even though some have since forgiven him -- and even though there's been at least a bit of evidence supporting some of Dowd's other controversial moves -- Schenley continues to dog Dowd.
But Dowd fielded the question without discomfort, and the youthful crowd of about 60 was receptive. Dowd also has some events to look forward to: On April 8, he'll be feted at an event hosted by Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who's a beacon to the young-at-heart in Pittsburgh political circles. The host committee also includes Shadow Lounge proprietor Justin Strong, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania public-affairs director Jodi Hirsh, and state Rep. Chelsa Wagner.
One of our missions at City Paper is to provide a comprehensive guide to goings-on about town. Some of those events are wholesome family fare for kids and parents to enjoy. (Be sure to check out Love City at Garfield Artworks on March 24, for example!) Others, though, are downright perverse.
But we pass no judgments here at CP. So for the hardcore fetishists out there, let me recommend this descent into debauchery: a "Tea Party" tax protest to be held in Pittsburgh and other cities on April 15. Details are scant, but I got a feeling this is gonna be like a Fellini film -- complete with Bible-thumpers, circus freaks, leather-clad dwarves, and maybe even some Libertarians.
After all, it's boosted by the American Family Association, which kindly sent us an e-mail about the protest and directed us to this site.
The AFA is perhaps better known for its jihads against gay people, but in these tough economic times, you've got to diversify. So suddenly, the group has decided that the moral cause of the day is not AIDS in Africa or even Janet Jackson's nipple, but ... taxation.
"We want to send a message to Washington," Donald Wildmon, the longtime wingnut who heads the AFA, tells us via e-mail. "We cannot spend our way out of debt, and we find it immoral to pile debt on our great-grandchildren."
Well, it's nice to see Don keeping busy. I mean, at least he's found a genuine cause ... as opposed to his previous campaigns against TV shows like Three's Company and Laverne & Shirley. (By the way, Don, how IS that campaign to clean up television going? Just about got that worked out?)
But ... "immoral"? Really? One wonders how these guardians of public decency managed to hold their peace during the Bush years. After all, the National Tea Party Day Web site rails against such commmon Bush-era practices as "run[ning] up trillions of dollars of debt and then sell[ing] that debt to countries such as China." Not to mention "leaving a debt our great-grandchildren will be paying." (Notice how it's only the GREAT-grandchildren Wildmon's crew is upset about? I get the feeling somebody's grandkids should call more often.)
This is, of course, exactly what gets up my left nostril about these latter-day Pharisees. If this were just a political attack on Obama, the hypocrisy wouldn't bother me: Politicians do this sort of thing all the time. I only really get irritated when people lay claim to the mantle of "morality" while engaging in transparently partisan stunts. Deficit spending was moral when we needed to bomb Iraq back in the Bush years, I guess. But if it's for something like providing healthcare to all Americans, why, that's the Devil's handiwork.
The funny thing is that Wildmon has something in common with the Wall Street sharpsters whose bailout he decries. Neither the hedge funds or the fundamentalists have realized the rules have changed. When voters went to the polls in November, they voted against the toxic combination of conservative politics -- against the big-money guys who screwed up our economy, yes, but also against the Don Wildmons of the world, who spent years trumping up "values issues" like Terri Schiavo and stem-cell research while Wall Street looted the economy.
Had Wildmon and Wall Street been less self-righteous, they would have learned some humility from those election results. AIG and Merrill Lynch might have realized that it's a bad idea to give out performance bonuses while seeking bailouts with the other hand. And Wildmon's lunatic fringe would realize that almost everyone is embarrassed by their shenanigans.
But hey -- don't let that get in the way of having a good time on April 15. Turn out in Downtown Pittsburgh wearing the kinkiest get-up you can find. I guarantee you won't be alone.
Carmen Robinson first announced her campaign a few months back, but she only had her first formal press conference today. And she began by hitting that classic theme of the mayoral challenger: a grievance about how the city spent too much money on "big businesses and large real estate developers" -- and not enough on small businesses out in the neighborhoods.
Robinson pounded these populist themes (hear a minute-long excerpt by clicking here), while standing in front of Liberty Avenue's "Welcome to Bloomfield" sign. She contended that even when development dollars are spent in neighborhoods, the projects are often priced out of the reach of those who lived nearby. She noted developments happening around East Liberty's Penn Circle as an example: "I believe they're trying to change [East Liberty] into East Shadyside," she said. "I'd like to grow our neighborhoods, but for all of us, not just for rich people."
She was short on specifics during her prepared remarks: She said her goal was "to stimulate small-business growth, create a healthy environment, as we have here in Bloomfield, and help reduce the violence that characterizes too many of our neighborhoods." But when asked by reporters what policies she would adopt to support this goal, she said "First, I need to look at the numbers" in city budgets.
After the conference ended, though, she told me she felt that too often "mayors try to solve problems [attracting and retaining business] by throwing money at it." A better approach, she said, would involve the city helping businesses develop business plans and do market research -- so they would have a better grip on what residents actually needed.
Robinson isn't totally opposed to using tax incentives: She noted a KFC that closed down was a "neighborhood staple" for Homewood. But she said chains who sought government aid "would have to produce not just an economic plan but a social plan [explaining] what they planned to give back." Other than fast food, obviously.
The gathering was attended by about a dozen enthusiastic supporters -- including long-time anti-real-estate-speculation activist David Tessitor. When Robinson had been in the area the day before, she had a brush with a shoplifter in the Shur-Save parking lot across the street. I'm happy to report here were no similar incidents today: Your CP correspondent was the most disreputable person in attendance.
Well, it was only a matter of time: Now CNN has done its own story on hardscrabble Braddock and its mayor, John Fetterman.
So for those keeping track at home, Fetterman and Braddock have recently been featured by CBS, The New York Times, the Colbert Report, CNBC and I think Fox News as well. All within the past couple months.
We first profiled Fetterman two-and-a-half-years ago, which just proves that if you want to avoid coverage in the major media for 30 months or so, a City Paper cover story is a nice place to hide out. I expect a call from Bernie Madoff momentarily.
But I have to say, I'm astounded by this display of the national media's herd instinct. Braddock's been going down the shitter for a couple decades now. No one cared. But suddenly everyone needs to have the story ... because everyone else already has the story.
And what about all those other hardscrabble towns of the Mon Valley? Is there no love for Rankin, nor Charleroi, nor long-suffering Duquesne? (I'd add McKeesport to the mix, but at least they have this guy in their corner.) If I ran a tattoo parlor, I'd be offering a special on ZIP codes for municipal officials, just like the one Fetterman has emblazoned on his arm.
None of this is to blame Fetterman himself. For one thing, he could kick my ass. For another, he'd be crazy not to take advantage of this momentary interest in the plight of his constituents. But something about all the sudden media interest seems kind of sad.
For the past 20 years, the national media has been fixated on the ever-mounting Dow, celebrating dotcommers and all the rest while places like Braddock were collapsing from within. Now, suddenly, we're teetering on the precipice of economic catastrophe ... thanks to the same financial wizards we spent so much time celebrating.
You can almost hear the panic in New York and Atlanta. Quick! We need a metaphor for the lamentable plight of our industrial heartland ... but also for the indominitable character of the American people! This Fetterman fellow makes good copy! Get a camera crew out there!
Back when I was growing up, the industrial wasteland du jour was Homestead, just across the river. A lot of cameras turned out to watch the Homestead Works shut down, and TV folks put on their best anguished faces as they recounted the sad tale of the once-proud American worker. Prince Charles even dropped by at one point. If memory serves, he suggested planting a lot of flowers.
The phrase I heard used to describe many of those folks was "poverty pimps." The town's misfortune was just something for them to exploit until the next commercial break. And you can see how much their attention did for Homestead, which -- except for the Waterfront mall -- looks as bad or worse than it did 10 and 15 and 20 years ago.
I hope Fetterman has better luck.
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Hoagie reported allegations involving vote fraud in the Democratic Party's endorsement vote for city council district 4. Blogger Matt Hogue alleged that a vote may have been cast in that race by someone merely pretending to be a committeeperson. Hogue surmises that the vote was most likely cast for Patrick Reilly, who won the endorsement, though of course the ballots are cast in secret.
I've spoken to both Anthony Coghill, the District 4 candidate who first made the fraud allegations, and Jim Burn, the chair of the county Democratic Party.
Both confirmed that allegations had been made -- though contrary to Hogue's post, no court injunction has been sought. Coghill, who has retained an attorney, says he's currently reviewing his options -- as well as the signatures of other committeefolk who voted in the District 4 endorsement. "One [suspect vote] is enough for me to question all of them," Coghill told me. "Naturally I'm suspicious."
Coghill lost by six votes, and it's possible that the endorsement result would be allowed to stand even if a vote had been cast under false pretenses. As Burn put it, when voter fraud surfaces in regular elections, "They may throw out a couple votes, but they don't toss out the entire result unless there's a tie."
That said, Burn acknolwedges that Coghill "has a pretty strong case" -- at least where one signature is concerned. "And the message to him has been that he has our full support and cooperation if he thinks something happened, or somebody got in under false pretenses." Burn also urged that if Coghill had further evidence of fraud, "he should bring it to us ASAP."
"One vote like this is one too many, Burn said. and the more questionable votes are discovered, Burn says, "the less I like it."
Burn says he is consulting with the party attorneys about what might trigger a revote, and what other action could be taken. In the meantime, he said, Reilly might want to think about joining with Coghill in calling for a revote. "Why would you want to go around for the next couple of months with this asterisk on your forehead?"
I am trying to reach Reilly now, and will update his response when it comes in.
In the meantime, candidate Natalia Rudiak has sent out a "plague on both your houses" release of their own.
The "hard-working residents of our district have been left out of the conversation of how to build a better Pittsbugh because of old-style political gamesmanship like this," the statement reads. "I am tired of this soap-opera politics, and I think the voters are too."
Rudiak only gardnered a handful of votes in the endorsement, but is running as a reformer anyway. And as this blog has previously contended, her best hope may be that old-guard voters split between Coghill and Reilly. This brouhaha seems almost scripted for that kind of strategy. Whether Coghill or Reilly prevail in this fight, Rudiak seems likely to be a winner as well.
As you may have read elsewhere already, Kevin Acklin is considering a challenge to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl as an Independent.
Emphasis on "considering": Acklin says he's still in the testing-the-waters stage.
But he did send out a press release late last night announcing that he'd changed his party registration to Independent. He has run for county council as a Republican in the past, and has contributed sizable sums to such GOP stalwarts as Melissa Hart, Tim Murphy, and Rick Santorum.
So, is he running as an indepedent because there's no hope of winning as a Republican?
Acklin tells me the answer is no: "I think Pittsburghers are ready for an independent campaign, and I want this to be about Pittsburgh rather than partisan politics. To run under the partisan banner wouldn't allow me to run the kind of campaign I want -- a campaign where everyone could get excited and involved."
Which, to a cynic like me, sounds like he's running as an independent because there's no hope of winning as a Republican.
But Acklin promises to liven up any campaign he does get into. When asked about whether the independent candidacy of Franco "Dok" Harris would undermine his own run, for example, Acklin said the following:
"Well, I did think of knocking out one of my front teeth and renaming myself Jack Lambert... But it's an interesting race. We have one candidate who is the son of a former Steeler, and an incumbent who wants to be a Steeler."(Acklin has some football credentials of his own, apparently: He says he played as a defensive end and an offensive tackle for Central Catholic.)
Acklin said that he would campaign as "Everybody's Boy" -- a reference to Democrat Patrick Dowd's earlier invocation of the "Nobody's Boy" theme. But Acklin agreed he'd be less likely to run in November if Dowd won this May. "I've supported Dowd in the past, and he's doing a great job putting things together. That's one of the key factors we're considering."
Since Acklin isn't even officially in the race, it seemed a little early to ask about specific policy proposals. Acklin plans to spend the "next couple months" talking to "community leaders, pastors, business owners. This won't be a fake listening tour, where the cameras show up and leave. I'll have a notebook with me, and we'll see if we can come up with solutions. But it will be a real listening tour -- not the sort of thing the mayor does."
Acklin faulted Ravenstahl for "running the city by photo op" -- which I'm hoping was a shameless attempt to garner favor with the press by quoting one of my columns. Either way, his timing was good: Earlier today, Ravenstahl had a press conference concerning a city pledge to fill potholes within five working days of receiving a community complaint.
If last year marked Ravenstahl's "war on snow," I guess 2009 marks the onset of his war on negative space.
I think I was the first person to use that utterly obvious pun, right? Right. Now the rest of you don't have to. No need to thank me.
Other scattered thoughts ...
Peg Luksik is entering the race to challenge Arlen Specter. You may not remember Luksik -- it's been more than a decade since she's run for anything. But she's a staunch pro-life conservative who put up a surprisingly strong showing in a gubernatorial run.
Instant conventional wisdom: Peg Luksik might, ironically enough, be Arlen Specter's best shot at staying in office. Specter will likely be facing a challenge from Pat Toomey, another conservative -- Luksik might well split the vote of the GOP's lunatic fringe. (Which these days is pretty much the whole GOP.) Who knows? This could even exacerbate the party's divisions. Many moderates have clearly defected from the GOP already, but there are still competing types of crazy.
Toomey might appeal more to economic-conservative nutters -- people who are motivated by tax policy more than anything else. I'm thinking of your Glenn Meakem types here. Luksik's chief appeal, meanwhile, would be to social-values crazies who are motivated mostly by the plight of frozen embryos. I'm thinking of your Diane Gramleys here.
OK, maybe not. But it may not be that much more unrealistic than the other fervent hope of the left: the hope that Specter will defect and join the Democrats:
It's no secret in Pennsylvania that Gov. Ed Rendell is also rather fond of Specter, the two sharing a warm relationship. With Rendell and the Keystone State's strong labor community firmly behind him, it really makes little sense for him to engage Club for Growth honcho Pat Toomey in a Republican primary he is more than likely to lose. The pieces are really falling in place for Specter to make the leap and switch parties.
I haven't said much about the Democratic endorsements this past weekend, mainly because they were so unsurprising. Our friend Schultz tries to make something of the fact that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl only got 79 percent of the party's commitee votes despite running unopposed. But look, it's the Democratic committee we're talking about. Twenty percent of committee folk probably had to take their meds halfway through the voting process, or got confused by all the flashing lights. I don't see any reason for Ravenstahl's challengers to despair here, but I see little cause for enthusiasm, either.
A more interesting result is in City Council District 4, where Anthony Coghill narrowly lost to Patrick Reilly for the endorsement. Reilly had the backing of Pete Wagner, a former ally of Coghill. Natalia Rudiak ended up with only a handful of votes, but as I've noted before, she may be helped by the old-guard candidates bleeding off votes from each other. The endorsement result may be a bit of evidence of that very trend.
Finally, speaking of political insurgents, we turn to the buzz surrounding F. Dok Harris' campaign. Specifically, this post by Matt Hogue.
Matt's a sweet fella, and I think he's doing a public service by posting the mailers that committeefolk get from candidates. But this post is not his best work.
Apparently, it's somehow Harris' fault that his father, legendary Steelers RB Franco Harris, chose to move outside the city when Harris was a kid. Also, it seems Harris once wrote a letter to Bill Clinton ... expressing concerns over the methodology of a math-competency test for public-school kids! Yes! I'm telling you!
There may be a legitimate question or two raised by this post: Time and digging will tell. And since Ravenstahl's behavior at football games has been such an issue to his critics, they can't complain if Harris' own social activities become a subject of speculation.
But for now, what's most telling about this post is how many comments it has attracted from apparent supporters of Luke Ravenstahl. I wasn't sure how seriously to take Harris at first -- originally I thought his campaign might be a hoax. But I get the feeling that the mayor's folks, at least, are taking him plenty serious.