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Monday, June 22, 2009

A quick thought on the Stadium Authority

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 4:12 PM

The city is all abuzz that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has yanked Deboarh Lestitian, the chair of the Stadium Authority -- presumably because she was often a dissenting voice on the five-member board. City Councilor Bill Peduto, a frequent opponent of the mayor, was bounced from the board a year ago.

This isn't a huge surprise: Rumors were rampant that Lestitian was being kept in the dark about plans to develop the North Side. But as is often the case with Ravenstahl, this sort of brazen display seems bound to backfire. Sure, Lestitian was often critical of the Steelers/Continental plan to overhaul the North Shore. But I doubt she could ever have generated as many bad headlines as Ravenstahl will generate by removing her. 

But there's another trend afoot here. Which is that Ravenstahl wouldn't be able to get away with this stuff if it weren't for the sins of his predecessors. 

It's worth remembering why we even HAVE a Stadium Authority in the first place. After all, the only building the Stadium Authority had jurisdiction over -- Three Rivers Stadium -- was torn down in 2001. Heinz Field, PNC Park, the Civic Arena ... all are governed by the Sports and Exhibition Authority. 

We have a Stadium Authority for a simple reason. The SEA is a joint city/county agency -- but the Stadium Authority's board is handpicked by the mayor alone. That's because Ravenstahl's predecessor, Tom Murphy, wanted to be able to call the shots on developing the land Three Rivers once occupied -- and to do so with no outside interference. Ravenstahl pulled the trigger on Lestitian today, but Murphy loaded the gun.

In fact, those two new stadiums wouldn't have been built if Murphy's allies hadn't been willing to yank a recalcitrant board member. Funding for new stadium construction required the support of the Allegheny Regional Assets District board, which was expected to cough up some $13.4 million a year. When one board appointee, Fred Baker, announced his opposition to the plan, Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer pressured him to resign. 

Outrageous? Sure ... although a Post-Gazette editorial justifying the political steamrolling makes for pretty amusing reading:

To a lot of politicians around Allegheny County, the commissioner's removal of a potential obstacle to an $803 million development program ... is a bald political power play ... an end-run around the public will ... the stuff of Boss Tweed and Davey Lawrence...

 

But for all the crying they do in their civics books, that's what people hear from any politician who ends up on the short end of a vote.

I've got a feeling the P-G will be a little less dismissive of those criticizing Ravenstahl. 

Why do I bring this stuff up now? It's not to let Ravenstahl off the hook. It's just to point out that in many ways, the city is reaping what it has sowed over decades, by countenancing strong-arm tactics in a city that already has a strong-mayor system.

I've said it before, but Ravenstahl is the best friend reformers ever had ... because his hamfistedness makes the need for reform so apparent. Time and again I've heard people say things like, "How can he expect to get away with this stuff?" But the most disturbing thing about Ravenstahl isn't that he's breaking rules. It's that he almost never has to.

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