Thursday, January 14, 2010

If only Braddock was New York City, UPMC would care

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 5:44 PM

So I'm flipping my way through The New York Times, reading about Haiti this morning. (Though in local media, of course, the real action is happening online, thanks in large part to Ms. Montanez's efforts at That's Church.) And then I come across this ad -- occupying about half of page A-25:

upmc.jpg

In case you can't read it, the copy there reads (in part):

UPMC is one of the most experienced centers in the world -- with more than 1,200 procedures completed -- for the next generation of endoscopic skull base surgery. Over the last decade, UPMC head and neck surgeons, neurosurgeons, and ophthalmic surgeons have collaborated to develop techniques for accessing deep-seated brain tumors through patients' nasal passages ...

And it goes on like that. (I'd re-type more, but as described this medical procedure reminds me of a recurring nightmare from childhood.) You get the idea: UPMC is pitching itself to the readers of The New York Times as a center for cutting-edge medicine. 

I know what you're thinking. I've already gotten e-mails making the same argument: "UPMC doesn't have money to operate a hospital in Braddock, but they DO have the money to advertise in New York? It's an outrage, I say!"

Yes, yes. But considering UPMC has operations in places like Qatar and Ireland, we're past being surprised by this sort of thing, aren't we? Not to mention that advertising in New York media is hardly a novel strategy for the health-care behemoth.

What interests me more is this: This the first UPMC ad I've seen in a long time that actually advertises a medical service. Most of the UPMC ads I see -- the ones made for local consumption -- are all about what a hell of a bunch of guys the people at UPMC are. And how they are, like, building a new Pittsburgh ... a city at the confluence of aspirations and hard work ... where bridges are built from yesterday to tomorrow ... and on and on. 

Or there are those "UPMC Minute" ads, which in their own way are every bit as annoying. Sure, eventually the ad gets around to acknowledging that -- since we were just talking about it -- UPMC does have a cardiac-care center that you may wish to learn more about. But that always comes after a bunch of blather pretending that these health tips are for our own good.

You'd think UPMC would use a more highbrow approach in the Times than it deploys for, say, commercials wedged between Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. But the Times ad is actually notably direct. None of this bullshit about bridges and rivers here. Just "Our doctors are really good. You should check them out."

I really think we'd all be a lot happier -- UPMC included -- if their local TV ads were all more like that too. But maybe that seems too crass: If they had to hawk their wares to us, it would be implying that we were customers, rather than dependents who subsist on their good will. Customers, see, have power. They can always go somewhere else. 

Hence the approach in The New York Times. With the exception of the occasional alt-weekly editor who stumbles across a copy of the paper, the Times reader who sees this ad is likely to be affluent, with a good health plan and lots options. This is an audience that can take UPMC or leave it. They can pick and choose from medical centers all over the country, even the world. 

Most Pittsburghers, of course, don't have that option. So UPMC sure isn't going to pimp itself out to us. As the local healthcare market's 800 pound gorilla, it doesn't have to. So instead of getting us to choose UPMC, the ads try to console us about the fact that UPMC is, increasingly, our only choice. 

"We've chosen each other," the ads seem to say. "You're just like us, and we're just like you. So let's all admire the skyline together, shall we?"

I'm not saying I want to turn Jeffrey Romoff into Earl Scheib ("I'll remove any spleen for just $1,995!"). But I might feel better about UPMC if they didn't seem so sure of being the only game in town. And seeing this Times ad-- with its blatant appeal to customers who aren't dependent on it -- is a reminder of what things would be like if "choice" actually existed in healthcare. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why can't we all just get along?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM

So, will 2010 witness the rise of a new, more elevated form of political discourse in city hall? A dialogue in which -- no matter how the final vote proceedes -- all participants feel their viewpoints are considered?

Maybe not. For example, on Monday city councilor Doug Shields sent out an e-mail notifying his colleagues that he'd be sponsoring the same prevailing wage legislation that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had vetoed on New Year's Eve.

"Please let me know if you will be a co-sponsor of the attached legislation for introduction on Tuesday," Shields wrote.

Patrick Dowd -- who was the only member of council NOT to sign on as a cosponsor -- responded with an e-mail reply to everyone:

Thanks for the email and for the re-introduction of the prevailing wage bill.  It is my hope that with a new year and a new council we can have serious discussion of the prevailing wage bill.  As you know, in December I offered a number of amendments which, while admittedly not perfect in their construction, deserved discussion, debate and ultimately a vote one way or the other.  I would hope that as the lead sponsor of the new bill you would guarantee at the outset that the bill and any amendments will receive ample time for deliberation.

Shields' response, also cc'ed to the group:

I have no interest in your amendments.  I said as much last year and I see no point in being inconsistent on the matter.  I have, in my own estimation, already spent ample time on the matter and I am very comfortable with the language I and all the rest of the Council, including you, already voted.  

Good day.

Given the contentious relationship between Dowd and others on council, this exchange is little surprise ... especially since Dowd's previous efforts to discuss the amendments didn't generate much interest. Even so, I can already see another confrontation forming up on the horizon.

Maybe make that two confrontations.

As noted here yesterday, Ravenstahl announced a handful of board appointments this week, including some key selections to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. But in council yesterday, councilor Bruce Kraus brought up a seperate concern. Kraus noted that neither he, nor Shields, nor Bill Peduto currently serve on any city-related authority boards or commissions. Kraus asked that a letter be sent over to the administration, asking when that situation might change. 

Considering that Kraus, Shields and Peduto typically vote together -- and that Shields and Peduto are among Ravenstahl's toughest critics -- it might be awhile. 

There's nothing in city law that says every councilor has to be appointed to an authority or city commission. But if Dowd -- who's been reappointed to HIS seat on the water authority -- feels shut out, he and Shields may have something in common after all. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lavelle supports prevailing wage; key Parking Authority appointments made

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 12:18 PM

First things first: Daniel Lavelle has now added himself to the list of cosponsors supporting the city's proposed prevailing wage bill. That's according to remarks councilor Doug Shields made at a press conference announcing the bill's introduction a few minutes ago. Lavelle, who was not on the list of sponsors last night, is a late addition: Council president Darlene Harris appeared unaware of his support until Shields mentioned it.

UPDATE: According to the city clerk's office, also cosponsoring the bill is ... Ricky Burgess, who didn't cosponsor it last year. Burgess' office says that Burgess made the switch to be consistent with his vote in favor of the legislation at year's end. That leaves Dowd as the lone holdout, I believe.

In other council news ... as predicted in this space days ago, the mayor is making several new appointments to the city's Parking Authority, which is slated to make a crucial decision about leasing city garages to shore up the pension fund this year. Council's representative to the five-person authority board is Natalia Rudiak. Also being nominated: city budget director Scott Kunka, who is replacing Art Victor, the recently-booted director of city operations. Current board member Michael Jasper is being reappointed, and Chris D'Addario is being added to the authority.

Those appointments, I believe, would bring the authority up to its full complement  of five active-duty members -- the first time that's happened in a long time

In other appointment news, Patrick Dowd is getting renominated to the Water & Sewer Authority board, Theresa Kail-Smith is replacing Jim Motznik on the ALCOSAN board ... and Lavelle does indeed seem secure his spot on the Urban Redevelopment Authority. 

ADDED: Oh, and thanks to a press release I just got from Peduto's office, it's worth remembering that City Council meetings are now being streamed online

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prevailing wage support still veto-proof, but less so

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Just a quick update on the prevailing wage situation. As expected, last year's prevailing wage legislation -- vetoed at the last minute by Luke Ravenstahl -- will be submitted to council again. A press conference on the legislation has been scheduled for tomorrow morning. According to the advance statement, the bill will have six sponsors. That's enough to override another veto by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, should it come to that. But it's one fewer than the legislation had last time around.

Once again, the legislation lacks the support of Patrick Dowd and Ricky Burgess (though both voted in favor of last year's bill when it came time for a final vote). But while Tonya Payne supported the measure in 2009, her replacement, Daniel Lavelle, is absent from the list of cosponsors this time around.

This is maybe not such a surprise, given that Lavelle recently -- well, if you don't already know, read about it here

Natalia Rudiak, council's other newcomer, is listed as a co-sponsor along with the other returning council members: Darlene Harris, Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, Doug Shields and Theresa Kail-Smith. 

 

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ravenstahl strikes a different tone on prevailing wage bill (UPDATED)

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 3:08 PM

As has been reported elsewhere, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is proposing his own prevailing wage legislation, after vetoing a measure council passed late last year. At first blush, Ravenstahl's measure appears to be a dramatically scaled-back version of what council voted on: For example, it would put prevailing wages in limbo until they were passed at the county level too. 

(UPDATED: A copy of the bill can be viewed here. The measure is broadly similar to amendments proposed last year by Patrick Dowd. It basically rules out any subsidies provided by authorities -- through which the vast majority of government support is channeled. It limits the prevailing-wage requirement to 10 years or the duration of the subsidy. It exempts any spending on infrastructre in the public right-of-way. Gabe Morgan, the SEIU's director in the Pittsburgh area, tells me that his union can't identify a single worker the mayor's bill would actually cover. "It's not easy to write a prevailing wage bill that doesn't apply to any workers," Morgan says. "But the mayor may have done it.") 

None of that is very surprising, I guess: Ravenstahl took a similar tack on campaign-finance reform this time last year, insisting city and county rules be exactly the same. 

What is a bit more striking is an e-mailed note Ravenstahl sent this afternoon to City Councilor William Peduto, cc'ed to all members of council and other city officials. Peduto chairs the law and finance committee, and has been a strong proponent of the legislation.

The note reads as follows:

As the chair of the Law and Finance committee I wanted to reach out to you to request a meeting to discuss the prevailing wage legislation. As promised in my veto letter, today I introduced a bill. I anticipate that Council will do the same on Tuesday. It is my hope that these bills will not be viewed as "competing" bills. Rather, let them be starting points for us to sit down and develop the best possible bill we can for our City and the workers that are employed in it. In addition, because this discussion is so important to our City's future I respectfully request that we dedicate the necessary time to achieve our objective. This time should include plenty of public discussion and discourse in the form of public hearings, post-agendas, etc. If you have any questions please let me know. Please contact Missy with a time you're available to meet. I am optimistic that this legislation can be a great example of us working together, Council and Mayor's office, to develop good policy. There is little doubt we'll have our disagreements, but nothing that we can't overcome. I am committed to this effort.

Is this a sincere effort to try to get beyond the bitter recriminations surrounding the New Year's Eve veto? A recognition that Peduto, having scored at least a partial victory in the council presidency donnybrook, can't be ignored? Could Ravenstahl be trying to meet Peduto halfway, in hopes of creating a better working relationship? Or is it merely the opening gambit of yet another attempt to bury the measure?

We'll find out in the weeks ahead. (ADDED: But here's the text of Peduto's reply)

Mayor:

Good to hear from you – congratulations and happy New Year. I appreciate your willingness to meet and discuss the Prevailing Wage Law for Publicly Subsidized Private Development. As you know, Council devoted much time during the final 6 weeks of last year doing just that – we sure could have used your involvement or even your opinion back then. But, this is a new year and certainly there are still opportunities to provide a better attempt at dialogue this year.

A couple or rules that I believe need to be addressed with your legislation. As you are aware, all legislation from the Administration much be received by the Clerk no later than 12 noon on Friday. LJW has stated that she did not receive this bill until later this afternoon. I spoke with President Harris and she has confirmed this. If your intent is to have your legislation introduced on Monday, it will require a Councilmember’s sponsorship.

Also, although the sponsoring Councilmember(s) will appear on the legislation, the bill should be introduced through either Councilmember Shield’s committee (Land Use and Economic Development) or mine (Law and Finance). Once you have the sponsors, I will NOT pocket-veto your (and the Councilmember’s) legislation – I am adamantly opposed to pocket vetoes or other attempts to thwart democracy.

Once you we have a bill that is legally able to be introduced on Tuesday, we can then begin to have an earnest discussion on this bill. I look forward to sitting down and meeting – it’s been a few months and we certainly have much, much more to talk about.

Be well,

B.

Sympathy for Lavelle?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Here's an argument that really hasn't surfaced in the commentary surrounding the city council president shenanigans: "The district made me do it."  

Obviously, a big part of what drove events this week was the fact that councilor Bill Peduto, who sought the presidency, was counting on the vote of newcomer Robert Daniel Lavelle. But Lavelle, formerly a long-time Peduto ally, ended up supporting Theresa Kail-Smith instead. 

A few tweets by Kimberly Ellis -- aka Dr. Goddess, a one-time CP columnist -- seem to suggest a defense for Lavelle's actions. In a Twitter exchange with KDKA reporter Jon Delano, Ellis notes that Lavelle "was elected to serve his [district], not Bill Peduto."

The conventional wisdom, after all, is that Lavelle backed the mayor's choice to secure two plum positions: council's finance chair, and a spot on the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. 

The question Ellis raises is: Would that be so awful? The Hill District in particular needs as much leverage as it can get. There is that whole new arena-related development taking place, after all. Being on the URA board would give Lavelle a seat at the table at a critical moment. If backing the mayor's choice for council president was the price of that seat ... well, so be it. 

OK, maybe. But the problem here isn't just Lavelle's decision to switch allegiances. It's the way he went about it. I'm told that the former council president, Doug Shields, wouldn't have put the presidency in play in the first place if he didn't think Peduto had it locked up. Rest assured that Peduto isn't the only person who feels betrayed by Lavelle. In more than a decade of covering local politics, I've never seen a council newcomer antagonize his colleagues the way Lavelle has.

The other complaint is that Lavelle was getting w-a-a-a-ay ahead of himself by seeking council's finance chair. That's the number two spot on council -- an appointment you just can't expect to be given before you've even warmed the chair.

Still, Ellis' tweets do remind us of the dynamics that often thwart the progressive agenda.

 

Infinonymous, for example, suggests that Lavelle should forego a URA appointment ... partly as a gesture of atonement, and partly as a step toward pulling council together, so it can focus on pension debt and other existential threats confronting the city. 

It would be a noble gesture on Lavelle's behalf. But I'm not sure his constituents would see it that way. I doubt they elected him to pass up a chance to help shape development in the Hill District. Infinonymous is right that the city's long-term prospects hang in the balance. But so do the Hill's: The decisions made in and around the new Penguins arena could shape the neighborhood's fate for an entire generation. 

Maybe this is what always happens when you have a council elected by district. There's an incentive for councilors to focus on their own backyards, while problems confronting the entire city are always easy to dish off on someone else. So councilors have an incentive for leaving the tough choices to the mayor -- especially when the mayor controls appointments to powerful boards and commissions.

(I'm hearing word, by the way, that Ravenstahl is poised to make some appointments to the chronically understaffed Parking Authority board. That could be a critical moment in deciding the future of those assets.)

Of course, Pittsburgh used to elect its council members at-large ... but scrapped the system in order to improve minority representation. (Though as Chris Briem points out, even that solution hasn't worked out as well as it could.) Maybe a more realistic reform would be rejiggering the way board appointments are made, so that council has a bit more leverage.

In any case, if I'm Lavelle, I'd be trying to think of something I could do to mend fences. Because payback is a bitch: Lavelle may get a spot on the URA, but he has frittered away the good will he would have enjoyed from those now calling the shots on council. We'll see if the way he has represented himself compromises his ability to represent the district. 

Ravenstahl statement on Hlavac

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 9:48 AM

I've expressed some misgivings about this move before. And it'll be interesting to see how Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's attempt to extend his domestic-abuse policy to all employees goes over. While domestic-abuse is a crime no matter who commits it, I'd argue that police need to be subjected to stricter scrutiny than, say, a parks worker.

I'm a lefty, which means I'm a feminist. But it also means I support due process for the accused. As we saw with the Hlavac case, there's good reason to provide extra protections when police stand accused of a crime. (Hlavac's ex-girlfriend took her fears to police outside the city, apparently out of fear that the city's own police couldn't fairly investigate one of their own.) But do we necessarily feel such protections are necessary for the guy emptying the garbage cans? Are we concerned that this is overcompensating for Ravenstahl's ill-advised decision to promote Hlavac in the first place? I'm not sure. But I think it warrants discussion, anyway. 

In the meantime, here's the city's statement on the decision to terminate Sergeant Eugene Hlavac:

(PITTSBURGH) January 7, 2010   Public Safety Director Michael Huss today terminated Pittsburgh Police Sergeant Eugene Hlavac following an internal investigation into his Dec. 19th arrest in which he was charged with the crime of aggravated assault for dislocating the jaw of his former girlfriend.
 
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today issued the following statement:
 
"Officer Hlavac was suspended following his arrest, and a thorough internal OMI investigation was conducted. Investigators interviewed witnesses and heard Mr. Hlavac's account of the story. Mr. Hlavac was also given the opportunity to explain the incident to Public Safety Director Michael Huss.  In this case, the evidence revealed by the internal investigation speaks for itself and Mr. Hlavac has been officially terminated effective today.  Our zero-tolerance domestic abuse policy has worked to protect the public from those who are placed in positions of trust, and abuse that trust.
 
Most all of our City employees do great work on behalf of the residents, and it is a shame that the actions of a few, affect the good work of the whole. One of my main duties as Mayor is to make sure that residents feel safe in the presence of all City employees, be it an officer, a Citiparks employee, a school crossing guard, a firefighter, or a snow plow truck operator. Tomorrow, I will be introducing to City Council an ordinance which expands our zero-tolerance domestic abuse policy to all City employees.
 
It is my goal to maintain and continue to build a reliable and quality workforce. In April of 2008, I implemented the City's first-ever policy for pre-employment and promotional background investigations. We are in productive discussions with the City's fire union and will soon be implementing mandatory drug testing for City firefighters.
 
Domestic abuse is a crime, and by expanding our zero-tolerance policy Citywide, implementing mandatory background investigations on City employees, and conducting drug tests on City firefighters, we are restoring the public's trust and confidence in the good work that our employees perform each and every day in our neighborhood streets."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Richard Florida watch: Dim prospects for the creative class

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Ooof.

That's about all I've got to say after reading this takedown of "creative class" guru Richard Florida in the American Prospect

The title of the piece is "The Ruse of the Creative Class," which tells you all you need to know. And from the first sentence -- which refers to "the Richard Florida show" -- writer Alec MacGillis takes the piss out of Florida, formerly a prof at CMU's Heinz school.

At the heart of the critique: MacGillis observes that in the aftermath of the recession, Florida seems to be giving up on many of the cities who once paid for his advice. 

"We need to be clear that ultimately, we can't stop the decline of some places, and that we would be foolish to try," Florida wrote in an Atlantic magazine piece last year. "Places like Pittsburgh have shown that a city can stay vibrant as it shrinks, by redeveloping its core to attract young professionals and creative types, and by cultivating high-growth services and industries."

Of course, one could argue with the latter part of that statement. (For starters, part of the reason Pittsburgh stayed vibrant, paradoxically, is that it has lots of old people: Social Security checks continue coming in no matter what the broader economy is doing.) But MacGillis is after bigger game. He reports that after Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class came out, he began commanding speaking fees of up to $35,000. In fact, a onetime associate tells MacGillis that

So frequent were the speeches that in 2004 Florida had to leave his job in Pittsburgh for George Mason University outside D.C. partly to be nearer to a major airport.

So, Pittsburgh doesn't have a major airport? Boy, is Dan Onorato going to be pissed!

In any case, MacGillis writes, many of Florida's trips were made to struggling parts of the country trying to find new ways to be competitive. Florida preached a gospel now familiar to anyone still reading this blog post: Seek a criticial mass of bohemians and other creative types, focus less on building new stadiums and more on building tolerance.

Cities did their level best to follow that advice, MacGillis writes, trying various programs to encourage knowledge workers to stick around. But these days, their guru sounds downbeat about their prospects: MacGillis quotes Florida blogging that "We can best help those who are hardest-hit by the crisis, by providing a generous social safety [net], investing in their skills, and when necessary helping them ... move to where the opportunities are."

As MacGillis notes, people have long debated the value of Florida's advice. Years back, I wrote a cover story about Florida's theories and was accused -- by Braddock mayor-to-be John Fetterman, no less -- of having crafted a "slobbering rim job" about Florida. (Though some of Fetterman's own initiatives have been appeals to creative-class types, and in his own way he's become every bit the media phenom that Florida has been.) But Florida made his bones in those frothy days of "the New Economy." There were plenty of people as receptive to his ideas as they were to Jim Cramer's stock tips, or books with titles like Dow 36,000.

Things are different now. Just as people are bound to look more carefully at Wall Street credit ratings in a downturn, Florida is receiving redoubled scrutiny these days. As MacGillis says of Florida's critics: 

It was one thing, they say, to be selling cities on a creative-class pitch -- even though it was of little use to many of them and led some of them to misguided investments... But it's another thing for Florida now to be declaring, from his high-profile perch, that many of these same cities are not part of the country's strategy for future growth simply because their prospects as creative magnets are too daunting ... [T]hese decisions are too serious and complex to be guided by breezy pronouncements about failed industries and regions.

Implicit in all this is the criticism that among the cities Florida is consigning to the scrap heap today, some are places that were paying him to help avoid that fate a few years ago. Florida is depicted as a kind of Information Age Music Man: He blows into town long enough to sell some instruments, and then clears out. Now, MacGillis argues, he's selling the advice that others do the same.

MacGillis does give Florida some credit for counseling against "smokestack chasing" -- using tax incentives in a desperate, and sometimes self-destructive, bid to chase developers. And Florida himself, he notes, denies counselling the abandonment of struggling communities. 

Then again, MacGilils points out: 

Florida ... is a relentlessly genial fellow who tries to disarm skeptics by accepting their points in good cheer, as if to suggest there is really no difference of opinion at all.

As someone who's interviewed Florida, I can attest to the accuracy of this characterization. Florida's a very smart fellow, capable of digesting all kinds of viewpoints. But while the ability to hold two contradictory propositions is a sign of intelligence, it can also be the sign of a guy who really isn't committed to any proposition at all. Trying to argue with the guy was like trying to wrestle with Jell-O. 

One wonders, in fact, how Florida will react to MacGillis' piece. As far as I can tell, he hasn't responded to it on his blog or elsewhere. Previous experience suggests that I'll be hearing from him about 15 minutes after I post this, so I'll let you know what he's got to say as soon as I hear it. 

In the meantime, I'll point out one little irony about MacGillis' article. Which is that Florida is being beat up as a huckster thanks to the Pittsburgh Legend -- which itself has built up with no small amount of hucksterism. Writes MacGillis:

Florida used Pittsburgh as his primary example of a city hampered by uncreative "squelchers." Now, like so many others, he holds up the city as a postindustrial phoenix. Says Richard McNulty, the head of the Partners for Livable Communities and a onetime Florida ally, "It's funny that the roots [of his argument] were in Pittsburgh -- which is now lauded as the only [city] that believed in itself enough to reinvent itself."

Well, I've already spelled out my position on Pittsburgh's rebirth before, and won't rehash the whole argument now. But my own belief is that part of what saved Pittsburgh is not that it "believed in itself enough to reinvent itself" ... but that it didn't buy too strongly into anyone's prescription for reinvention. Pittsburgh saved itself, I'd argue through a combination of dumb luck, sometimes mulish resistance to change, and a clear-eyed vision for what was worth preserving a enhancing.

Sometimes the experts had helpful advice. But at least as often, we helped ourselves by ignoring it. And Florida ain't the only expert you could say that of.  

Monday, January 4, 2010

As expected, the unexpected happens in council presidency pick

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 12:22 PM

By now you've heard the news that Darlene Harris has been selected as city council's new president, by a vote of 5-4. She won with the support of the Bill Peduto faction: Bruce Kraus, Peduto, former President Doug Shields and newcomer Natalia Rudiak. 

Harris, who has voted with the mayor far more often than not, was clearly not the Peduto crowd's first choice. But she was the only weak vote in the faction lining up behind Theresa Kail-Smith. More importantly, after being selected, Harris gave key committee spots to those who'd supported her. Bill Peduto will continue as finance chair, while Bruce Kraus will shift from Public Safety to Public Works. (Kraus assures me that he wanted the new post: "An interior decorator with a work crew? Helll-oooooo! We're going to make this city look incredible!") Shields takes over the Land Use/Development spot, while Rudiak got General Services. 

"Sometimes you have to give away the crown to save the kingdom," Peduto explained after the vote. Council insiders say that it became clear last night and early this morning that Harris -- who'd long expressed interest in the presidency, but couldn't put together any votes until 24 hours ago -- would only join them in voting for herself. And that was the only way to prevent Kail-Smith, the mayor's choice, from taking the post.

Harris did have kind words for Kail-Smith, and made her the Public Safety chair. Kail-Smith was also chosen unanimously as president pro tempore. But that was a rare moment of harmony today.

It was clear before the meeting began that Harris had the votes she needed, but Patrick Dowd nominated Kail Smith anyway, with Ricky Burgess seconding. Peduto had already nominated Harris first, and the 5-4 vote in her favor made the Kail-Smith nomination moot. Some Harris backers are already seeing that as a lack of class.

Meanwhile, the loneliest person in the room was Robert Daniel Lavelle, who surprised everyone by lining up against Peduto weeks ago -- even though Peduto helped Lavelle get elected. Lavelle sat wedged between Peduto and Shields; neither spoke a word to him as far as I could see.

In fact, I watched Lavelle and Peduto for the better part of the hour-long gathering. They applauded each other's swearing-in politely, but I didn't see them exchange a word with each other -- or even make eye contact -- a single time. When Lavelle returned from his swearing in, for example, Peduto began looking down and adjusting his cuffs. (Peduto's conversation with Rudiak, who sat on his other side, was much more animated.)

Fans of such detail may be interested to note that when Harris was sworn in as president, she called for a Bible. Peduto loaned her his -- which had belonged to his late brother. But you can only read so much into these metaphors: Shortly afterward, Harris nearly forgot to call Peduto up for a ritual speech, and she initially didn't identify his committee post by name either. 

So how to score this? For starters, it's a loss for all the pundits, including me, who saw the likely choice as being Peduto, or Kail-Smith, or Kraus, or ... well, as almost anyone other than Harris. 

Beyond that, it's a win -- on points -- for the Peduto faction. Peduto had no hope of getting a fifth vote on his own, and making Harris president was the only viable option. But Peduto's camp says the committee appointments are vital. (Harris has not named committee posts for any of the dissenting faction except Kail-Smith.)

They also point out that, while Harris has generally been aligned with the mayor, she does sometimes get her back up on an issue. She did, for example, cast a vote to subpoena Mayor Ravenstahl to appear before council on budgetary matters.

And, let's face it: Some of this is about putting the screws to Lavelle, who several councilors feel betrayed by, and Dowd. Harris and Dowd are long-time rivals, dating back to when Dowd bested Harris in a school-board race years abck.

After the meeting, Harris reiterated a public plea that councilors put aside their divisions and work with each other -- and the mayor. She acknowledged that Ravenstahl's 11th-hour veto of prevailing wage legislation -- legislation she supported -- "surprised" her ... and said that if the measure comes up again, she'll support it.  But she also added that despite such past issues, "From today on, I think we can work together." 

How would she square that with the fact that she gave plum committee spots to people in one camp, while leaving folks in the other camp guessing? "I'm sure some councilors are concerned, but unfortunately you can only talk to so many people at one time," she said.

In any case, there's a chance that Kail-Smith may handle the gavel soon enough. In addition to everything else that's gone right for Harris this week, she's expecting the birth of her first grandchild on Wednesday -- which is also her birthday.

"I might not be able to make it to work that day," she told me. 

Dowd tweets tweak diversity issue

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 7:41 AM

I'll make a small confession here: No matter what my position on an issue, I'm a sucker for a well-crafted political position. Especially if it's laden with the kind of irony that is sure to make the other side's head explode. Some people watch cage-fights; I do this. 

Patrick Dowd's weekend Twitter posts certainly qualify. On Saturday afternoon, he noted

The next City Council session -- Pgh's 136th -- will be the first in which women and minority members outnumber white men. Great news 4 Pgh!

Who could argue? Not this white guy. And six hours later, Dowd built on that notion by pointing out

The last female city council president in PGH was Sophie Masloff & that was back in 1988 when there was a Berlin Wall.

Of course, the punchline came yesterday

Tomorrow, when City Council opens its 136th session, I will be proud to vote for Theresa Smith as the next Council President.

So there you go: To Dowd, supporting Theresa Smith in the battle for the council presidency isn't just about creating a more collaborative, less antagonistic relationship between city politicians. It's also about diversifying the city's leadership. 

It'll be interesting to see what the folks over at the Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society make of this argument: They just objected to the fact that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had overlooked women in his latest round of personnel moves. And what about such longtime Dowd supporters as Gloria Forouzan, who has campaigned to get more women in office? Hell, I praised Smith's potential as a bridge-builder just last week, and have taken a long look at gender-equity issues as well. Hard to argue with a guy who sounds a lot like you.

But of course there's more than a little irony in all this. After all, no one else on council did more to shake up the roster than Bill Peduto, Dowd's nemesis. Peduto actually doorknocked for Robert Daniel Lavelle, and Natalia Rudiak got plenty of help from the Peduto crowd (including campaign support from longtime Peduto ally Matt Merriman-Preston, and a ton of money from the East End, where Peduto and Doug Shields hold sway).

(Please note: Not trying to say Lavelle or Rudiak "owe their election" to Peduto. Just that he worked harder than anyone else on council to get them in office. He paid a price too: One supporter of Tonya Payne, for example, showed up at a council meeting last year, and during the public-comment period denounced Peduto as a snake. Even began hissing at him.)

So politically speaking, Dowd's tweets are like grabbing an award from Peduto's progressive trophy case -- and hitting him over the head with it.

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