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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whistling past the graveyard ... and other news

Posted By on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 8:01 PM

A little follow-up on my column this week, about Marcellus Shale natural-gas leasing rights being sold in the city.

In recent days, there's been a spate of rumors that the historic Allegheny Cemetery to allow drilling beneath its grounds. The rumors were pervasive enough that yesterday, city councilor Patrick Dowd's office issued a statement to community groups in Lawrenceville, saying that

Our office has spent the last few days trying to confirm or deny the allegation that Allegheny Cemetery has signed a lease agreement with a Marcellus Shale drilling company.  After much online research and calls to the Department of Environment Protection and the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds, it seems there is no easy way to find this information (however, our intern, Alicia Harris, is in the process of going record by record).  As a result, Councilman Dowd went right to the source -- the president of Allegheny Cemetery, who unequivocally stated that they have signed no such lease nor are they in negotiations with any Marcellus Shale interests.

I spoke with Tom Roberts, the cemetery's president, who confirmed that while "we've had inquiries many times" on drilling beneath the cemetery, there are no such offers currently under discussion. While he said the cemetery would seriously consider future offers, his impression was that drilling companies were "just going through property lists" rather than pursuing the cemetery in particular. 

In fact, Roberts seemed bemused by all the speculation. The Marcellus Shale is buried a mile in the ground, he notes, whereas "all of our inhabitants are six feet from the surface." 

In other news, you may have already known this-- word went out a couple days ago -- but county executive Dan Onorato will be speaking at the PrideFest opening ceremonies on June 13. I'm guessing he's got a little ways to go before he's as comfortable touring gay bars as, say, Ed Rendell. But combined with steps being taken by the county to provide domestic partner benefits, it's progress.

And finally, interesting post from Nate Silver here, wondering why Arlen Specter lost his seat while Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas retained hers. Both incumbents faced Democratic primary challengers backed by the "netroots" -- Lincoln had to fend off Bill Halter, while Specter lost to Joe Sestak. 

Both challengers were favorites of Web sites like Daily Kos. But part of the reason Specter met the harsher fate, Silver argues, is that progressive bloggers are more representative of Pennsylvania's Democratic base. Thus, the preference of bloggers matched primary voters here more closely than in Arkansas.  

Readers of major liberal blogs, who were active on behalf of both Sestak and Halter, are mostly white, college-educated, and liberal. Not all of the readers, by any means, but most -- that's the prevailing demographic for political and most any other type of blogs.

We can formulate a reasonable (although imperfect) estimation of how "bloggy" a Democratic primary electorate is by looking up its exit polls from 2008 and multiplying together the fraction of voters who were white, who were liberal, and who were college-educated. By this measure, Pennylvania ranks toward the upper half of the list, and Arkansas toward the bottom. Connecticut, where Ned LaMont was successful in his primary challenge against Joe Lieberman in 2006, also ranks highly by this metric.

Silver's smarter than me, but I'm not sure I buy this. Because for starters, a county-by-county breakdown suggests that Sestak also beat Specter in the parts of Pennsylvania that are most like, well, Arkansas.

Look at Sestak's margins in many rural counties like Somerset and Fayette -- not exactly bastions of effete liberalism. They were 14 and 17 points respectively. Those are big numbers ... and I guarantee you those voters weren't taking marching orders from the Daily Kos. (And if anything, actually, some Netroots support for Sestak seemed to drain away as Halter became the cause celebre of the liberal blogosphere.)

That points up part of the problem with Silver's metric: When calculating a state's affinity for netroots attitudes, it gives race exactly the same weight as college education and liberal-ness. Which is gonna seem messed up to just about anybody who actually lives here. (Hell, if local bloggers were characteristic of the Democratic electorate as a whole, it would have been Tim Tuinstra, not Adam Ravenstahl, who'd be representing the North Side in Harrisburg today. And Bill Peduto would be mayor.) 

Maybe all three of these factors track pretty closely in states like Connecticut, but unlike lots of other places, Pennsylvania is still a refuge for working-class Dems who skew conservative on social issues.

Not saying these folks don't read blogs. Just that the blogs they do read are as likely to be authored by Andrew Breitbart as Markos Moulitsas. And they, too, would have their own reasons for opposing Arlen Specter. 

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