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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Political Math

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 2:05 PM

So yesterday, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl held a press conference with Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty to announce that, yes, the city and the county will be consolidating their financial-management systems.

I'll just pause so you can reflect on the historic nature of this moment.

Did that sound snarky? I apologize. Truth to tell, this is a good thing. Consolidation has been held up by disputes over the release of state gaming revenue to help pay for it. And when the new system is released -- which should happen by early next summer -- it may save money and even make city finances a bit more transparent.

Some in government have, in fact, speculated this is the real reason for the delay. That seems snarky even to me, but political considerations are clearly on people's minds these days. Flaherty is, after all, running for county executive, and I'm told by our very own Lauren Daley that at yesterday's press conference, Ravenstahl was asked whether his appearance constituted a show of support for Flaherty. Ravenstahl said he was staying out of that fray. 

As interesting as who was on hand for the signing, was who was not. County exec Dan Onorato -- once Batman to Ravenstahl's Boy Wonder -- wasn't there. (Perhaps not coincidentally, he's backing Flaherty's county exec rival, Rich Fitzgerald.) Also conspicuous in his absence was Flaherty's Pittsburgh counterpart, city controller Michael Lamb. Lamb would, after all, be administering the system on a daily basis once it becomes effective in 2012.

Lamb did send out a statement of his own at 1:40 p.m. yesterday -- minutes after Ravenstahl's presser began. See if you don't detect a little passive-aggression here:

The City Controller’s office has been working with Allegheny County for the past 3 years on a joint financial management system. Joining with Allegheny County will save City taxpayers millions, and will make City government more transparent, effective and efficient. I am glad to see that the City’s administration is finally on board with this proposal and that this project is finally moving forward. The City Controller’s office looks forward to a smooth and successful implementation.

Of course, as Ravenstahl pointed out at the event, there was no need for Lamb, or other city officials to be there -- city council had previously agreed to the consolidation, as had their counterparts at the county level.

On the other hand, as I've noted previously, while Lamb is running uncontested for another stint as city controller this spring, he sounds a hell of a lot like somebody gearing up for a mayoral run in 2013. And it could be that Ravenstahl is, as I suggested in January, watching his back.


Speaking of the political landscape, some endorsements to bring you up to speed on:

Within the next day, the Sierra Club's Allegheny Chapter will be formally announcing two endorsements in city council races. The environmental group is backing Patrick Dowd in District 7, and city council president Darlene Harris in District 1. (The group has previously backed incumbent Bruce Kraus in city council district 3, and Lucille Prater-Holliday, one of two challengers running in district 9.)

In recent days, Dowd has also picked up another endorsement from the anti-smoke crowd: the Pittsburgh firefighters union has backed him. That makes Dowd a bit of an outlier: Not only did Dowd oppose a parking-lease program backed by the union as a way to keep its pension fund solvent, but the firefighters have mostly supported mayoral-backed candidates. In district 1, the union backs Harris challenger Vince Pallus; in district 3 it supports former councilor/current challenger Jeff Koch against Kraus, Corey O'Connor in district 5, and Ricky Burgess in district 9.

Dowd wasn't quite so lucky with Democracy for Pittsburgh, a local outgrowth of Howard Dean's Democracy for America insurgency, gets behind the council members most likely to drive Ravenstahl crazy. The group backs Harris in District 1, Kraus in District 3, Chris Zurawsky in District 5, and Prater-Holliday in District 9. The group made no endorsement in the Dowd/Tony Ceoffe Jr. match-up in district 7; an endorsement requires a 70 percent supermajority. 

To me, that suggests some flagging support in some progressive quarters. But on balance, you'd have to say Dowd is having a pretty good run here.

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