Tuesday, January 31, 2012

City politicians compete for the limelight (or at least the LED light)

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 6:10 PM

Today in current events: A battle between political rivals over who gets credit for saving electricity.

(And yes, "current events" was an electricity pun. There will be others; consider this your trigger warning.)

At 11:42 this morning, Pittsburgh City Councilor Bill Peduto's office sent out notice of a press conference tonight in Shadyside. Titled "Pittsburgh's Lighting Future," the release opens by trumpeting, "After three years of work, the City has begun to install new LED streetlights in all of the City's business districts." And this very evening, Peduto is holding an event that marks "the beginning of the installation of 3,000 new LED lights in the City's business districts." Peduto also will announce the launch of www.pittsburghledproject.com, which offers a brief recap of the deliberations.

Peduto has long been geeked out by LED lights, which use less electricity and have longer lives than other bulbs. And his release recounts the timeline which led up to today's event, ultimately raising the question "How many post-agenda meetings does it take to change a light bulb?" In Peduto's telling, the story begins in 2005, with the founding of the Climate Action Plan Task Force. It details numerous council actions, partnerships with universities, and other historic events. And Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, apparently, plays no role whatsoever; his name goes unmentioned in the release's recounting.

Peduto is, of course, a likely challenger when Ravenstahl is up for reelection in 2013. And lest you think Ravenstahl is content to dwell in Peduto's shadow ... the mayor's office sent out this press release at 3:33 p.m. this afternoon ... less than four hours after Peduto's statement went out:

MAYOR TO INSTALL THE WEST END COMMUNITY'S FIRST DECORATIVE LED LIGHT FIXTURE

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl ... tomorrow will install the first decorative LED light in the City’s West End business district in celebration of the $2.9 million streetlight conversion project set to save $110,000 taxpayer dollars ... The streetlight conversion project, launched by Mayor Ravenstahl in 2009, will convert over 3,500 streetlights in each City business district to energy efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights, which will make business districts safer and better-lit as residents and visitors visit our local shops and restaurants.

You caught it, didn't you? That part where Ravenstahl's release asserts that the LED conversion was "launched by Mayor Ravenstahl in 2009"? Ravenstahl dates the dawn of the LED project to August of that year, in which "the Mayor launched a pilot project in the South Side neighborhood allowing residents to choose which of several green technologies provided the best quality of light."

That pilot project did take place (though it's not mentioned in Peduto's release). But the record shows, in fact, that a demonstration project involving LED lights was kicked off along Walnut Street the year before: "In May of 2008, the City of Pittsburgh installed a LED street light pilot project using existing globe lights on one side of Walnut Street in Shadyside."

(For those keeping score at home, note too that Ravenstahl's event is happening in the West End, turf held by an ally on council, Theresa Kail-Smith. Peduto's event, naturally, is happening in his own district.)

And by the time Ravenstahl's release went out, mayoral spokespeople had already been undermining Peduto's role, claiming the whole thing "was a mayor's office initiative."

Peduto and Ravenstahl have been competing for bragging rights on the LED issue for nigh on three years now. At about this time in 2009, Peduto was pushing LEDs as the wave of the future; Team Ravenstahl, by contrast, expressed some doubt about whether "induction lighting or metal halide lighting" might not be better options.

Peduto won that argument in the end, and honestly ... LEDs have been his baby from the beginning. If Peduto weren't contemplating a mayoral run, Ravenstahl might have acknowledged that. Just yesterday, when the mayor's office announced a city bond sale, he did so in the form of a "joint statement" with councilor President Darlene Harris, and Council Finance Chair Ricky Burgess. Both are mayoral allies.

Then again, if Peduto weren't contemplating a mayoral run, his release might have acknowledged that, for example, when council passed the Climate Action Plan he sponsored in 2008, the mayor approved it.

This is the kind of debate you don't want to take sides in. Had either of these guys been on the wrong side of the issue, probably neither of these press conference would be taking place. Peduto was the first to see the light, but without support from the administration officials in charge of the Public Works and other departments, the switch could never have been thrown. So now it's just a matter of who gets the best PR spin: Peduto's presser will be first, but then Ravenstahl "will be lifted in a bucket truck to install the new decorative LED light bulb." So there's that.

The mayoral primary is more than a year away. In the meantime, you can expect further debates that will, as they say, shed more heat than light.

Former Pittsburgh schools leader offers free tuition

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 10:29 AM

During his tenure as superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Mark Roosevelt was sometimes criticized for spending money too liberally. Now, as president of Antioch College in Yellow Spring, Ohio, he's giving it away.

On Jan. 17, Antioch announced that the small liberal arts college would provide four-year, full scholarships for every student who enrolls in the school over the next three years. Since tuition at Antioch is currently $26,500, that makes each complete scholarship worth a total of $106,000.

"We don't want economics to be an impediment to a high-quality liberal arts education," Roosevelt said in a statement posted on Antioch's website. "By providing four year, full-tuition scholarships, we make attending Antioch College a realistic option for the best and brightest students, regardless of their family's economic situation."

How is this possible?

Antioch is trying to resurrect itself, after being closed down in 2008 due to dwindling enrollment and other problems. And to reestablish itself, it needs students. So the school is using its $25 million endowment to help lure college applicants to the tiny Ohio campus. (If you're wooed by this offer, the admission deadline is Feb. 15.)

That might sound odd for a school that has closed four times in its history. After the school's 2008 shutdown, an alumni group purchased all of the school's assets the next year to help rebuild the college. In need of a reform-minded leader, the school hired Roosevelt in December 2010 -- as the city schools superintendent was five years into a controversial overhaul of Pittsburgh's school district.

The college reopened in October, with a roster of 35 freshmen. Those students are being taught by a staff of a half-dozen teachers.

Roosevelt, who left Pittsburgh with a mix of high and low marks on his report card, earned lots of praise for shuttering dozens of schools during his tenure, efforts his supporters claimed helped shore up the district's finances. But since his abrupt departure at the end of 2010, some have questioned whether his reforms were really so fiscally responsible.

Roosevelt's successor, Linda Lane, is now battling a $68 million budget deficit. While many blame that on cuts in support from the federal government, Roosevelt's critics argue that his reforms added to the fiscal dilemma, contending that the reforms were destined to bankrupt the district in the long run. And Roosevelt hit the road, they say, right before the budget problems blew up.

But while it's debatable what Roosevelt did to the district's finances, even his critics must admit that he helped keep lots of Pittsburgh families from taking on debt to send their children to college. In 2007, Roosevelt joined Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to establish the Pittsburgh Promise, which offers high school graduates up to $40,000 in scholarship money if they maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

Roosevelt, apparently, has a thing for scholarships. And now educators in two states better hope they work.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Port Authority takes first step toward massive service cuts

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 12:22 PM

The Port Authority of Allegheny County took the first step down the path to service cuts today, formally approving a public-comment period.

Meanwhile, about 50 people demonstrated outside of the transit agency's Downtown offices today, decrying a proposed 35 percent service reduction that would eliminate 46 bus routes, reduce remaining lines, hike fares and layoff up to 500. Port Authority has proposed the plan as a result of a $64 million budget deficit due to a lack of state funding. The agency cut service by 15 percent last year.

"A 35 percent cut? We might as well not even have transit," said Patrick McMahon, president of Amalgamated Transit Unit (ATU) Local 85, which represents Port Authority operators and mechanics.

The Port Authority, ATU and riders largely pointed to a lack of effort by the state to develop an adequate package for funding transportation across Pennsylvania, from roads to bridges and mass transit. They encouraged the public to lobby legislators and Gov. Tom Corbett's office.

Board members today said they opposed the cuts, but had no other choice.

"We have to plan for the worst, and this is the worst," said board member Guy Mattola. "Cutting 35 percent ... is shameful and a crushing blow to the region's transportation network."

Riders and the authority are trying to drum up support for a package of bills currently pending in State House and Senate that mirror recommendations made my Gov. Tom Corbett's own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission last August.

"We absolutely don't want to make any further reduction in service," said Port Authority CEO Steve Bland. "There are still ways to avoid the cuts. We need a solution from the state."

Corbett has said little publicly and is expected to address it in his February budget address.

"Democrats don't want [the cuts]. Republican legislators definitely think there should be a funding solution," McMahon said. "The governor right now seems to be the one who's holding everything back by refusing to act."

During the board meeting, protesters marched to Gov. Corbett's Downtown office with a pair of shoes. McMahon said that Corbett's stance means "transit riders better get a near pair of sneakers, because they're not going to be able to get the bus."

Public comments will be accepted from Feb. 5 through March 9, and can be submitted online at www.portauthority.org, or by mail to: Port Authority Fare & Service Proposals, Heinz 57 Center, 345 Sixth Ave., Floor 3, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-2527. A public hearing will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 29, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. Individuals wishing to testify may pre-register by calling 412-566-5437.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

EDMC insiders report layoffs underway

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 12:35 PM

Layoffs are underway at Education Management Corporation (EDMC), which yesterday told City Paper and other media only that the moves were a "possibility."

Sources at the company's offices in the Strip District and Greentree tell us that EDMC began notifying them of layoffs at around 11 this morning.

EDMC officials have not responded to a request for comment, so it is difficult to gauge the size of the cuts. But insiders say the company's online-education division is being hit hard.

ADDED: EDMC has just released the following statement:

Education Management Corporation (EDMC) announced staffing reductions today at its Online Higher Education operations across multiple positions, departments and locations in Arizona and Pennsylvania which will affect fewer than 2% of its 20,000 employees.

These changes will be effective February 10, 2012 and are not anticipated to have any impact on students.

As disclosed to employees this past Tuesday, EDMC Online Higher Education engaged in a review and evaluation of its operations in order to identify efficiencies and direct resources in ways designed to ensure high quality outcomes remain a top priority for students.

Determinations were based on the current and anticipated future needs of the organization with particular attention paid to current positions that may be redundant, or that could be managed elsewhere.

Outside the Online Higher Education offices on Penn Avenue, taxicabs were waiting for employees and then driving them off. Some ex-workers were consoling each other in the shadow of the Veteran's Bridge, while others marched down to Crystal on Penn, a block away. Outside, two laid-off workers -- who declined to give their names, citing the fact that they were now looking for work -- smoked cigarettes as they watched Yellow Cabs drive by in the rain.

Both worked in admissions; one said that she had "half a mind" to call students she'd recently recruited "and tell them not to bother." EDMC was paying the cab fare, she said, because "now they can afford it." The employees said that more than 70 of some 200 employees at South University online were let go.

While the layoffs were not a shock -- as City Paper previously reported, employees were warned on Tuesday -- the employees said they thought they'd be coming tomorrow. They said they were denied access to their personal possessions and were told that those effects would be boxed up and sent to their homes.

Former employees are saying there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to the layoffs saying that some top performers with higher salaries were let go while others kept their jobs. One worker, who says she received awards for her production, was told she was fired "because of my production."

"I just can't wrap my brain around this," she added.

According to one insider, staffers have been told they will be given severance at a rate of one week for every year of service. However, the employee says that's less than workers were promised at the employee meeting held this past Tuesday, when company officials suggested severance would amount to two weeks of pay for every year of service. All unused sick and vacation time was lost, the employee added.

But not everyone was broken hearted about the results.

"I'm ecstatic," said one former employee outside Crystal on Penn. "I hated that place."

Chris Potter contributed to this report

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WQED-TV natural-gas roundtable is roundly criticized

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Public-TV station WQED takes pride in its ongoing coverage of natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. But a program scheduled for tomorrow night features a panel that critics have charged is unfairly tilted toward gas-drilling interests. The ensuing controversy has apparently led QED to erase critical comments from the Facebook site dedicated to the show.

Titled Managing Marcellus: Energy & The Economy, the roundtable is the latest in a series of programs on the region's natural-gas boom dating back to mid-2010. When it was announced on Jan. 19, the show featured four panelists: Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for gas-driller Range Resources; Dennis Yablonsky, head of the Allegheny Conference, a group composed of local corporate CEOs; Tom Murphy, who represents the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research; and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Sec. Michael Krancer.

Penn State has major funding ties to the gas industry, and has been criticized by environmental activists as pro-drilling. Michael Krancer represents the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, is notably friendly toward drilling interests -- and has himself been known to attack researchers whose studies suggest drilling's risks.

Critics, some of whom began posting on the station's Facebook page, quickly pointed out that the panel included no environmentalists or other outspoken critics of gas drilling, which has polluted air and water across the state.

The show "is basically an infomercial for the fracking industry," wrote drilling opponent Mark Knobil in a Monday e-mail calling for protests at QED on the night of the show. ("Fracking" refers to hydrofracturing, the chief method for obtaining gas from deep rock deposits.)

Late Monday, QED announced it had added a fifth panelist: Jan Jarrett, head of Penn Future, an environmental-advocacy group critical of drilling and how it is regulated by the state.

The panel was assembled by QED senior producer Alicia Schisler, who defends the original four-member line-up. "I don't think it was unbalanced with pro-drilling interests to begin with," says Schisler, who was reached by phone earlier today.

Schisler says she had originally sought to include on the panel Kathleen McGinty, the former environmental advisor to Vice President Al Gore who served as DEP secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell. McGinty couldn't be secured, but Schisler says she was already trying to book Penn Future's Jarrett before she learned of complaints about the panel.

Schisler says that QED's coverage of Marcellus Shale issues has been balanced, and indeed, a quick look at the station's online video archives confirms that earlier QED specials have had more diverse representation. A November 2010 "town-hall meeting" included on its panel of four at least two outspoken critics of the gas industry, Duquesne University professor John Stolz and Washington County landowner Stephanie Hallowitch, who said her family's home was made unlivable by nearby drilling activity. A March 2011 expert panel included two drilling opponents, along with an industry rep and a Penn State rep.

Some critics of the Jan. 26 program had also noted that it was funded by the Colcom Foundation, founded by the late Cordelia S. May, sister to billionaire right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife. But Colcom's mission aside -- it touts itself as a conservation group -- Schisler says Colcom has "zero input" on the WQED program's content. Schisler adds, "No one from the industry has funded this broadcast or any other one that I'm aware of."

Schisler notes that while the Jan. 26 program has no studio audience, viewers can ask questions of the panelists live via Twitter, Facebook and email.

Despite the addition of Jarrett, drilling critics remain concerned that the panel "is stacked on the side of the drilling industry," as Knobil put it in a Jan. 24 email.

Critics say that WQED has scrubbed comments criticizing the broadcast from both the station's Facebook page and the Facebook page devoted to the show itself. However, it appears that more recent critical comments remain, including one that calls out the station for "deleting *all* dissenting opinions from the Managing Marcellus page [while promoting] pablum from the industry's Marcellus Shale Coalition."

Schisler says she has no involvement with the station's Facebook page, and couldn't speak to what might have happened to comments there. (ADDED: Schisler does oversee the Managing Marcellus page, and says no comments have been deleted.) A spokesperson from WQED has not responded to a call for comment.

Drilling opponents are calling for a protest at WQED studios at 8 p.m. Thu., Jan. 26. The studios are at 4802 Fifth Ave., in Shadyside.

EDMC Downplays Talk of Layoffs

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Education Management Corporation spokesperson Jacquelyn Muller told City Paper this morning that “there have been no layoffs announced” at the for-profit education company.

In a written statement, Muller says the company “has begun an evaluation of the operations in an effort to better position the organization for success within the current economic and changing regulatory environments.” Although the statement allows, and Muller confirmed in a brief discussion, that there is the “possibility of some staff reductions.” CP first reported Tuesday that employees at EDMC’s online division were told not only about the evaluations, but also that layoffs would be happening and that the notification of those staff reductions would come by Friday. Several employees, who asked not to be identified, verified the news Tuesday and some say they were even told that their jobs were safe. When asked if layoffs were imminent, even though the number and extent of staff reductions weren’t announced Tuesday, Muller referred back to the written statement, which appears in its entirety below. The potential shakeup at EDMC was also reported this morning in a brief story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which relied mostly on EDMC’s official statement.

And while the company this morning is referring to the layoffs as “possible” there is other evidence to suggest that staff reductions are likely.

On Tuesday evening we reported on an internal memo sent to employees from John Kline, the president of EDMC’s online division. While Kline’s memo does use the verbiage “possibility of reducing the number of staff,” it also sets somewhat of a timetable for completing the evaluations.

“This will be an extensive and deliberative process with every effort made to carefully consider the needs of our students and the complexity of our organization,” Kline writes. “This process is expected to conclude within the week, and I will keep you updated regarding the outcomes of this process.”

As for EDMC employees, those contacted by City Paper are sticking by their guns that the “possible” layoffs are definite and they’re still looking at Friday as decision day. We’ll have more on this story as it develops.

Statement from EDMC spokesperson Jacquelyn Muller:

Education Management Corporation (EDMC) announced to employees at its Online Higher Education operations yesterday that it has begun an evaluation of the operations in an effort to better position the organization for success within the current economic and changing regulatory environments. This evaluation will include careful consideration of all options, including the possibility of some staff reductions. Although the Company continues to experience a demand for its academic programs, like most colleges and universities a number of factors such as the economy and a changing regulatory landscape have contributed to the need for this review.

We will continue to evaluate all aspects of the business in order to focus its resources as efficiently and effectively as possible to provide fully online students with an excellent education and high quality outcomes. We will continue to invest more broadly in academic quality initiatives and in the innovative delivery of higher education to better serve the needs of our students.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Internal memo confirms: layoffs on the horizon at EDMC

Posted on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 6:02 PM

As we reported earlier today, employees at for-profit educator EDMC were told this morning to brace for potential layoffs by the week's end. Late this afternoon, an e-mail following up on those meetings was sent out to staff by John Kline, the President of EDMC's Online Higher Education division. City Paper has obtained a copy of the e-mail, which asserts that EDMC must "become a more streamlined and efficient organization."

The e-mail only cites layoffs as a "possibility." But while previous economy measures sought to "reduce expenses without impacting our employee base," it continues, "the overall results have fallen short of our goals."

Citing a need to "better position ourselves for success within the current economic and regulatory environments going forward," the e-mail asserts that EDMC's leaders are seeking to "review all aspects of the business" through "an extensive and deliberative process" ... which it expects to have completed "within the week."

The full text of that e-mail is below:

Most of you have spent part of your day today in meetings with senior leaders learning about the future direction of our organization. This message serves to reinforce what was discussed in the meetings and to inform those that were not able to attend a meeting.

We take great pride in delivering high quality outcomes for our students, while ensuring compliance with the standards placed on our organization. We also are driven to create opportunity for staff success and to help our committed and hard working employees reach their goals both inside and outside of EDMC.

Our ability to continue to grow and meet the outcomes described above, depends in part on becoming a more streamlined and efficient organization. To this end, throughout the current fiscal year, we have implemented a number of actions to reduce expenses without impacting our employee base. While these actions have helped, the overall results have fallen short of our goals.

Your leadership team has already begun an evaluation of our entire business in an effort to improve our overall performance and better position ourselves for success within the current economic and regulatory environments going forward.

This evaluation will include a careful consideration of all options, including the possibility of reducing the number of staff currently employed and planned new hires in the future.

We have formed committees to review all aspects of the business. This will be an extensive and deliberative process with every effort made to carefully consider the needs of our students and the complexity of our organization. This process is expected to conclude within the week, and I will keep you updated regarding the outcomes of this process. Our employees are the most valuable asset we have and why we have been so deliberate in this exercise.

I thank you for your hard work and commitment to our students.

Sincerely,

John Kline

Insiders: Layoffs coming at EDMC

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Employees with Education Management Corporation (EDMC), the Pittsburgh-based for-profit educator, are bracing for layoffs which could come in the next few days.

Employees who have asked not to be identified have told City Paper that departmental meetings were held throughout the Pittsburgh office this morning. While some employees say they were assured their own jobs would be safe, supervisors have told employees that the layoffs would be coming by week's end. Early indications are that layoffs may hit EDMC's Online Higher Education staff hard, but employees have said details were "scarce." They were not told, for example, how many positions overall are to be cut.

Calls to EDMC spokeswoman Jaqueline Muller have not yet been returned.

The layoffs would come in the wake of significant challenges for the company over the past year.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice hit the school with a civil lawsuit over its recruitment policies.

Congress too has stepped up its scrutiny of the for-profit industry as a whole. There has been Congressional testimony accusing EDMC of aggressive recruitment strategies, including "gaming" statistics on post-graduate employment. (EDMC has denied the accusations, citing the results of an internal investigation.) And just yesterday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced legislation to curb the amount of taxpayer-funded tuition aid such schools could get for educating veterans.

The bill is in response to claims that companies like EDMC and the University of Phoenix were targeting veterans and their education funds earned through the G.I. Bill.

In a statement reported by Bloomberg News, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said the proposed legislation "will close a loophole that has made veterans and active duty military major targets of deceptive marketing and aggressive recruitment, rather than students treated with the respect their service deserves."

More on this story as it develops.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Erin Molchany to challenge Dan Deasy in state Rep race

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 9:20 AM

Erin Molchany, a longtime advocate for young'uns in Pittsburgh, is vying for the state Rep. seat currently held by Democrat Dan Deasy.

Perhaps best known as the head of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, Molchany's resume is a progressive's dream: She's a product of the Coro Center, and in 2010, had the good taste to lose her post on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee -- a casualty of a fratricidal war between 19th Ward Chair Pete Wagner and challenger Tony Coghill. During a 2005 run for city council, she was endorsed by progressives at Democracy for Pittsburgh, and the pro-choice, pro LGBT Gertrude Stein Political Club.

Molchany is also a woman (note my journalistic powers of observation there) running for a post in the notoriously testosterone-driven state legislature. Molchany herself has previously raised concerns about the gender imbalance in Harrisburg.

Her state rep race would be a rematch: The 27th district is currently represented by Deasy, a former Pittsburgh city councilor who of late has been appearing in headlines thanks to his post chairing the trouble-ridden Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. It was Deasy who beat Molchany -- along with three other challengers -- during that 2005 run.

Molchany's entry into the race comes as little surprise: She's been pondering the move for some time. It'll be interesting to see what impact redistricting will have on Deasy's chances. We hope to have more from Molchany later this week. In the meantime, here's the official announcement of her campaign:

Erin C. Molchany, Democrat, announced today that she will be running to represent Pennsylvania's newly redrawn 27th House District.

"We have a big opportunity to give the 27th District a voice this year. Times are tough. But tough times are when a community rises to the challenge, comes together and works to build a better place to live.

"I'm proud of my community. I love this town and wake up every day determined to make my home better, safer and more prosperous. I've done this for my whole career and will bring this high level of commitment to a life in public service. I believe it's time for the people of the 27th district to come together under a shared vision. I believe we deserve fresh leadership to represent us and new perspectives to solve our most challenging problems. And I'm someone who will work tirelessly for you.

"Our store fronts have been empty for too long. Some of us can't feel safe in our own neighborhoods. And we lose faith in government when our families are rattled by cuts to necessary public services like transportation and health care. Some of these problems have persisted too long with little or no direct action taken.

"We deserve better.

"I've worked with non-profits and community groups to improve the quality of life for our friends and neighbors. I understand that a partnership between good government and our neighborhoods will bring creative solutions home. I have fought to give people a voice in government, so decisions it makes help everyone.

"We have a big opportunity to make things better this year. With dedication and commitment, vision and patience, we can do so much."

Erin Molchany owns a house in Mt. Washington where she has served as a board member and Vice President for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation. She is currently the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, a non-profit organization committed to providing civic and social opportunities for local young professionals.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Op-Ed: Rick Santorum doesn't believe in the right to privacy. Is his wife still entitled to it?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

"When you look at someone to determine whether they'd be the right person for public office, look at who they lay down with at night and what they believe in. Who is the person at their side who has ... the closest counselor to that person?"

-- Rick Santorum, during an appearance at the "Value Voters Summit" last October

Earlier this week, somebody took Rick Santorum up on the invitation to take a closer look at political spouses: The Daily Beast's's Nancy Hass reported the surprising news that during the 1980s, Santorum's wife Karen shacked up with a Pittsburgh obstetrician, Tom Allen, who provided abortions.

Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. "You have to understand," says Jeanne Clark, a longtime activist on women's rights issues here: "This isn't just another doctor who did abortions." Allen was a strong advocate for a woman's right to choose: "He was the most visible person on this issue here. He was the leader."

Yet as Hass' story makes clear, for several years Allen was in a live-in relationship with the future Mrs. Santorum -- who was then Karen Garver, a nursing student at Duquesne University. Among other disclosures, Hass depicts Garver providing informal support to at least one woman seeking an abortion:

In October 1983, Mary Greenberg ... flew to Pittsburgh to consult Allen about an abortion. He directed her to colleagues at the Women's Health Center; Karen, recalls Mary, immediately offered to accompany her to the clinic. "She told me it wasn’t that bad, that I shouldn’t be worried," says Mary, who ultimately went on her own, and met Allen and Garver for dinner later that night. "She was very supportive."

To some, the most surprising thing about the story is that Allen was four decades older than Karen Garver -- and that in fact, he'd delivered her as a baby. But perhaps equally surprising is the direction Garver’s life took once the relationship ended. (Hass ascribes the break-up to the fact that Allen didn't want children.) Today, after all, Karen Santorum is known as the author of a book, Letters to Gabriel, which stakes out a staunchly pro-life position while recounting a different part of her life story: the tragic death of a son. She is married to a former Senator who, in his own book, opined that "Too few of us dare say living together without the benefit of marriage is wrong."

Nor surprisingly, Hass' piece has outraged some conservatives, though just as unsurprisingly, it seems some in the pro-life fringe are citing the story to discredit him.

But generally, the story has been met with a yawn. While the Newsweek report has gotten some play from the New York Daily News, and some foreign papers, a Google news search suggests it has largely been ignored by major news organizations here. (Some have mentioned the piece in reporting on the pro-life attacks on Santorum, however.)

Among the media outlets that have ignored the story are both daily newspapers in Pittsburgh, where it all took place. Which may not be surprising: At least at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I'm told, reporters have been aware of the Garver/Allen romance for years. Columnist Sally Kalson, for one, acknowledges having known about the Allen/Garver romance, "from way, way back." In fact, Clark says that while she believes the story is "absolutely fair game," she figured it had never been written because "the story was so out there in public" -- as an open secret among Allen's wide circle of friends .

This isn't the first time the story has surfaced beyond that circle, only to disappear quickly beneath the waves; a 2005 Philadelphia City Paper story briefly noted Karen Santorum's relationship to Allen in a profile of the former Senator. And while I read that story, Karen Santorum’s background didn’t register with me at all. (The only part that stuck with me was the bit about Santorum shaking the reporter's hand after taking a leak.)

Of course, back in 2005, Santorum wasn't a credible candidate for president. Which raises the question: Is this story news today? Is it fair game to report on the personal life of a presidential candidate's wife ... when the conduct in question took place 30 years ago -- and before they even met?

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