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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.

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