Friday, September 30, 2016

Gun-violence rates drop in Pittsburgh, Police Chief McLay credits community-policing tactics

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 5:07 PM

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay
Compared to last year, non-fatal shooting crimes were down in Pittsburgh, according to statistics released by the FBI this week. From January 2016 to August 2016, there were 25 less non-fatal shootings and about 70 less aggravated assaults with a firearm compared to the same time frame in 2015. (However, there were 44 homicides this year, up 10 from the same period in 2015.)

In a press conference on Sept. 30, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay detailed how community-policing strategies, such as outreach, were effective in lowering these numbers. He said these strategies were  particularly effective in the North Side, given that many neighborhoods there saw significant reductions in violent crime.

“We were very targeted at those who were actually causing the violence,” said McLay. “Since most of the offenders there did not actually live there.” McLay said he wanted his officers to only target those committing the crimes. “I wanted to convey [to residents] that ‘We care about you, we love you, we don’t want you to fall victim to violence.’ That is why outreach is important.”

McLay also explained how in the East End, his officers have worked with the Pittsburgh chapter of Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder (MAD DADS) over the last year. He said the work has reduced violent activity in East Liberty and Homewood. “We have seen a dramatic decrease in [complaints] in the East Liberty business district,” said McLay. “In the Homewood business district, businesses have reported less loitering and people are feeling safer.”

McLay said the working relationship with the volunteers at MAD DADS helps to increase communication with the community because “some people are not comfortable talking to the police.”

But McLay says there are still many problems to address. Violence rates are still disproportionately higher among blacks, particularly young black men. And McLay says his department will be paying special attention to Downtown, particularly the area around the Wood Street T Station, which has seen a flurry of criminal activity.

Over, McLay said he will continue to institute community-policing strategies and rejects the notion the department needs to be “tough on crime.” He points to the work with MAD DADS in the East End as proof, as crime rates have dropped there.

‘Community policing is crime prevention,” said McLay. “It reduces crime. It is not just a feel-good strategy.”

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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on strike after failed contract negotiations

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 3:02 PM

PSO musicians and supporters circle Heinz Hall - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP Photo by Stephen Caruso
  • PSO musicians and supporters circle Heinz Hall
Under gray skies, a picket line of yellow-shirted Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians and their supporters circled Heinz Hall this morning to demand a new contract after negotiations between labor and management fell apart the night before.

Picketers held signs reading “On Strike” beneath a stylized Pittsburgh skyline bearing the word “Musicians” — though one placard asked “What would Beethoven do?” The group included every member of the 99-strong orchestra who was in town, plus a few patrons, fellow musicians and sympathetic workers, all protesting a 15 percent pay cut, limits on new hiring and a freeze in the musicians' pensions.

Those cuts had been part of what Michah Howard, a double bass player in the orchestra as well as the chairman of the orchestra’s negotiating committee, labels the symphony’s “last, best and final offer.”

“These draconian cuts will change this orchestra forever,” Howard says, worrying that lowering the labor standard could harm the orchestra’s ability to attract and keep talent. “We want a fair contract that will ensure the excellence of our institution.”

In a press release, Melia Tourangeau, the PSO's president and CEO, defended the cuts as necessary for the long-term survival of the orchestra.

“Our most immediate challenge is that the runway is extremely short to address key financial circumstances,” Tourangeau said. “Which is why we need the musicians of the PSO to participate in the solution.”

Those “financial circumstances” include a $1.5 million budget deficit this year, as well as $11 million in existing debt.

Howard counters that he brought in independent actuaries to look over the orchestra's financials and says they're not as bleak as management says. He also notes that according to the PSO's own press release, ticket sales are 4 percent higher than expected.

“Most symphonies survive without balancing the budget year after year after year,” Howard said. “The financial situation is not as bleak as [the Symphony is] saying.”

The performers are members of Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians, which covers all of Pittsburgh’s professional instrumentalists, accompanists, and troubadours. They have been negotiating with the PSO since February. After management presented its final offer, on Sept. 18, Howard and the musicians' negotiating committee brought in federal mediation, but no agreement could be brokered.

After a final round of negotiations Thursday, Howard says, it “became very clear” that the union had already received the PSO's final offer. So they decided to strike for only the second time in the orchestra's 121-year history. The last time was in 1975.

“We have real resolve [and] we do not take this lightly,” Howard says of the walk-out. The symphony members planned to keep striking until a “fair contract” is reached.

The work stoppage also forced the cancellation of a planned performance of “PNC Pops: The Music of John Williams” over the weekend. In its stead, a chorus of sympathy honks filled the street as the protesters, some in jackets, braved the first autumn chill.

The canceled performances didn’t bother Alice Gelormino, a Shady Side resident and symphony patron who’s moved from “the peanut gallery to the left box.” She heard about the strike while in a German class, and immediately cut out and headed Downtown to join the picket line.

Standing in the shadow of Heinz’s Hall’s marquee, Gelormino grasped a sign reading “I support PSO musicians.” While aware of the financial difficulties facing the orchestra, Gelormino, who is herself a donor, says there is no excuse for the proposed cuts.

“I think [the musicians] deserve a fair and just wage,” Gelormino says. “We’re a growing city with a lot of support for the arts. [The symphony] has to be creative to find the means and ways to fund it.”

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Zombies fill Federal Street for Pittsburgh Pirates Zombie Night at PNC Park

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 1:33 PM

Pittsburgh's long-lasting love affair with the walking dead continued this week as the undead convened on Federal Street for a costume contest during the Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park.

Contestants of all ages donned face paint and went before judges with their best zombie impressions. Mike Wenzel won first place with a blood-splattered shirt and a baseball embedded into his forehead. Coming in second was Lonnie Phillips, an undead pirate wearing a bird on her shoulder. Tied for third were Madison and Sawyer Ketchum, two adorable zombie kids also struck by baseballs. And coming in fifth was Deanne Myres, a zombie mother holding an undead baby.

Check out our photo slideshow from the event below. If you dare.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park
Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park

Pittsburgh Pirates' Zombie Night at PNC Park

CP photos by John Colombo

Click to View 31 slides

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Western PA Humane Society and Pittsburgh's Animal Rescue League to merge

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 1:17 PM

A dog-walking volunteer at Animal Rescue League - CP FILE PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • CP file photo by Heather Mull
  • A dog-walking volunteer at Animal Rescue League
Yesterday evening, the boards of two of Pittsburgh's animal shelters voted to merge into one. The coupling of the Western PA Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center will take effect at the start of the new year in January. 

“Over the years, the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center and the Western PA Humane Society have become more alike with regard to philosophies on animal welfare and the programs and services we offer,” Joseph Vater, Animal Rescue League board president, said in a statement. “A merged organization will provide greater [efficiency] in animal-care processes, staff training and bringing best practices to one organization. We will be able to save more animals and serve more animals.”

Both shelters have an open-door policy which means no animal is ever refused. However, the shelters are not no-kill shelters and do euthanize animals for health reasons or because of an animal's temperament.

“Our two organizations have a long history of collaboration,” Humane Society board president David Grubman said in a statement. “Now, by building on the strengths of each group, we will create a singular, more powerful voice that will enhance our outreach to the Western Pennsylvania region. It will be beneficial to adoptions, animal care, animal control and fundraising.”

Cats waiting to be adopted last year at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society - CP FILE PHOTO BY LISA CUNNINGHAM
  • CP file photo by Lisa Cunningham
  • Cats waiting to be adopted last year at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society

According to the shelters, both locations — the Humane Society, on the North Side and Animal Rescue League, in the East End — will remain open, and as of now, staff will not be cut. ARL Executive Director Dan Rossi will be the CEO of the merged organization, and Humane Society Managing Director Hala Nuemah will become chief administrative officer of the new organization. Grubman will serve as president of the new board.

“We have a lot of details to work out,” says Rossi, “but we will be launching this new organization with a talented, compassionate staff and a phenomenal group of volunteers. We’re excited about the expanded capacity and potential and the broad array of programs and services that will be under one organizational umbrella.”

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules parts of state fracking law unconstitutional, strikes down environmentally unfriendly rules

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Anti-fracking protesters outside of Mars Area High School in Butler County in July 2015. - CP PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • CP photo by Ashley Murray
  • Anti-fracking protesters outside of Mars Area High School in Butler County in July 2015.
Anti-fracking advocates and environmentalists rejoice, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just issued you a win.

On Sept. 28, in the state Supreme Court case of Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, judges struck down many provisions of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas law, Act 13. The law passed in 2012, during Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, and established regulations and zoning rules on natural-gas drilling. But some rules drew ire from environmentalists, and the recent state Supreme Court ruling addresses some of them.

Drillers are no longer permitted to use eminent domain to seize private, subsurface land for storage of natural gas; private wells must now disclose hazardous spills; and doctors are now allowed to inform patients of side effects associated with fracking sites, overturning the "doctor gag order."

“The Supreme Court’s ruling will restore to all Pennsylvanians the power to regulate natural gas fracking in their own communities as they see fit,” wrote state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) in a press release. “It lifts the senseless and unconstitutional restriction on physicians that barred them from discussing how proprietary fracking chemicals may be affecting patients’ health.”

Before the court decision, frackers didn’t have to disclose all the chemicals they used in their drilling process (chemicals that could make their way into groundwater). Doctors could gain access to a list of the chemicals only if they signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them from telling their patients. Fracking companies claimed that revealing all the chemicals would tip off competitors to their methods.

This led politicians including Leach to promote bills that would force frackers to publicly disclose all their chemicals. But those efforts were held up in committee, and never saw votes. State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) was among those who attempted to pass such legislation. He praised the court’s ruling in a statement made on Sept. 28.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has protected patients and doctors by striking down the gag rule in Act 13,” wrote Frankel. "Patients trust that their doctor is telling them the truth, the whole truth, and that their health is the doctor’s primary concern. We should protect that trust.”

The fracking industry was not as thrilled with the decision.

“We’re disappointed in aspects of the court’s ruling,” wrote David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, in a Sept. 28 statement. “[It] will make investing and growing jobs in the Commonwealth more — not less — difficult without realizing any environmental or public safety benefits.”

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Icelandic writer, Björk collaborator Sjón at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum Tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 3:22 PM

Sjón, a novelist, poet and playwright known for working with fellow Icelander Björk, reads tomorrow as part of City of Asylum’s Jazz Poetry Month.

  • Photo courtesy of Kristinn Ingvarsson
  • Sjón
Sjón is an award-winning writer whose novels include The Whispering Muse, The Blue Fox and From the Mouth of the Whale; his books have been translated into 35 languages. His latest novel is Moonstone, released in August by FSG.

His history of collaborations with Björk include his lyrics for the 2000 Lars Von Trier film Dancer in the Dark.

Sjón reads at the City of Asylum tent, on the North Side, at Thu., Sept. 29, at 7:45 p.m. Admission is free but reservations are recommended here.

And FYI, this week’s Jazz Poetry Month performances conclude with two nights of shows by acclaimed European jazz musicians making their U.S. debuts.

Russian saxophonist Alexey Kruglov and Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooäär’s trio will perform at the COAP tent on both Friday and Saturday. They’ll be joined between sets and for jazz-poetry collaborations by poets Ediwah Adler-Belendez, of Mexico, and Lithuania-born, Pittsburgh-based Rita Malikonyte Mockus.

Those shows are at 8 p.m. nightly this Friday and Saturday. RSVP here for Friday and here for Saturday.

The City of Asylum tent is located at 318 Sampsonia Way.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

As Pennsylvania’s voter-registration deadline approaches, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald calls for Election Day volunteers

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2016 at 2:08 PM

  • Image courtesy of
It’s National Voter Registration Day, and there are just two weeks before Pennsylvania's voter-registration deadline on Oct. 11. (For those not registered and interested in voting in this year’s general election on Nov. 8, visit the state’s voter-registration website by Oct. 11.)

Many pundits, politicians, bar-goers, bus riders and just about everyone has said this is one of the most important presidential elections ever. The two presidential nominees, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, squared off last night in New York state for their first debate, and portrayed two starkly different assessments of the state of the U.S and the world beyond.

Clinton portrayed mostly positivity and said the country needs to follow in the steps of President Barack Obama; she advocated for increasing taxes on the very wealthy and providing debt-free college for students. She also attacked Trump directly quite a bit. Trump painted a bleaker picture, saying the U.S. had many problems that required a strong leader to tackle, including mentioning at least a dozen times that many cities needed more “law and order.”  

Pennsylvania voters also have some big statewide decisions to cast votes for, including who will be the next state Attorney General and U.S. Senator. Heck, there's even an opportunity for a new state Speaker of the House, for anyone upset with current Speaker Mike Turzai. Not to mention a bunch other state legislators up for election.

With all this commotion over the 2016 election, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is requesting volunteers to staff county election booths on the big day. “The heaviest-trafficked election is always the presidential election,” said Fitzgerald in a sit-down with City Paper last week.

Fitzgerald expects popular polling spots to have very long lines, and he doesn’t want wait times to deter anyone from voting.

“We want everybody to vote,” said Fitzgerald. “Participation in democracy is a very positive thing, and hopefully if we have enough workers at all the different polling places, then lines [shouldn’t] back up. Presidential years, that is when everyone shows up.”

Those interested in volunteering can visit the county’s website at Volunteers are paid about $100 for their day of service.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Panel Talk on August Wilson’s Relationship to Pittsburgh Tonight

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 11:23 AM

For as much as Pittsburgh celebrates the work and legacy of the Pulitzer-winning playwright, it’s easy to forget that August Wilson's relationship with his hometown was a complicated one. Wilson, after all, was molded not only by the richness of life in the Hill District, where he set most of his plays, but also by the racism he experienced growing up here.

Actor Eugene Lee poses with a photo of August Wilson prior to the 2015 Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "How I Learned What I Learned" - CP FILE PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • CP file photo by Heather Mull
  • Actor Eugene Lee poses with a photo of August Wilson prior to the 2015 Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "How I Learned What I Learned"
And of course, he achieved his greatest successes only after leaving Pittsburgh in 1978, at age 33, for St. Paul and Seattle.

Tonight, experts gather to discuss what organizers call Wilson’s “deep love-hate relationship” with Pittsburgh.

Panelists at the free event include Eugene Lee, a playwright and actor who has played Wilson in several productions of Wilson’s monologue How I Learned What I Learned (seen here last year at Pittsburgh Public Theater); University of Pittsburgh history professor Laurence Glasco, who is writing a biography of Wilson; and Vanessa German, an actress and artist who has performed in Wilson’s plays.

August Wilson and Pittsburgh: Birthright and Burden is moderated by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette senior theater critic Christopher Rawson and P-G columnist Tony Norman.

The program, presented by the Pennsylvania Council on the Humanities, is part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Initiative.

It takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the Frick Fine Arts Building auditorium, at 650 Schenley Drive, Schenley Plaza, in Oakland.

Registration is required. Register here.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Donald Trump in Pittsburgh: Drilling into the candidate's nonsense on natural gas

Posted By and on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 3:43 PM

Donald Trump during a Sept. 13 campaign stop in Aston, Pa. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL VADON
  • Photo by Michael Vadon
  • Donald Trump during a Sept. 13 campaign stop in Aston, Pa.
Donald Trump came to Pittsburgh Thu., Sept. 22, to talk energy policy at the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s Shale Insight Conference and Pittsburgh City Paper brought you a live blog from every moment of the protests outside. 

Later that day, we noticed that an anonymous commenter on the blog left this note to us:

“This is ridiculous. The man gave a speech that was more important than the insignificant protesters. You're story should be focused on the fine policies he presented today!”

While we did watch the live stream, you are right, “unnamed angry person.” So our staff decided to take a look at Trump's "fine" speech, particularly the portions about natural gas. To be honest, we're not so fine with it.

According to press reports, his talk was a lot of noise made to reassure the industry that he’s on its side. But even leaving aside the fact that a continued reliance on natural gas would be a climate disaster, his promised fixes were as ridiculous as his premise.

First, Trump promised to boost production of both coal and natural gas. That’s effectively impossible, given that the rise in gas production in the fracking era is the main cause of the decline in coal production.

Trump’s vow to deregulate gas production suggests that the industry is currently hamstrung — unable to produce. Yet the reason gas prices continue hovering near an historic low is that it’s so easy to drill that there’s a gas glut. It’s hard to see how stripping rules protecting the environment, and the communities in which drilling operations and pipelines operate, would help when from the industry’s perspective there is too much gas already (and when, in fact, the country is now the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas). Moreover, most gas regulations are enacted not by the federal government, but at the state level, something over which a Trump administration would have no control.

Then there’s the assumption that all that gas is going to revive American manufacturing — yesterday, Trump singled out the steel industry for rebirth. Cheap natural gas has helped manufacturers here. But there’s plentiful evidence that the gas industry is more interested in lucrative overseas markets, where the price is higher, than in using their product to “make America great again,” unless by “America” you mean shareholders, and by “great” you mean “richer.”

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Final weekend for the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 10:30 AM

It happens every year around Labor Day. You start getting that itch to dress like a knight, eat giant hunks of meat, and take in a joust or two. There's time, you think, the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival goes on all month. Well, the time has cometh, as they say down in West Newton every weekend from late August until the end of September. The final weekend of the fest is nigh 'n'at

This weekend will feature an Oktoberfest theme with German food and dancing, as well as the normal events and the Artisan Marketplace. The festival — located at 112 Renaissance Lane in
West Newton — is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available at a discount in advance and at the box office. 


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