Friday, April 21, 2017

Video shows Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris in verbal altercation with cyclist on city streets

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 1:24 PM


Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris (D-North Side) is running for mayor, but her campaign hasn’t produced many detailed plans on how she plans to improve the city. Instead, she’s provided a critical, almost-laser-like focus on one issue: bike lanes.

Harris recently rated Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s mayorship as a “D-minus,” telling WTAE on April 18 because Peduto “put all these bike lanes in.” And, for her closing statement of an April 19 mayoral debate, she said, even though bike lanes weren’t brought up during the debate, “We did not talk about bike lanes at all this evening, and I wonder why? We have nothing with bike lanes, no safety attached to it, no studies, nothing. And someone is going to get seriously hurt. … Public safety is very important to me.”

However, one local cyclist is questioning how much Harris cares about public safety after he was involved in a verbal altercation with the city councilor last year after she apparently instigated an incident at a red light.

On May 4, 2016, North Hills resident Stuart Strickland was riding his bicycle on East Street in the North Side, while wearing a camera attached to his chest. At the 2:01 mark (shown above), a horn is heard. Strickland said in an interview with CP on April 20, that the horn came from a gold Jeep directly behind him. The driver of the Jeep and Strickland shouted at each other at the next stop sign after crossing a bridge that spans I-279. As East Street widened into three lanes lanes, the Jeep sped past Strickland. Strickland, however, caught up to the Jeep at the traffic signal at Tripoli and East streets and asked the driver, who Strickland has since identified as Harris, “What’s your problem?”

“Stay in the damn bike lanes!” shouted the female voice in the video. “What the hell do you think we put them there for?” Then as the female driver sped off, she shouted something that is partially audible that sounds like ‘“idiot;” Strickland told CP later that she “definitely said ‘idiot.’”

When the confrontation first started with the horn honk on the east side of East Street, there were no bike lanes for Strickland to ride in, nor are there any alternative routes with bike lanes that come from the North Hills into Downtown or the North Side. Additionally, a speedometer on Strickland's bike shows he was traveling 23 miles per hour when the honk occurred, which is actually well over the 15 mph speed limit that is posted on that section of East Street before the bridge.

“She comes flying up behind me and lays on her horn,” said Strickland. “This is a one-lane road, and just a guard rail right next to it. … Coming up behind a cyclist and blaring on the horn is not safe.”

Strickland said when he first got in the argument with the Jeep driver, he didn’t know who the driver was, but later he realized it was Harris. Strickland said he had seen her at public meetings since the confrontation and even spoke to the city councilor at city planning meeting for new bike lanes in the North Side in 2016. The confrontation occurred less than a mile from Harris' home.

On April 21, CP  saw a gold Jeep outside Harris’ North Side home that has the same license plate number that Strickland repeatedly mentions in the video. The gold Jeep also had a city of Pittsburgh non-restrictive parking pass in front window, which all city councilors receive.

What appears to Darlene Harris' vehicle, which matches Jeep in video, out front of her North Side home. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • What appears to Darlene Harris' vehicle, which matches Jeep in video, out front of her North Side home.
This kind of harassment that Harris allegedly directed at Strickland is pretty typical for cyclists to experience, says Strickland, who often bikes into Pittsburgh from his home in the North Hills.

“Anytime I get a horn from someone coming up behind me, it's always intended as a ‘get out of my way, you idiot’ message,” says Strickland. “You wouldn't blow your horn at a [tractor], which goes the speed of a bike, so why do it to a cyclist?”

He says he has been honked at before and even been forced to exit the road a few times due to aggressive drivers. Strickland says this is frustrating since Pennsylvania law grants the same rights to cyclists on public roads as it does to drivers. The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code states bicycles are considered "vehicles and provides that every person riding a [bicycle] upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and responsibilities applicable to a driver of a vehicle."

“There is general ignorance among drivers,” says Strickland. “They don't know what the rules are, and they are impatient. They want to drive 10 miles over the speed limit, and cyclists don’t always go that fast. A lot of people have not ever been trained in what the rules are. We learn how to pilot a car, but not all the rules. And they certainly don't know the bike rules.”

Strickland says he understands many people don’t always know cyclists’ legal rights to the road, and is forgiving since drivers aren’t tested often about them. But for a person in Harris’s position, he expects more.

“She should know better,” said Strickland. “I don’t think that she knows the law as good as she should, given the position she is in.”

Mason Palissery, of Harris' office, said Harris was unable to be reached for comment by press time since she is attending a funeral. CP will add a statement from Harris, if and when, she provides one.

Darlene Harris
  • Darlene Harris
Despite all of Harris' criticism of bike lanes, her campaign has failed to provide any substantial evidence that bike lanes have negatively impacted the city or its residents. Her assertion during the April 19 debate that no bike-lane studies are available also runs counter to the existence of dozens of bike-lane studies, surveys and data compilations, many of which are specifically about Pittsburgh.

Eric Boerer, of bike advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh, has grown frustrated by bike-lane attacks from mayoral candidates like Harris. He emailed CP, writing that Harris “hasn't been totally against bike lanes, just very critical and totally unhelpful” in their implementation in her district.

“Bike lanes are a minuscule part of the overall budget and provide residents with an affordable way to get around,” wrote Boerer in an email to CP. “It's not clear why any mayoral candidate would be against a safe, healthy and cheap transportation solution. Playing politics with the safety of our residents is disingenuous at best, and dangerous at worst, and shows a complete lack of understanding of how a city's streets ought to function in the 21st century.”

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hundreds of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's constituents hold town hall without their representative

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 2:18 PM

More than 200 consituents fill the Bethel Park Community Center at a town hall event without Rep. Tim Murphy. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • More than 200 consituents fill the Bethel Park Community Center at a town hall event without Rep. Tim Murphy.
Ever since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) has been hearing it from many of his constituents. Groups like Mondays With Murphy and 412 Resistance have formed, both with the goal of meeting with Murphy and sharing their views, many of which run counter to what the Republican lawmaker supports.

For weeks, constituents have flooded his office with calls and protested outside his Greensburg and Mount Lebanon offices. A group of six constituents even tried to speak to him at a talk he held at Duquesne University, but Murphy cancelled that event at the last second to dodge their questions.

Murphy, like many Republican legislators, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, has failed to hold a public town hall since Trump was elected. In response, more than 200 of Murphy’s constituents met in Bethel Park to hold a town hall without him. Valerie Fleisher, of 412 Resistance, said she filled out an official request form on Murphy’s website on March 27, requesting a town hall with her representative. Fleisher said that hundreds of others repeated this process, but said that Murphy refused to even respond to the request.

So the group went ahead with the town hall anyway, choosing to fill his space with health-care experts and a representative from Planned Parenthood. “Since Congressman Murphy, chose to not be here tonight, we will have to make do with our speakers,” Fleisher told the crowd in the Bethel Park Community Center.

Ed Chute, of Mount Lebanon, spoke in front of the crowd and said that he has rarely seen or heard Murphy express his opinion directly to his constituents. Chute asked Murphy: “Do you believe health care is a human right?”

The two-hour event was focused mostly on health-care issues and had dozens of participants asking questions about Murphy’s stances on many issues related to the Affordable Care Act. Lynne Hughes, of Mount Lebanon, asked if Murphy supported keeping the preexisting-conditions provision of the ACA, which Republican lawmakers proposed removing when they failed to pass their ACA replacement, the American Health Care Act.

Megan McGee, from Marianna in Washington County, a U.S. veteran who described herself as a progressive, wondered if her stances, which often differ from Murphy’s, would be heard by the
congressman.
An empty suit and giant milk carton served as replacements to Congressman Tim Murphy - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • An empty suit and giant milk carton served as replacements to Congressman Tim Murphy

“Why doesn’t my voice matter?” asked McGee. “I am still a constituent.”

Fleisher said in an interview with Pittsburgh City Paper after the event that Murphy’s continued reluctance to meet with his constituents has motivated her group and others to find a candidate to run against Murphy. She said 412 Resistance has a 2018 midterm election committee and they are “laying the groundwork” to build up a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

“It’s vital to find a replacement,” said Fleisher. “It’s completely ridiculous he has been unopposed for years. It’s not what democracy looks like.”

A request for comment from Tim Murphy’s office went unanswered by press time.

But the 200 inside the community center who were critical of Murphy weren’t the only constituents present. About a dozen Murphy supporters stood outside the center with signs saying “We support Tim Murphy,” along with some pro-life posters. Jeannie French, a constituent from Upper St. Clair who described herself as a pro-life Democrat, said she wanted to come out to show she stands with Murphy on his pro-life stances. “I do believe he is genuine in his support of health care,” said French.

However, even French, who said abortion was her biggest voting issue, admitted she would prefer to see a pro-life Democrat run for Murphy’s seat and said Murphy “is all we got right now.”

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto takes on Donald Trump instead of primary challengers in new campaign ad

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 12:10 PM


Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's first television advertisement for the mayoral election isn't your typical campaign ad. Instead of taking on his opponents in the upcoming May primary election, Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris and activist Rev. John Welch, Peduto takes on U.S. President Donald Trump.

The ad that began airing today touches on subjects like economic investment and affordable housing. Peduto has been criticized by those who say the city lacks affordable housing. In the video Peduto says the city has "affordable housing in every neighborhood."

Peduto also touts "more police and firefighters." The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police recently swore in a new batch of police officers, and the number of officers on the force has grown to more than 900, the most Pittsburgh has seen in more than a decade.

The ad ticks several boxes: public safety, economic development and opposition to Trump. And in the final seconds, Peduto even appeals to sports fans with a dig at the New England Patriots.

While this is his first television ad, Peduto has been posting a series of videos on his YouTube page dubbed "Conversations with the Mayor", where he discusses various topics including riverfront development, transportation and immigration.

Here's a full transcript of the ad:

"Mr. President, you say you'll make America great again. Well, Pittsburgh has defined greatness. We got up off the mat and grew our city for the first time in 50 years with billions in new investment, more police and firefighters, job training for thousands of new jobs and affordable housing in every neighborhood. But Mr. President, if you keep trying to cut health care and after-school programs, even a Patriots fan like you should know, that won't play in Pittsburgh."


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Monday, April 17, 2017

Pittsburgh mayoral debate to be broadcast April 19 on WTAE at 7 p.m.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 12:44 PM

Darlene Harris (left), Bill Peduto (center), John Welch (right) - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATES
  • Photos courtesy of the candidates
  • Darlene Harris (left), Bill Peduto (center), John Welch (right)
Pittsburgh's mayoral race hasn't really taken off like many Pittsburghers might have thought. Initially, the entrance of Rev. John Welch, known for his progressive activism and protests against UPMC, was predicted to sway incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto to the left. And when City Councilor Darlene Harris (D-North Side) entered the race, some believed Harris, with her old-school, more conservative approach, would pull Peduto to the right. Local political observers seemed ready for challengers to tackle Peduto, or at least watch him tight-rope walk between these two sides.

Instead, we have mostly gotten a candidate in Welch who, while proposing some minor fixes to the lead-water pipe issues, hasn't really produced any comprehensive, long-term plans to city problems, instead opting to attack bike-lanes. And Harris has yet to even hold a campaign event, let alone produce a clear vision for how she would run Pittsburgh. (In fact, when Harris was asked by WPXI, on March 31, how she would fix the ongoing problems at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, she said "I have absolutely no idea. All I have is questions.") Harris did however make a splash in the race by riding a circus elephant.

But things could get more serious on April 19, as the three mayoral candidates face off in the race's first debate. The debate will be televised live at 7 p.m. on WTAE (channel 4, the ABC affiliate) and will include a panel comprised of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Chris Potter, WTAE-TV reporter Bob Mayo, KQV-AM reporter Elaine Effort and Brianna Horan of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh. Chronicle host Sally Wiggins will moderate.

The LWVGP is sponsoring the debate. The debate will also be live-streamed on wtae.com and will be rebroadcast on thisTV on April 22 at 5 p.m.

Also if you wish to vote in Pittsburgh's 2017 mayoral race (or any other municipal primary elections), April 17 is the day to register to vote. Voters can register online at www.pavoterservices.pa.gov and primary election day is May 16.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

These Southwestern Pennsylvania reps questioned Syrian air strikes under Obama, but support them under Trump

Posted By on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 12:43 PM

Bill Shuster (left), Tim Murphy (center), Mike Kelly (right)
  • Bill Shuster (left), Tim Murphy (center), Mike Kelly (right)
Many were quick to praise President Donald Trump for his decision on April 6 to bomb a Syrian air base with ballistic missiles in response to the Syrian government killing more than 80 Syrians with chemical weapons. Pundits, politicians and regular Americans applauded Trump’s decision to retaliate against the Syrian government’s chemical attack on its own citizens.

In fact, three Southwestern Pennsylvania U.S. Representatives publicly issued with strong praise for Trump’s air strikes. Mike Kelly (R-Butler) tweeted on April 7, “Tonight the world's greatest force for good stood up to pure evil. We're doing the right thing. #Syria #Leadership #GodBlessAmerica”

Bill Shuster (R-Hollidaysburg), who also represents Monessen and Indiana, tweeted on April 7, referencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “There must be consequences for such Assad’s terrible attack on innocent men, women, and children. I support the president’s actions. #syria”

And Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) issued a statement on April 7: “I am in strong support of President Trump’s decision to take decisive action against Syria and the Assad regime. The atrocities of Tuesday’s chemical attack on innocent Syrian civilians show that the Assad regime has been held unaccountable for too long.”

While these three Congressmen shared strong support for Trump’s decision, they also share the distinction of drastically altering their stances on military intervention in Syria under the last two presidents. Why do these Republicans support military action in Syria under a Republican president, when they were skeptical when a Democrat was in charge?

In 2013, the Syrian government also carried out a chemical attack which killed more than 350 of its own people. Then-President Barack Obama wanted to use the U.S. military to respond to the humanitarian crises, but went to seek Congressional approval first (as many have argued is the process according to the U.S. Constitution).

So in September 2013, the House of Representatives was considering supporting or opposing U.S. military intervention via missile air strikes. Kelly, who never stated publicly whether he was in support or opposition, “expressed reluctance” about America involving itself in the Syrian conflict, as described by a September 2013 TribLive article.

“I think the American people are war weary,” said Kelly to TribLive.

In response to a CP inquiry, Kelly's office emailed the following statement: “Rep. Kelly has never opposed targeted, retaliatory military strikes against the Syrian regime. He believed the president had the authority to carry out such an attack in 2013, and he continues to believe so now. In his speech on Syria in late August 2013, President Obama himself stated, ‘I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization,’ yet he still chose not to enforce his own ‘red line’ and instead asked Congress to vote on giving him authorization. Obama’s request, coupled with his vague strategy and end goal, begged more questions and required considerable deliberation. Eventually, President Obama asked House and Senate leaders to pull the vote before it could take place. Had it occurred, and had Rep. Kelly’s questions been adequately answered, then the congressman would have voted to authorize military action. About seven months later, after the consequences of Obama’s inaction became increasingly apparent, Rep. Kelly authored an op-ed in which he referenced the crisis in Syria and stated that ‘when we fail to confidently lead, crises only worsen, and a heavy price — in blood, treasure and American credibility — is paid. This administration — and whatever one comes next — must commit to reversing course.’ Rep. Kelly believes that last Thursday’s targeted attack on the Syrian airbase is a prime example of President Trump reversing course and reasserting proactive American leadership on the world stage.”

For his part, in 2013, Shuster told state political news site PoliticsPA that he would vote against U.S. military intervention. “Military intervention would likely result in entangling the U.S. in a chaotic and complicated civil war with already 100,000 casualties, and a ruthless dictator on one side, and rebel groups that include al Qaeda and Islamic extremists on the other,” said Shuster to PoliticsPA.

And Murphy’s statements about Syrian intervention under Obama versus under Trump offer the starkest contrast of all. While Murphy praised Trump’s “decisive action,” he criticized Obama in 2013 because Murphy said Obama at the time had “not presented a rational plan, not developed an overall coherent Middle East strategy, and has failed to define the objectives of a U.S. military strike” and said he could not support Obama’s plan.

Murphy continued in his 2013 statement: “The [Obama] Administration is pursuing a meandering, amorphous strategy without a clear goal or end game. This go-it-alone strategy, which has seemingly changed by the day and now by the hour, has convinced me we should not authorize use of force as it is guaranteed to end in failure.”

But Trump took action without creating and sharing a broader plan to Congress, and it’s still unknown if the Trump administration actually has a comprehensive plan for U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Murphy’s contradictions reached full flip-flop level, when he criticized Obama in his 2017 Trump-support statement, saying, “There is no longer the quiet inactive response of inaction, as it has been for the past 8 years.” Murphy publicly stated in 2013 that he would vote against Obama’s 2013 Syrian intervention plan, even as, in 2017, he blames Obama for not acting.

When asked why Murphy displayed two contrasting stances under the two presidents, Murphy’s press secretary Carly Atchison reiterated Murphy’s support for Trump’s action in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper. Atchison wrote, “Moving forward, Murphy will be actively engaged with his Congressional colleagues and the President in a long-term comprehensive strategy to end the carnage and ongoing war crimes in Syria, including Authorization for the Use of Military Force if necessary.”

Request for comments from Shuster's office on why the representative changed his stance went unanswered.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Pittsburgh-area candidates for judges and sheriff meet with police-accountability group

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 11:27 AM

Superior Court judicial nominee William Caye speaking to forum attendees - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Superior Court judicial nominee William Caye speaking to forum attendees
On April 5, a handful of candidates for local judgeships and Allegheny County Sheriff met with members of the Alliance for Police Accountability and general members of the public to make their cases for office. Elections like these generally get little attention, but Brandi Fisher of the APA says her group and others should follow these elections.

“We wanted to do this forum because judges are not talked about enough,” she told the 15 attendees. “This is important when we talk about reforming the criminal justice system.”

The candidates who spoke at the forum at the Kingsley Center, in Larimer, all Democrats, included statewide Commonwealth Court judicial candidate Irene Clark; statewide Superior Court judicial candidate William Caye; Allegheny County Sheriff candidate George Satler; Allegheny County Common Pleas court judges Rosemary Crawford and Patrick Connelly; and sitting Common Pleas judge David Spurgeon, who was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2016.

Satler, a Pittsburgh Police homicide detective currently on unpaid sabbatical, is challenging incumbent sheriff Bill Mullen. Despite its name, the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office doesn’t function like a typical law-enforcement agency. It’s mostly an arm of the courts that issues warrants. Satler said he wants to work to clear the backlog of warrants, which is currently at more than 10,000, and said that increasing communication between the county and municipal police departments could help.

Satler also wants to increase the sheriff department’s presence combating the opioid crisis. “We should be going schools and working with students on a weekly basis,” said Satler. “We need to coach people and educators about this crisis.”

Clark is running for judge of Commonwealth Court, which is an appellate court directly under the state’s Supreme Court that mostly handles civil matters. The Commonwealth court, for example, would handle any case wherein Pittsburgh wanted to institute a gun-control rule, said Clark.

Clark said she would bring a unique experience to the court because of her extensive background as legal counsel for statewide housing-advocacy group the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

“I would work for the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said Clark.

There are two open seats on Commonwealth Court. The seven other seats are currently held by six Republicans and one Democrat.

The other statewide judicial candidate at the forum was William Caye. He’s running for judge of the Superior Court, which is another appellate court under the state Supreme Court, which handles civil and criminal cases. Caye is a Pittsburgh native who currently lives in South Fayette. He said he supports more diversity in the court and wants to take on corruption in the Pennsylvania judicial system.

“The level of corruption in the judiciary is second to none,” said Caye. “I am running against that. It’s not the judge’s courtroom, it’s your courtroom.”

There are four open seats on Superior Court. The other 11 seats are held by seven Republicans and four Democrats.

The three candidates running for Common Pleas Judge have all been “highly recommended” by the Allegheny County Bar Association.

All three candidates shared their history of advocacy with forum attendees. Connelly, a trial attorney for 23 years, volunteers as a mentor to children in public schools. Spurgeon, the currently governor-appointed judge, is a board member of the White Oak animal shelter. Crawford said she has experience as a lawyer defending victims of abuse. Crawford also mentioned, if elected, that she would be only the second African-American woman among the 43 elected judges in Allegheny County’s Court of Common Pleas.

Fisher, of the APA, says that her organization will have a list of endorsed candidates in a couple weeks and will publish it at apapgh.org.

April 17 is the last day to register to vote in the primary election, which takes place May 16.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How Southwestern Pennsylvania reps voted in rolling back internet rule meant to increase privacy

Posted By on Tue, Apr 4, 2017 at 4:01 PM

President Donald Trump made it official on April 3. The Obama-era rule meant to take effect by December 2017 which would have prohibited internet-service providers (ISPs), like Comcast and Verizon, from collecting browsing histories and selling them to advertisers without permission, was scrapped when Trump signed SJ 34 this week.

Internet users shouldn't freak out too much, though. No internet rules will change from how they currently operate. Despite sensational headlines circulating on the web, browsing histories can’t be purchased by individuals and then used for blackmail, etc. It's more likely that ISPs will continue to build huge data sets with users’ histories, and offer those data sets to advertisers for monetary reimbursement. But the roll-back of the rule does mean that internet users no longer have the option to surf the web without companies using their browsing history to sell them shit.

Screenshot of poll asking how Americans feel about rollback of internet-privacy rule. - IMAGE COURTESY OF TODAY.YOUGOV.COM
  • Image courtesy of today.yougov.com
  • Screenshot of poll asking how Americans feel about rollback of internet-privacy rule.

Companies like Google and Facebook have always — and would have continued to even under the now-axed rule — had the ability to mine users’ data to and sell it to advertisers. But for internet users who wished to avoid that, certain browsers, tools and programs offered more protection, by not saving cookies and discarding IP addresses. Now those options for the privacy-seeking users have been rolled back, since virtually everyone needs an ISP to access the internet.

Even though the ruling doesn’t change anything, the rollback of the Obama-era rule is still extremely unpopular. According to a YouGov poll taken on March 31, 74 percent of the Americans wanted Trump to veto the bill and only 11 percent wanted him to sign it. Even respondents who identified as Republicans hated the rollback. Only 14 percent of GOP respondents wanted the rule to go through and 75 percent wanted a veto.

SJ 34 passed by a 215-205 margin in the U.S. House and by a 50-48 margin in the U.S. Senate. That means if six reps in the House or two senators in the Senate had switched their votes, the bill would have died. Because the bill is so widely unpopular among the public, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party speculated that legislators who supported SJ 34 may have had some financial incentive to vote in favor, and published a list of the telecom industry’s contributions to their campaigns. However, Sen. Bob Casey, who voted against the change, also has received campaign money from telecom industry.

So who are those legislators that pushed through a very unpopular resolution? City Paper would love to write a list detailing all of the legislators in the House and Senate who voted for SJ 34, but that would be mind-numbingly long. Instead, CP  provides a list of the Pennsylvania legislators in our coverage area and how they voted on the rollback of internet privacy.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh): YES

Toomey voted in favor of SJ 34 and his press secretary, Steve Kelly, in an email to CP, offered this explanation: “The actions taken by Congress do nothing to weaken longstanding federal and state privacy laws or investigatory powers. Rather, Congress rolled back a regulation passed by President Obama’s FCC in late 2016 which does not equally apply privacy rules across all online entities. Senator Toomey hopes that the FCC and the FTC will work together to develop uniform privacy requirements.”

Kelly also noted that the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission still have the power to investigate unjust privacy practices, even though the Obama rule was rolled back.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton): NO

Casey voted against SJ 34 and sent this comment to CP  by email: “Pennsylvanians have a reasonable expectation that their internet browsing history is private, which is why I voted against this resolution.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills): NO

Doyle voted against SJ 34 and, on March 28, spoke in front of Congress in opposition before the bill came to a vote. "Today we are waiting waist deep in the swamp," said Doyle. "The American people did not ask for this resolution. In fact, no company will even put its name behind this effort. ... No consumer has made an argument that this even makes sense. I challenge every member of this body, at your next town-hall meeting to have a show of hands of how many people thinks it's a good idea to allow your internet-service provider to sell their personal information without their permission."

Doyle also started a petition asking Trump to veto the bill. However, the petition only garnered 3,650 signatures of its 100,000 goal.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler): YES

Kelly voted in favor of SJ 34 and his office didn’t return a request for comment on why he voted for the bill, nor has Kelly made any public statement. Somewhat ironically, Kelly participated in an event with Google on March 13 in Sharon, Pa. meant to teach kids how to protect their privacy while using the internet.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley): YES

Rothfus voted in favor of SJ 34 and in fairly typical Rothfus fashion, didn’t return a request for comment on why he supported the bill, nor offered any public statement.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair):
YES

Murphy voted in favor of SJ 34 and his press secretary, Carly Atchison, directed CP to Murphy’s public newsletter which says: “Murphy strongly supports online privacy rules to protect sensitive personal and consumer digital information. The Congressman voted in favor of the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387) which passed the House earlier this year and sets the highest standard for government access to private internet communications. The Email Privacy Act protects emails, data and digital communications by requiring authorities to obtain a search warrant before gaining access to any such forms of communication.”

The newsletter also states the “net effect” of the rollback is “zero” and “Congress’ decision to kill the FCC’s proposed rules will leave in place data collection and use policies exactly as they are.”

However, according the YouGov poll, Americans appeared to want Congress and President Trump to make internet privacy better, not just leave it the way it is.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Constituents call for U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy to support investigation into Trump ties to Russia

Posted By on Mon, Apr 3, 2017 at 5:28 PM

Consituents rally in front of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's Mount Lebanon office. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MYKIE REIDY
  • Photo courtesy of Mykie Reidy
  • Consituents rally in front of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's Mount Lebanon office.
On April 3 around noon, more than two dozen constituents rallied outside U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy’s office in Mount Lebanon, calling for Murphy to support an independent investigation into President Donald Trump and his possible ties to Russia. The group calls themselves “Mondays With Murphy,” and they have been requesting meetings with Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) and demonstrating in front of his Mount Lebanon and Greensburg offices for weeks. (Murphy even went as far as cancelling an event at Duquesne University to avoid answering questions from a small group of constituents in February.)

On March 20, FBI Director James Comey announced the bureau is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. The House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), is also investigating the president, but Nunes has been criticized for allegedly meeting with White House officials on March 21, without notifying his committee. (The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating.)

Because of the confusion around Nunes' actions, many — both Democrats and Republicans — have been calling for an independent investigation into the Russian matter, not just one carried out by members of Congress. Mykie Reidy, of Mondays With Murphy, agrees.

“It’s clear that Devin Nunes has conflicting loyalties and cannot conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the Trump campaign’s entanglements with Russia,” said Reidy in a press release. “A number of Republicans in Congress have publicly acknowledged that fact; we would like Congressman Murphy to be among them.”

Carly Atchison, press secretary for Murphy, didn’t return request for comment for this story.

Murphy has been relatively quiet on the Trump-Russia front. In a February story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who resigned after it was revealed that he held undisclosed meetings with Russian officials during Trump's campaign, Murphy’s office said in a statement: “Congressman Murphy believes General Flynn made the right decision to resign.”

Murphy hasn't made any other public statement since about Trump and Russia. That is not good enough for Reidy and other Mondays With Murphy participants. They are circulating a petition asking Murphy to make a public statement in support of an independent investigation. The group is also still waiting to get a face-to-face meeting with Murphy.

Reidy says that two Murphy staffers came out to address the group during the April 3 rally, but none of them promised the group that they could speak with their representative.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bike-advocacy group takes issue with mayoral candidate John Welch's comments on bike lanes

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 10:09 AM


On March 24, Pittsburgh mayoral candidate John Welch issued a new campaign ad claiming that Mayor Bill Peduto had “misplaced priorities.” Welch said in a Facebook post adjoining the ad that Peduto is “putting bike lanes over the health of city residents.”

“Now I like bike lanes, but not that many people use them, but we all rely on clean and safe drinking water,” said Welch in the ad. “So for me it is a matter of priorities, and we can see now that his priorities are not our priorities.”

The bike advocates at Bike Pittsburgh take issue with Welch’s assertion. Scott Bricker, director at Bike Pittsburgh, wrote in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper that bike lanes serve a public-health need, as they provide safe passage for city cyclists and encourage people to ride and stay fit.

“Both funding for bike infrastructure and funding for clean drinking water are expenditures to keep Pittsburghers healthy and safe,” wrote Bricker. “Pitting one against the other is bad policy. Using the City's bike infrastructure budget isn't a real solution to the lead problem and Mr. Welch knows it.”

In fact, at a March 28 press conference, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner estimated the cost of replacing all the lead-service lines in the city could be around $25 million. And according to capital budget figures since Peduto came into office in 2014, his office has allocated — but not spent all of — about $216,000 a year in city bonds and funds towards bike-related projects. According to Bike Pittsburgh’s calculations, it would take 125 years to solve the city’s lead-water-pipe problems using bike funds at the level they are typically spent.

(Side note: Local news sources tend to write stories about how the city is allocating millions of dollars in funds for bike lanes. But according to the city's past four capital budgets, often not all of that money is spent because the projects never materialize; the funds are then carried over to the next year. Also, many news stories fail to mention that the bulk of bike-land funding in Pittsburgh consists of state and federal grants awarded to the city.)

Bricker wrote that Bike Pittsburgh also believes the city should tackle its lead problems, but said it’s not fair to pin those problems on bike-infrastructure funding.

“We’ve known lead has been a problem for human health for generations,” wrote Bricker. “But people should know that you just can’t solve this lead problem by taking away money for safe streets. There’s nowhere near enough money. What little money does exist for bike lanes is used to leverage state and federal transportation dollars which cannot be used to replace lead service lines.”

In a blog posted on Welch’s campaign website, Welch wrote, “As mayor of the city of Pittsburgh, I would work hard to ensure that the public health of the residents of our city rises to the highest priority possible. We deserve better as we strive to be a city where all can flourish.”

However, Welch hasn’t shared publicly what his specific plans would be to address the lead issue. At a March 22 press conference, when asked by reporters about his plan for restructuring PWSA to mitigate the lead issue and other problems, Welch told reporters to ask him again on May 17, the day after the upcoming primary election.

Bricker wrote that he feels Welch is using bike lanes as a “wedge issue” to take advantage of Pittsburgh voters who don’t fully understand the reasoning behind bike lanes. Bricker cites Downtown's Penn Avenue lane as a success story. The lane sometimes hosts more than 1,000 trips per day, and Bricker says about one quarter of morning traffic on the street is bike traffic. He also wrote the redesign of Penn Avenue Downtown has helped eliminate bottlenecks at the 16th Street Bridge and at 11th and 9th streets.

“He knows what he's doing,” wrote Bricker of Welch. “He's trying to score political points.”

Bricker asserted that Bike Pittsburgh doesn't endorse political candidates, but the group does encourage its members to vote. This year, Bike Pittsburgh is continuing its mayoral-petition program called “I Bike. I Walk. I Vote,” which asks people to sign petitions calling on candidates to pledge to make commitments to bike- and pedestrian-friendly policies. Bricker wrote that in 2013, Bike Pittsburgh garnered 3,000 signatures, with 80 percent of respondents being registered voters. Bricker noted that Peduto won election that year by only about 5,000 votes.

Of people who signed the petition, Bricker wrote, “They're educated and very civically engaged."

Update: Welch responded a day after the article was published with an email to CP writing "I specifically stated that I had no problem with bike lanes and even said as much in a private conversation with Scott Bricker. I want to set the record straight. I congratulate [Bike Pittsbugh] for standing up for bicyclists but who is standing up for city residents who rely on PWSA for safe drinking water?"

Welch then goes on in the email to accuse Bike Pittsburgh of selfishness writing "how dare [Bike Pittsburgh] make this issue about themselves?" and claiming that Bricker was defending Peduto because Bricker is a mayoral-appointee to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (a transportation and development-planning agency). Welch went on to write that his ad and words are less about bike lanes and more about drawing "attention to the poisoning of our children, and contrast the swiftness to which this mayor responded to the need for dedicated bike lanes with his inaction on a public health crisis."

Bricker says he stands by what he said originally citing again that Bike Pittsburgh does not endorse political candidates. "[Welch] is calling out our private conversation, but publicly he is dissing the work that we do," says Bricker, defending the advocacy that Bike Pittsburgh does to try and get more bike-friendly infrastructure in the city. "We can hold two opinions at the same time, we also don't want our children's water poisoned."

He also defends his position as an appointee on the SPC. "I am not beholden to the mayor," says Bricker. "I am confused by his statement. It's a service I am willing to do, because of my expertise. I don’t receive any money. Sometimes I receive headaches." (Welch also pointed out in his statement that he is also a mayoral appointee, Sports and Exhibition Authority, but  wrote in his statement that "I don't need to score political points, only [to] be bold enough to challenge the mayor.")

Bricker also questions why Welch is attacking a local advocacy a group that has has a long-standing presence in Pittsburgh and thousands of members. "I don't want to trade barbs in the media," says Bricker. "We have never been in this position before where people are trying to pit our issue against other city issues."

CP News Editor Rebecca Addison contributed to this blog.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

President Trump’s budget proposal would make Sen. Toomey’s sanctuary-city bill ineffective

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 12:04 PM

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey decrying sanctuary cities at a campaign event  in October 2016. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Republican Sen. Pat Toomey decrying sanctuary cities at a campaign event in October 2016.
The Republican Party got serious about eliminating so-called “sanctuary cities” (municipalities that limit communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers) in the fall of 2015. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump had been decrying them, claiming they were leading to increased crime by undocumented immigrants, even though a recent study from the libertarian think tank Cato Institute says the “incarceration rate for [undocumented] immigrants is lower than the incarceration rate for native white Americans.”

Regardless, Republican senators, like Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, got on board the anti-sanctuary-city train soon after Trump raised the issue's profile. For example, Toomey co-sponsored legislation in October 2015 to strip federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” and to get them to increase communication between local police officers and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

Toomey continued carrying the anti-sanctuary-city torch by reintroducing legislation in July 2016. Though that legislation failed to garner enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, Toomey still backs ending sanctuary cities and said so as recently as February, in one of his telephone town halls.

But now, President Trump seems to be at odds with Toomey, at least in the details of their policy proposals. This week, Trump released a budget proposal with massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and many programs that help cities and towns address infrastructure and housing.

Toomey’s Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100) proposes withholding federal funding from the Economic Development Administration and Community Development Block Grants as a way to pressure sanctuary cities to communicate and cooperate fully with ICE. But Trump’s budget proposal eliminates those two departments, leaving Toomey’s bill without anything to withhold. It’s like punishing a child by saying "no video games for a week," when the child doesn’t have any video games to begin with.

Toomey issued this statement shortly after Trump released his budget proposal: "After years of overspending, I am encouraged that the President has proposed actual spending cuts and has committed to maintaining the overall cap on discretionary spending. I look forward to carefully examining each of the proposed reductions in this budget proposal." (It should be noted that Trump's proposal doesn't reduce overall federal spending; it mostly just reallocates billions of dollars to the military.)

Trump has been criticized for making policy proposals that aren’t well constructed and can’t actually be applied. (For example, his second attempt at a travel ban for several Muslim-majority counties was held up this week by federal courts; Trump withdrew his first attempt after it was blocked by courts.)

Representatives from Toomey’s office did not return a request for comment for this article.

Sundrop Carter, of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition, says she is not surprised that Trump’s proposal would undermine Toomey’s bill. But she says that in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because most GOP leaders would rather issue rhetoric that emboldens xenophobia and scares immigrant communities, than pass effective laws.

“Toomey's bill, like most anti-immigrant bills, is more about the rhetoric and pushing forward an anti-immigrant agenda than it is about the specifics of the bill," says Carter. "And the current administration clearly values the xenophobic value of policies more than their actual legitimacy or constitutionality.”

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