Now that City Councilor Bill Peduto has dropped out of the May primary, Pittsburgh faces an unprecedented situation. Luke Ravenstahl is poised to govern a city of 317,000 people through 2009 -- despite having received, to date, no more than 6,000 votes, cast in a city council race four years ago.
We think Pittsburgh deserves an alternative, if only to raise vital issues. Also, as Peduto suggests on page 7, we media types are too chickenshit to criticize Ravenstahl ourselves; we need a candidate to do it for us.
That's why City Paper is putting forward its own candidate: the bobblehead pierogie pictured here. While this is a write-in campaign, we think our candidate has what Pittsburgh needs: The pierogie represents old-school Pittsburgh, can be a little slippery and is made out of mush inside. Much like the incumbent.
Unlike the incumbent, though, between now and the May primary, the pierogie will unveil a detailed political platform. Reporters looking for substance, or cheap sound bites, are invited to call us.
This week, the pierogie lays out his ethics policy.
I'm not a career politician. I'm just a sentient pierogie created by a newspaper desperate for some election-year controversy. But as a pierogie, there's one thing I do understand: how to stay out of hot water.
Too bad my opponent can't say the same.
Doubts are always simmering about Luke Ravenstahl. One minute he's denying rumors that he was detained by police at a Steelers game. The next minute he denies denying it. Next, he hedges on whether he flew to New York City with the billionaire owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins; days later, he admits the flight did happen, but reporters didn't ask him the right way.
How can a pierogie restore trust in government?
By tightening rules on gift-giving. Have you noticed Ravenstahl's troubles often center around sporting events? That's one reason we should close some ethical loopholes in the city code -- like the provision allowing officials to accept free tickets to games and cultural events.
Organizations like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust own some of the city's most valuable real estate; sports teams receive millions of dollars in public money. These are the last people a mayor should take favors from. Especially if he takes fandom to extremes.
By imposing campaign-contribution limits. Presidential candidates are barred from receiving contributions of more than $2,300, but candidates for local office have no limits at all. The result: Law firms and others seeking no-bid contracts from the city can buy all the influence they need. As mayor, I'd push to impose federal limits on local candidates. If Barack Obama can take it, so can I.
If these rules were in place, my opponent would have to return nearly 90 cents of every dollar he raised last year. Even to a pierogie, that's a lot of dough.
By prohibiting city employees from running for office. One-third of our city councilors are former public-works employees. Do you think that makes it harder to pass reforms their old co-workers don't like, even if those reforms would benefit the city? For that matter, when a building inspector surveys a property owned by a big developer, do you want him weighing his political future?
Pittsburgh's city code already prohibits police officers from running for office, unless they take an unpaid leave of absence. As mayor, I would push for this requirement to cover all city employees.
By actually having an ethics board. On paper, Pittsburgh has an ethics panel to investigate alleged impropriety. But although the board was established in 1990, it has never met. The late Bob O'Connor selected its five members last July, but they didn't even try to meet until last month. Even then, only two members showed up; one appointee had already resigned.
By law, the mayor must name a replacement within 60 days. At most, Mr. Ravenstahl has about two weeks to meet the deadline; I'm sure it's on his list of things to do ... right after going on Jimmy Kimmel. But as mayor, I will demand that the board meet within 30 days after I take office, and that it convene at least once a month thereafter.
Naturally, I hope my behavior doesn't require much investigation. But the board could recommend "best practices" for all officials. You'd think Ravenstahl would be pushing for it to do just that: It seems like he could use some free advice.