Tuesday, March 4, 2008
On the one hand, it's just a sign. Nobody is going to get gunned down by it. Neighborhoods aren't going to be consumed by orgiastic acts of public violence.
But the contentious debate over a planned electronic billboard on Grant Street's Greyhound station/parking lot is going to have consequences. Even though the only thing that happened today was a step City Council decided not to take.
Council today took a pass on an effort by Councilor Bruce Kraus to void a deal that the Ravenstahl Administration made with Lamar Advertising to install the sign on the new transportation facility. I won't rehash the particulars here, on the assumption that the dozen people reading this already know them. (Other readers -- including those who perhaps happened on this page doing a Google search for "orgiastic acts of public violence" -- can read about the sign debate here.) Kraus had three backers: Council President Doug Shields, and councilors Bill Peduto and Ricky Burgess.
But those four votes weren't enough. Without the necessary five votes for passage, Kraus postponed any action on the bill. And with that, the new political fault lines on council have been drawn. Or at least made public.
Politically speaking, this was all about councilor Patrick Dowd, the obvious swing vote and "x" factor. Like Burgess and Kraus, Dowd is a council newcomer, who won office last year running on a reform platform. But it was clear from very early on -- as in, from the night of the May primary vote that sealed Dowd's victory -- that while many saw Dowd as a linchpin of a reform coalition on council, Dowd might have other ideas.
As noted in this CP cover story at the time, Dowd took pains to avoid being lumped in with any faction, even one allied with Bill Peduto -- even though Peduto has long been identified as a champion among reform-minded progressive types. All three of the council newcomers stressed their independence, their desire not to be lumped in with any faction. Which is only natural. But the issue seemed especially sensitive for Dowd.
At the time, Peduto, still smarting over his abortive mayoral run, touted his decision to drop out of the race as factor that helped get Dowd and others elected. By dropping out, the thinking went, Peduto made it possible for volunteers and contributors to direct their efforts to support other candidates instead. Dowd's camp, I can tell you, was notably cool to this portrayal of his victory.
Was that because it tended to minimize Dowd's own efforts in securing a razor-thin victory over incumbent Leonard Bodack? Or because sentiments that play well amongst East End "progressives" aren't universally welcome in Dowd's district? Or was Dowd simply trying to avoid antagonizing the mayor before he even took office?
Either way, bad blood has been circulating ever since. And in the Peduto camp, today's billboard vote will be seen as a PUBLIC betrayal of the reform-minded spirit that Dowd campaigned on. Dowd has lined up with the likes of Jim Motznik and Tonya Payne, frequent mayoral allies whose names are anathema amongst reform types.
Dowd is still at pains to distance himself from either council faction. In council debates, he has generally emphasized questions of process and style rather than substance; without defending the administration outright on the sign issue, he has previously criticized Peduto and others on council for being too aggressive and prosecutorial. Even today, he took no position on the sign's merits.
Unless Lamar and the Ravenstahl administration back down, this whole matter seems headed to court. It's quite possible that the losers in today's vote will sue if no one else does.
In the meantime, the sign hasn't even gone up yet, but it's already advertising the new political fractures on council.