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Friday, January 30, 2009

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 9:13 AM

Natalia Rudiak launched her campaign last night, in a Brookline Boulevard headquarters housed in an old consignment shop.

The crowd numbered about 75, and it was a heady mix of earnest East End types and neighborhood stalwarts. As I've said previously, that may well set the tone for Rudiak's campaign: Her campaign manager and some of the volunteers hailed from the city's eastern precincts, for example, but the room was scattered with local committeefolk as well (not to mention District 3 city councilor Bruce Kraus.)

Your intrepid CP correspondent was on-hand, and recorded portions of Rudiak's speech, excerpts of which can be heard by clicking the links below. 

During her speech's call to arms, Rudiak sketched out a vision for the district's needs. She took a bit of a slap at the city's current governance, promising increased transparency and better fiscal management. But notably, she also promised to be a "bridgebuilder", who would work with anyone willing to help district 4.

Rudiak's speech delved into her biography as well: She talked about her Polish immigrant mother and her public-employee father -- who was a union officer to boot. It's also worth noting that the candidate was wearing a black skirt and gold blazer over a Troy Polamalu jersey. 

She doesn't miss much, Natalia Rudiak. 

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 8:43 PM

Just in case you were tired of all the upbeat Pittsburgh coverage from the likes of The New York Times, along comes CBS News tonight with these grim tidings from the Rust Belt:

An abandoned steel mill on the outskirts of Braddock, Pa. is all that's left in a river valley that once hummed with the sounds of metal -- and money being made.

"Steel meant everything to the area," says Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. "It meant jobs. It meant a source of pride." 

A-n-n-n-n-d-d-d-d we're off, to another tale of Mon Valley woe. For a couple minutes of tonight's broadcast, it's like we were back in 1982, with a few nods to the current banking crisis tossed in to bring us up to speed.

It's sort of an odd piece. For one thing, I'm not sure how CBS missed it, but there's a very active steel mill right inside Braddock, PA. It's called the Edgar Thomson plant, part of the Mon Valley Works. And the Irvin Works, another part of the same facility, isn't very far upstream.

CBS does let Fetterman strike the requisite populist note: "If the government has $140 billion for AIG, these communities deserve a greater share of the attention and the dollars," he tells correspondent Cynthia Bowers. But overall, the story is kind of a muddle. For one thing, the segment briefly shows a banner that sarcastically praises the Mon-Fayette Expressway for its impact on Braddock, but Bowers doesn't really explain what "MFX" means.

Which is too bad. Bowers talks about bringing "much-needed sewer, road and bridge improvements to Braddock," but Fetterman argues that the wrong road improvement would doom the town, probably more thoroughly than anything else.

What's more,  Bowers talks about the need to "salvage a steel industry that has seen prices drop 50 percent" in recent months. This coming one day after US Steel reported stronger-than-expected earnings for 2008. In fairness, US Steel also warned that 2009 will be ugly, but the larger point is that Braddock's fate was severed from that of the steel industry long ago. Edgard Thomson could be running full-blast around the clock, and it would barely make a dent in Braddock's unemployment. 

Speaking of local industries that have severed themselves from their communities, CBS also had a story tonight about the total lack of transparency in the bank bailout. The story details how federal bank officials have made it almost impossible to figure out who is getting bailout money, or how much. As Sharyl Attkisson reports --

[I]n one contract after another, vital information is blacked out [from public documents], such as how much people are getting paid and who the key players are. There's even the Bank of New York Mellon which got $3 billion in bailout money -- and got hired to manage the bailout, too. How much are they being paid? Blacked out. 

Maybe this is one reason local business leaders at, say, the Allegheny Conference don't challenge Mayor Ravenstahl shadier dealings more often: We wouldn't want demands for transparency to start spreading, would we? 

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Here are some clips from last week's CP Remixed, which was a sold-out success, curated in absentia by Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk. The acts:

Michael Johnsen

Italian Ice

Wiz Khalifa

All available here

CP Remixed returns in April, so keep your eye out for info!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 3:43 PM

It's a treat, even a privilege, to get to see dancer and choreographer Abraham and his Abraham.In.Motion company on a regular basis, even as this Pittsburgh native blips onto the national dance radar. Their performance Sat., Jan. 24 -- a result of the Kelly-Strayhorn's first-ever artist residency -- was at least the fourth public performance here in the past couple of years. And recently, Abraham, who splits his time between Pittsburgh and NYC, earned a rave in The Times and, better still, was named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" for 2009.

The Kelly-Strayhorn residency program was engineered by the theater's new executive director, Janera Solomon (a sometime CP contributor in visual-art coverage). Its product, the show's first half, was created in just a couple days here, and was a nice showcase for the wonderfully athletic company consisting of Abraham and seven other dancers (six of them women). "The Radio Show" (working title) opened with an Abraham solo, lit only by a big worklamp hand-held by another dancer. Abraham took the lamp for others' solos -- then passed it to an audience member who followed him through the aisle of the darkened theater, where he soloed to a Lauryn Hill song whose refrain goes "I'm in love with another man." (Snippets of live Hill provided much of the soundtrack.)

By highlighting dancers' contours, the spotlight gimmick gave as much in atmosphere as it took away in visibility. A little more problematic (especially for those of us seated at floor level) was how Abraham's tour of the aisle frequently put him out of sight, behind other ticketholders' bodies, and even behind us. Still, Abraham in motion remains as viscerally thrilling as when I last saw him, in late 2007 at the New Hazlett Theater. His mercurial shifts between street dance, street-corner attitudinizing, hip hop and more canonical gesture are occasionally stunning, and I feel like I'd recognize the style as his even if someone else were using it.

Part two was the latest version of Abraham's "The Dripping Kind," a group work highlighted by four brief, sinous duets -- also spread out across the house floor -- that served as engrossing mini psychodramas, often beautiful to watch.

The theater was nearly full, with an admittedly partisan crowd, some of whom have known Abraham since his Schenley and CAPA days. (He grew up in Lincoln-Larimer.) Abraham performed the show's second half in an orange "Ozanam" basketball T-shirt, partly in tribute to the Hill District hoops league and to his dad, who coached there. He wears one most performances, he said in a post-show talk-back; if we're lucky, we'll see still more of them in the years to come.


Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 1:36 PM

It's official: Anthony Coghill has made his widely-anticipated entrance into the race to replace Jim Motznik in City Council District 4. He joins Natalia Rudiak and Patrick Reilly as a declared candidate in this race, which is wide-open now that Motznik is running for district justice instead.

Coghill is likely the most familiar name in the race so far. He lost to Motznik in a squeaker back in 2005. The owner of a roofing business, he has also been a liasion for state Senator Wayne Fontana. Highlights from his press release follow below:

"I was born and raised in the Shadycrest area of Beechview," Coghill said. "I bought a home here, started my business here, and have lived in this community for over forty years. The concerns of my neighbors are mine as well – we all live here and want what's best for our community. This district has been neglected for far too long. I am confident that I can be a proactive force for Carrick, Overbrook, Bon Air, Brookline, Beechview and the areas of Mt. Washington that are represented by District 4 on City Council."

Upon his election, Coghill intends to focus upon what he sees as the main issues in the community – public safety, economic development, City services, efficient government and will build upon his existing relationships with other elected officials to improve District 4.


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Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 8:24 AM

The good folks at 2 political junkies reminded me of this gem of a story in the Post-Gazette this weekend. The piece is about Media Matters for America, the liberal media watchdog group which has labeled local talk-show host Jim Quinn as a "radioactive" media personality.

I've noted MMFA's critiques of Quinn a couple of times, and the P-G largely treads familiar ground -- like Quinn's relabeling of the National Organization for Women as the "National Organization for Whores." Ah, that rapier-like wit.

But what makes the P-G piece worth reading is that it shows -- almost accidentally -- that beneath his tough-guy exterior, Quinn is apparently a total wuss.

When a controversial talk host gets criticized, he's supposed to shrug it off. For bonus points, he should suggest the attacks actually help him by showing that the other side sees him as a threat. Quinn's boss, WPGB-FM program director Jay Bohannon, strikes the proper note in the P-G piece, calling Media Matters a "non-factor." While he acknowledges receiving "large numbers" of e-mailed complaints as a result of Media Matters attention, he contends the attention "probably helps Jim Quinn more than hurts him."

Leave it to Quinn, though, to turn the Media Matters criticisms into the stuff of right-wing paranoia:

"Media Matters is not just a bunch of liberal bloggers exercising their First Amendment rights," he tells the P-G. "Any critique of media speech by Media Matters for America carries with it the implied threat of government censorship."

Quinn invokes fear of the return of the "Fairness Doctrine," a long-discarded government policy of requiring equal time for diverse political viewpoints. The Junkies do a good job of showing how baseless the fear is, so I won't dwell on the fact that hardly anyone in Washington has shown interest in reviving the doctrine. But Quinn's hysteria on the subject is a perfect example of how right-wingers love to play the victim card. They have little patience when, say, blacks complain of racism ... but when they get back from the commercial break, they'll indulge in their own delusions of persecution, fantasies that would embarrass Minister Farakkhan.

Apparently, Quinn also fears Media Matters because it has a base of "wealthy liberal donors." Quinn is OK with bloggers having speech rights, it seems, provided they have no money or power whatsoever. But if they get even a bit of leverage, Quinn cries "oppression!"

On some level, I understand the response. I mean, wouldn't pay Quinn any mind at all if he were just some old coot in the park, spouting his nonsense into a couple of tin cans joined with a piece of string. Instead, though, he's an old coot spouting his nonsense into a microphone paid for by Clear Channel, one of the country's largest media conglomerates. (And before that, his mic was paid for by the same folks who own City Paper.) So naturally I take him more seriously -- his ideas are silly, but the money behind them is serious.

But even so ... who knew that a conservative would distrust the speech rights of rich people? What next? Will Quinn espouse the dismantling of Fox News? Start arguing for a more progressive income tax, to relieve the wealthy of some of the money they use to control our discourse?

It's just amusing to hear this guy, who styles himself as the pistol-packing Big Swinging Dick of the airwaves, jumping at his own shadow and shouting "oppression!" when he gets criticized by somebody else. But I guess being a right-wing radio host was more fun back in the good old days -- when you could pick on welfare queens, "Feminazis," and everyone else who had no way of fighting back. 

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Last week, I wrote a post about Pat Dowd's prospects as a mayoral candidate, and it ended on a somewhat sour note. I have a hard time seeing how anyone beats Ravenstahl without an assist from law enforcement.

Hope burns eternal, of course: Supporters are planning a "Pat Dowd for mayor" fundraiser for early February. But to me, it seems less likely than it did last week that Dowd will even run for mayor. Much will depend on whether city council President Doug Shields enters the race, as many expect him to do shortly. Not many expect him to win.

On the council level, though, there's a real chance for significant change. Four of nine council chairs are up for election, and three of those have been held by reliable supporters of the mayor. Districts 2 and 4 were represented by Dan Deasy and Jim Motznik, respectively, but both are moving on to other things -- Deasy was elected to the state legislature last year, while Motznik is running for a district justice slot. 

District 6 and 8 both have incumbents seeking re-election. But District 6 rep Tonya Payne, who typically votes with Ravenstahl, seems much more vulnerable than Bill Peduto, who along with Shields is the mayor's sharpest critic on council.

Depending on how these races go, getting re-elected may prove the easy part for Ravenstahl.

District 2: My colleague Charlie Deitch will have a story out about this race, which will be decided by a Feb. 3 special election, this week. Theresa Smith is the endorsed Democrat, and often in a special election -- where typically only stalwart party soldiers bother to show up-- that's all that matters. That may dismay some progressive types, who rallied around Georgia Blotzer. And Blotzer does have more money than anyone else in the race.

But a win for Smith may not necessarily be a win for Ravenstahl. Early on, the mayor's horse seemed to be Kevin (D'oh! This is what happens when you blog on three hours' sleep) Brendan Schubert, a city zoning administrator. The mayor is backing Smith now, but she's making a lot of noise about maintaining her independence.

District 4As previously reported here, the first entrant into this race is Natalia Rudiak. (Who, not surprisingly, picked up the endorsement of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County last week.) She faces one declared challenger already: Patrick Reilly, who works in the office of state Rep. Chelsa Wagner. Rudiak and Wagner are friends, and the fact that Wagner's own staffer is running against Rudiak -- apparently with the backing of other Wagners -- suggests a whole other drama. (You could almost call it Wagnerian, except they pronounce it differently.) 

Chances are that if you're reading this blog at all, you've heard the rumors Wagner decided not to run for mayor this year in large part because of conflict within her family. Take this as further evidence the rumors are true. 

(UPDATE: Rep. Wagner was concerned that some readers might assume she was supporting either Rudiak or Reilly in this race. She is not. As Wagner puts it, "I am neutral with respect to the race for the City Council District 4 seat, as I have informed both Rudiak and Reilly.  Both Reilly and Rudiak are their own candidates, both are committed community advocates, and both informed me of their interest in running over a year ago, long before declaring their respective candidacies.  I believe either would be a great addition on City Council, and wish them both the best of luck in their campaigns.")

Also expected to enter the race: Anthony Mosesso, a Democratic committeeman, and Tony Coghill, who has run for the council spot before. 

Coghill nearly beat Motznik in a 2005 race, and he's probably the most familiar name to readers. But Rudiak has a very real shot here: From a progressive's point of view, this race has more hacks than a coal-miner's lungs, so a young female candidate may stand out to voters looking for an alternative. 

District 6: Daniel Lavelle kicked off his long-awaited campaign this past weekend.  This is another political soap opera in the making, in that Lavelle is tied to the Sala Udin faction on the Hill ... and Udin, of course, is the guy who lost to the current incumbent, Tonya Payne. Lavelle was Udin's former assitant, and works in the office of state Rep. Jake Wheatley, a Udin protege. Lavelle has also worked on earlier Peduto campaigns. 

It's worth noting that among the hosts of Lavelle's kick-off were the chairmen of the party's 5th and 22nd Wards, which make up much of the Hill and the North Side, respectively. This is a fractious district, and Payne seems vulnerable.

District 8: Another family drama in the works. Peduto himself is up for re-election, and he will face a challenge from Christine Stone, who will formally launch her campaign shortly. Christine's brother-in-law, Harlan Stone, ran against Peduto back in 2005. The Stones are smart, likeable folks. Still, Peduto defeated Harlan handily, and begins from a place of much greater strength than, say, Payne.

Finally, a caveat: Even if each of these elections goes against Ravenstahl, there are no guarantees. The candidates named above would not necessarily thank me for putting them in one camp or the other. 

In 2007, the election of Dowd -- along with Ricky Burgess and Bruce Kraus -- had progressives rubbing their hands with glee over a solid reform coalition on council. But it hasn't played out that way: Although Kraus votes consistently with Shields and Peduto, Burgess and Dowd have emerged as swing votes. There's been no small amount of bad blood as a result. 

No one should have been surprised by that. Within days of being elected, all three newcomers told City Paper it would be a mistake to assign them to one bloc or the other. (Dowd: "I will work with anyone who supports the particular piece of legislation that I'm trying to pass.") Progressives may have assumed that was just post-election boilerplate ... but they can't say they weren't warned. Every so often, politicians actually do say what they mean.

This year, though, the person who has the most to lose on council is the mayor. He could win the executive branch while losing the legislature.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Posted By on Sun, Jan 25, 2009 at 9:01 AM

It appears that Pat Toomey won't be challenging Arlen Specter after all. The Morning Call reports that Toomey "has decided against a repeat run for Senate in 2010, turning instead toward a possible bid for governor as he reaches out to Republicans statewide to assess his potential candidacy next year."

Toomey, a former Congressional rep who heads the conservative Club for Growth, narrowly lost to Specter in 2004. There were reports that Toomey was thinking of giving it another shot, despite the fact that conservatives are having a harder and harder time winning statewide races in Pennsylvania. So naturally, Toomey is changing his gameplan and contemplating ... a different statewide race.


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Friday, January 23, 2009

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Lately, I've had city councilor Patrick Dowd on my mind a lot. Largely because I've run into a couple true believers who are hoping that Barack Obama's election signals a moment of change -- and that a Dowd mayoral candidacy is perfectly positioned to take advantage of it. 

I'm not entirely convinced. But if you're not interested in warmed-over punditry, this would be a good time to follow this link to Savage Love. Dan really takes the piss out of a husband who feels threatened by a vibrator this week. 

So far, Dowd has only publicly acknowledged thinking about a mayoral run. His campaign Web site makes no mention of a mayoral candidacy, and appears not to have been updated since May of 2007. But I'd be very much surprised if he chooses not to run, and so would allies that I've been talking to. 

He's got a lot going for him. Something like Obama, he's moved quickly through a stint on the school board, and is halfway through his first term on city council. That isn't much time to accomplish a lot, but obviously concerns about experience don't carry much weight when your mayor in his 20s.

Plus, Dowd's a likeable guy with an appealing family and good looks. Like incumbent Luke Ravenstahl, Dowd has youthful energy, but he also has gravitas the mayor lacks. He's Gallant to the mayor's Goofus. 

Dowd also has some passionate supporters, not all of whom are his former high-school students. They point to the fact that he's toppled two sclerotic members of the Democratic Party's old guard -- Darlene Harris in a school board race, and Lenny Bodack to win his current council seat. And they note that Dowd did it from scratch, with plenty of grass-roots support and no help from the party heirarchy.

As for the lack of experience, well ... at least you know he isn't beholden to anyone. He's barely been around long enough.

On the one hand, Dowd seems a less likely champion than, say, Bill Peduto and Doug Shields, two other city councilors upon whom some reformers have pinned their hopes. (Shields too is contemplating a run.) Peduto and Shields both know city government inside and out, and they've got a years-long record of slugging it out for progressive causes. Dowd, by contrast, has aggravated some bloggers and other ideological purists by not being wililng to choose a side and slug it out when the chips are down.

But I'm not sure that would hurt him.

Compare the way you felt about Hillary Clinton this time a year ago to the way you felt about Barack Obama. Clinton was a warrior, a veteran of years' of ideological warfare. But a lot of people didn't want that kind of fighter -- not even one who promised to fight for them. They wanted the fighting to stop. They were, as the saying goes, tired of partisan bickering in Washington. 

Personally, I'm in favor of partisan bickering, especially when the only alternative is rolling over and giving the other party what it wants. But for people who are weary of such sniping, Dowd may seem to offer a similar cessation of hostilities. It can't be an accident that my colleague Charlie Deitch, who is working on a story about the special election in District 2, tells me a couple of the candidates there go out of their way to compare their style to Dowd's.

So what's not to like about Dowd's chances?

Well, in some circles, comparing Dowd and Obama would be highly inappropriate. Dowd carries some baggage from his days on the Pittsburgh school board: In 2005, he voted with the majority to oust the district's first black superintendent, John Thompson. That was not a popular move in some quarters. 

Dowd strenuously objected to allegations about race: "My part has never had anything to do with anyone's skin color," he said in a statement at the time. "Unfortunately, one faction insists on this simplistic reduction." But at the time of Dowd's council victory, one of his closest political advisors made a fatalistic shrug and told me, "Patrick may never get  the black vote." And it's not like there's been a lot of time for those wounds to heal.

I've previously suggested that one way to topple the mayor would be to pull off the Obama-like feat of uniting black voters and white progressives. Dowd would have some some challenges on that score, and it's not clear how much support Dowd has from the progressive side of that equation either: There are Peduto partisans who don't trust Dowd, and if Shields gets into the race, there's always the danger of splitting the East End vote Dowd would need.

But the larger concern for Dowd backers should be this: This isn't a school board race, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl isn't Lenny Bodack.

Dowd has to run citywide, and I'm not sure you do that credibly with $5,500 in your campaign at the beginning of the year. In a council or school board race, you can make up big funding differences with a lot of doorknocking ... but in the mayor's race, that's a lot of damn doors. 

Moreover, Ravenstahl will work a hell of a lot harder at reelection than Len Bodack did. Ravenstahl is also not the tongue-tied idiot many of his progressive critics wish him to be -- in 2007 he held his own in debates with a credible challenger. As he did in 2007, he can tout positive financial results for the city, while boasting of feel-good innovations on stuff like biking. 

Ravenstahl's big weakness is ethics, but there were plenty of red flags back in 2007 as well. And with the exception of the Club Pittsburgh fiasco, few of his administration's more recent missteps have the same headline-generating potential. Back in 2007, we had incidents like the Tiger Woods party-crashing, the flight to New York on Ron Burkle's jet, Denny Regan, and altercations with police at Heinz Field. In 2008 we had ... something to do with a billboard. 

Of course, these would be problems for any mayoral challenger, including Carmen Robinson, the only officially declared candidate in the race. And God only knows what might happen between now and the May 19 primary. But those expecting the mayor to self-destruct have been waiting a long time.

But don't despair, progressives. Even if Ravenstahl really is invulnerable, there's a chance to make some real gains this year ... at the city council level. More about that in a future post. 

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Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 3:55 PM

This just in from the folks at Politico: Federal contractors with close ties to US Rep. Jack Murtha have been raided by the feds:

Federal agents on Thursday raided the offices of a Pennsylvania government contractor with close ties to Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the powerful Defense panel on the House Appropriations Committee.

Agents from the FBI, IRS and Defense Criminal Investigative Service searched the offices of Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems in three different locations in Pennsylvania.

Over the last several years, Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, has helped steer more than $100 million in contracts to Kuchera, a government contractor founded in 1985 by Bill Kuchera. The company and its employees have donated more than $65,000 dollars to Murtha’s reelection campaign and leadership political action committe.

It's not exactly what you'd call surprising, is it? Murtha has been dogged by ethics questions ever since being caught up (but never charged) in the ABSCAM scandal. And who is conducting this investigation? Why, it's none other than our very own scourge of popular-but-controversial Western Pennsylvania Democrats -- Mary Beth Buchanan

I'd say everything is in place for a nice judicial shitstorm, wouldn't you?

Speaking of investigations involving federal contractors, I'd like to flag this story for special attention:

Army investigators say a Green Beret from Shaler was electrocuted at his barracks in Iraq because of substandard work by a U.S. military contractor.

The Army called the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth "negligent homicide," concluding that KBR Inc. did not make sure qualified electricians and plumbers worked on the barracks.

I first wrote about Maseth's death here. KBR, you'll recall, is owned by Haliburton, the firm once headed by former vice president Dick Cheney. 

"Former Vice President Dick Cheney" has a nice ring to it. Too bad the pain he and his cronies caused will linger long after his departure from Washington.