BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |

Monday, November 30, 2009

The party that everybody who is anybody (but Luke) will be at

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 6:17 PM

You've probably heard of the "Anybody But Luke" crowd, right? Well, I can tell you where everybody who is anybody will be on the night of Dec. 3. 

They'll be hanging out with city councilor Bill Peduto. 

Rich Lord had some of this earlier today over at the P-G's pay site, but I figure most of this blog's audience is too fiscally strapped to afford the subscription. (I mean, if you're here, it probably means you can't even afford to read our free print edition!) So perhaps it's worth noting here as well.

This Thursday, city councilor Bill Peduto is holding his "Second Annual Holiday Fete" at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. For just $250, you can hang out with Peduto and friends, listen to a DJ, sample booze and food. 

The budget-conscious might have to skip this event, and trade rounds with Peduto at Kelly's some other night. But in the meantime, they should check out the roster of event co-chairs and the folks on the event host committee.

Many of the names are no surprise: Erin Molchany (of the young-professionals group PUMP), Pgh Filmmakers panjandrum Charlie Humprey, longtime friend Justin Strong. But some of the other dignitaries are a bit more interesting:

-- Judy O'Connor, wife of the late Bob O'Connor

-- B.J. Leber, former WQED official and ousted member of O'Connor's inner circle in the latter days of his too-short administration

-- Guy Costa, former chair of Public Works (and the guy who helped let Peduto live out his dream of heading up this year's Columbus Day parade)

-- Mark DeSantis, Ravenstahl's mayoral challenger in 2007

-- Kevin Acklin, Ravenstahl's mayoral challenger in 2009

-- Debbie Lestitian, ousted member of the city's Sports and Exhibition Authority board

In other words, Peduto's party is being attended by many of the folks that Luke Ravenstahl or his chief of staff, Yarone Zober, passed over during their rise to power.

Except Pat Ford. Someone else will have to bring the cigars, I guess. 

But the list doesn't just include also-rans in local political contests. Hosts and co-chairs also include ...  

-- Fred Sargent, head of Sargent Electric

-- David Matter, head of Oxford Development and one-time advisor to the late Richard Caliguiri

-- Gabe Morgan, western PA head of the Service Employees International Union

-- Developers Steve Mosites and James Scalo

-- Reed Smith attorney/Democratic bigshot Dan Booker

-- Young literati including writer Sherrie Flick and playwright/author Rick Schweikert

-- Pat Clark, who (full disclosure) is married to CP staffer Al Hoff

Why does any of this matter? Maybe it doesn't. But on Election Day, I wrote an incredibly ponderous essay whose bottom line was that too often, challengers who take on endorsed Democrats don't have 

a sufficient number of "go-betweens" -- mediating mechanisms that act as "force multipliers" for a candidate's message ...

There aren't enough people with an audience willing to take a chance on a candidate. There haven't been enough unions willing to put themselves on the line with an endorsement. There haven't been enough people willing to sign their name to a check. There aren't enough people reading, let alone writing, the blogs.

[The lackluster challenges to Ravenstahl reflect] the lack of an infrastructure, a power base, large enough to amplify a candidate's message effectively.

I don't think the folks hosting Peduto's shindig are enough to provide that infrastructure: If they were, Ravenstahl might not be in office today. But if you're Peduto, it ain't a bad crowd to have behind you as the New Year approaches. 

Tags:

MP3 Monday: Eastern Watershed Quartet

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 5:04 PM

eastern_watershed_quartet_ffw.jpg

Rather than specializing in any one narrow folk genre, the Eastern Watershed Quartet dances lightly across a range of repertoire that includes Eastern European tunes, Israeli dance music and of course klezmer -- or as the band calls it, "minor mode therapy music suitable for all ages." City Paper reviewer Manny Theiner found the long-running local group's diversity both musically and culturally praiseworthy; you can read his review of the Quartet's new CD, The Klez Dispensers, here.

Of the album's last song, he writes, "The ensemble displays Spike Jones-ish, whizz-bang humor with the closer 'Play It Again, Dave,' by legendary clarinetist Dave Tarras." And that's the track we've made available for a free mp3 download today -- enjoy!

Tags: ,

Students Take Oral Exams at City Council

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 2:46 PM

As noted here earlier, today was the day for students to make a show of force against the city's proposed "tuition tax." Our very own Chris Young reports that some 150 did so, creating a "standing room only" crowd in city council chambers.

City councilors spent some time trying to make the institutions themselves the bad guy here. (Perhaps with some justice, as we'll see shortly.) When Mary Hines, the president of Carlow University and chair of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education, testified against the tax, Jim Motznik saw a quick opportunity to score points. 

After Hines stepped from the podium, Motznik asked her to come back. "Would you share with us your salary?" Motznik asked.

Hines disclosed that her salary was $210,000. Oooooooooohhhhhh ....

But opponents of the tax were up to some pandering of their own, as when Daniel Jimenez -- who is rapidly becoming the best-known Pittsburgh college student not wearing a jock strap -- testified. Jimenez testified against the tax, and councilor Bill Peduto asked him how much he earned. Jimenez, a grad student, said he made roughly $25,000 a year, mostly due to a fellowship he earned at Pitt.

Yes, yes, you're all very clever, you city councilors. But this back-and-forth just shows -- again -- the dilemma here. City officials are going after students because the large non-profits themselves are too rich and powerful. The politicians look like the bullies today, but that's because they've been getting bullied for years. To use an analogy that should appear on every Pittsburgh college student's SAT:

City politician : student::

a) Large institutional non-profit : city politician

b)  Mistreated pit bull : small child

c)  Underpaid butler : sloppy houseguest

d) All of the above 

The correct answer, of course, is "D." In fact, last week provided a perfect illustration, though you may have missed it. Even as Pitt is urging government to keep its hands out of student pockets ... Pitt was requesting tax dollars from government.

You may have missed this brief Post-Gazette blurb, as I did, because it ran on Thanksgiving Day. But Pitt is making its annual budgetary request from the state. The school is seeking a little under $200 million from Harrisburg -- which is "only" a 5 percent increase over the previous year. 

There's much more about the budget request in the current issue of the University Times. An excerpt here:  

After several years of 8.5 percent requests, Pitt is seeking a 5 percent increase in its state appropriation for FY11, which begins July 1. Asking for a 5 percent increase "demonstrates need without being unrealistic," said Vice Chancellor for Budget and Controller Arthur G. Ramicone ...

In Pitt’s Nov. 12 request to the state Department of Education, administrators stated that the University intends to limit tuition increases to 4 percent and to increase the compensation pool by at least 3 percent if the state appropriates the  $194.68 million the University is seeking.

Look at that: If Pitt gets its nearly $200 million, it will hold students to a tuition hike of only 4 percent. I was an English major myself, but assuming tuition of $13,000 per student, that means next year, Pitt students will be shelling out an additional $520 ... roughly three times what Ravenstahl's tax would cost them. And again -- that's assuming Pitt gets the money it wants from OTHER branches of government. If it doesn't, tuition will likely increase more.

Think about that for a second. The decisions made by Harrisburg's politicians could cost students far more than ANYTHING Luke Ravenstahl has considered. But guess which public official is the bad guy here? 

But hey, at least there's some upside for those paying tuition. Among the items in Pitt's budget request: $449,000 for "student life initiatives."

Got that? Pitt is asking nearly half a million bucks from the state to support "student life" ... but says the city has no business asking students to cover living costs for anyone else. 

Of course, in the topsy-turvy world of non-profit advocacy, Pitt can claim that $449,000 is something the rest of the city should be thankful for. After all, it's money coming from Harrisburg that might otherwise not end up here. But the point remains: If Pitt can ask government for money to benefit students, is it REALLY so shocking government is asking students for a few bucks in return? 

Tags:

Tuition tax pre-test

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 9:53 AM

A little later today, we'll be posting news of City Council's public hearing on the tuition tax, which is underway even as I type this. Students are slated to speak, and student leaders from Pitt and CMU have issued a statement pledging to release a petition with "thousands of signatures ... in opposition of the proposed tuition tax."

I hope so for their sake, because when I saw Rich Lord's preview in the Post-Gazette this morning, I was distinctly underwhelmed. 

The operative passage:

After the mayor's 2010 budget address featured the tax, student government leaders from nearly all of the city's schools gathered at Pitt. CMU's student government put up a Web site, www.stoptuitiontax.org. As of Wednesday, 2,543 different computer users had visited the site, 108 of those wrote e-mails to City Council, and 29 used it to report that they had called a council member

Only 108 students wrote e-mails? Seriously? To put that number in perspective, that's half the number of people who showed up for a rally to save UPMC Braddock. And that rally was taking place outside in mid-November, in a steady rain. Here you've got students doing on-line activism from the comfort of a bedroom or computer lab, and still they can barely make a showing. 

That's not to say there aren't committed student activists. In the P-G's print edition, Lord's story quotes a student leader, Daniel Jimenez, who appears elsewhere on the same page -- in a Pitt-sponsored ad objecting to the tax.

Jimenez, a grad student who worked on the petition-gathering effort, is quoted in the ad noting that pays parking, sales and amusement taxes like many other folks. He also owns a home and pays taxes on the property, and wage tax on the money he earns working. 

"I'm rehabbing my City house to improve it and my neighborhood," the ad says. "But the City says I don't contribute."

Pitt has been running these quarter-page ads for the past few days. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education -- which represents 10 non-profit institutions of higher learning --  has been running its own companion campaign in the P-G.

The council's quarter-page ads insist that "Students Already Pay Their Fair Share." 

"Students who live in campus residence halls do enjoy a measure of protection from local property taxes," the ads concede. "However, less than one-quarter of our students live in university-owned housing. The other three quarters do pay property taxes, either directly on the homes that they own or indirectly through the rental payments that they make." 

The ad frets that students "actually could pay more for city services than well-paid professionals who work in the city year-round."

That is, I guess, a reference to the fact that commuters pay only a $52-a-year levy. Which might sound outrageous -- especially if you think, as I do, that commuters can and should pay more. But on the other hand, as I pointed out before, you could argue that students probably USE city services more than well-paid professionals, who by definition go home at the end of the day. (And let's face it: You'll find a much smaller number of well-paid professionals putting a burden on city services by partying at Semplefest.) 

Of course, well-paid professionals are better able to pay than students are -- no matter how little the professionals may use the services. But do city colleges really want us to decide these issues on the basis of who can best afford to pay? If so, it's natural to wonder how much all these ads cost ... and whether that money shouldn't have been directed to city coffers instead. Won't the cost of those ads be taken from students' tuition as well?

All this gets to the heart of the dilemma here. As everyone knows, students are easy to tax in part because, up until now, they just don't vote or get involved in city politics much. Meanwhile, the colleges themselves have money and resources to fight this battle ... but they're exactly the kind of big institutions city officials really want to tax. Students are caught between grasping public officials and grasping universities, who are used to having prior claim on their wallets. 

Tags:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 5:29 PM

I approach the news of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's separation from his wife Erin with trepidation for a couple reasons. My own parents divorced when my brother and I were only a few years older than the Ravenstahls' son. I hope it doesn't come to that for the mayor's family. My parents' parting was as amicable as it could be, but you couldn't call it fun.

In any case, while I've certainly had differences with Ravenstahl's public policies, I don't care about his personal life. 

What interests me more is the news, tucked down into other media accounts, that the Ravenstahls have retained Philadelphia attorney Richard A. Sprague "to address privacy matters." 

How big a deal is Sprague? Among other things, he has taken on the state's largest newspaper -- and the American Bar Association -- and won.

It's been noted elsewhere already that Sprague once had state Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) as a client. Another previous client was basketball star Allen Iverson, who in 2002 was cleared of gun charges after Sprague's "grueling cross-examination" punched holes in the testimony of prosecution witnesses. Long before that, Sprague prosecuted Tony Boyle for the 1969 murder of Jock Yablonski, a Pittsburgh-born labor leader who sought to reform the United Mineworkers, and who was killed for his trouble. (You can watch a 45-minute video of Sprague talking about the case here.)

Sprague has taken on the media too. 

In 1990, a jury awarded Sprague a $34 million libel verdict against the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Years before, the paper had accused Sprague, who then worked in the Philadelphia DA's office, of quashing a murder investigation.) It was said to be the largest verdict ever against a news organization, though the amount was later reduced, and the Inquirer's owner settled for an undisclosed sum.  

As celebrated lawyer F. Lee Bailey wrote in a foreword to a biography of Sprague, "Sprague is not afraid of anybody. He's not afraid of the biggest newspaper in the state ... or the toughest union bosses."

He also wasn't afraid of the American Bar Association. Sprague took them to court too. And that book Bailey wrote the foreword to? Publishing it was reportedly part of the settlement.

According to the Legal Intelligencer (reg. req'd) and other accounts, Sprague objected to a 2000 ABA Journal article that described him as "perhaps the most powerful lawyer-cum-fixer" in the state. The ABA maintained that the phrase was meant to praise Sprague, but Sprague noted that "fixer" has negative connotations as well.

Eventually, the ABA and Sprague settled, with the Bar Association issuing a statement that read, in part, "[W]e did not intend to disparage Mr. Sprague in any way. Rather,we intended the word to mean someone who is skilled in resolving problems in high-profile, complex cases. We apologize to Mr. Sprague for the personal distress that resulted from our choice of words."

The settlement reportedly also involved a pledge by the ABA to "pay for the publication of Sprague's biography, written by Philadelphia Daily News reporter Joseph R. Daughen."

So let there be no doubt: Richard A. Sprague is one heck of a lawyer. And just in case there is any question whatsoever about this, I intend that phrase to mean he is skilled in resolving problems in high-profile, complex cases. 

Tags:

Glengarry Glen Ross at barebones productions

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 1:40 PM

On one level, the six principal characters of David Mamet's modern classic are ciphers. They seldom discuss anything but their jobs selling fraudulent real estate. The only one who refers to a wife -- to any sort of domestic life -- is Lingk, the sucker for one of the salesmen's confidence games. Indeed, the only one on whom Mamet bestows any real past is the struggling veteran, Shelly Levene -- and Levene narrates that past entirely in terms of his sales conquests.

There is one exception, however, and it's an intriguing window into not only this fine barebones production, but also the depths Mamet subtly provides (or for which he perhaps simply leaves opportunities for actors to provide).

Again it involves Levene, who's played by Pittsburgh stage legend Bingo O'Malley, whom I profiled for CP a couple weeks ago: www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A71500.

The exception is that three times, Levene mentions his daughter. (My article incorrectly says twice.) The mentions are all very brief; two of them, in fact, are nothing more than an abortive "my daughter ..."

In an interview before the show opened, O'Malley cited Levene's references to his daughter as one of Mamet's peepholes into character -- one reason O'Malley was interested enough to take the role twice. (The first time was back in the 1980s, for City Theatre.) O'Malley says that for him, Levene's mentions of his daughter prompts a curiosity about the man that yields a different interpretation each time.

Audiences will note that Levene is a con artist, and that he refers to his daughter only when he needs something. The first time is in the play's first scene, where he pleads for leads from the unyielding office manager.

So does Levene even have a daughter? I asked O'Malley, and he wouldn't say what he thinks. He was concerned that his answer would cost the show's audience too much intrigue.

But here's my interpretation, based on seeing O'Malley's powerful performance last Friday.

The first time Levene mentioned his daughter, I was sure it was a ruse. But the play's arc is Levene's -- from desperation to seeming triumph to final undoing -- and my impression changed accordingly. By the third mention, I was not only sure that there was a daughter ... but also that she'd died.

How so? This is nowhere in the script. But O'Malley's line reading suggested that while Levene still mentions the daughter as a ploy, he is in genuine grief over her death.

It's just a guess. I don't know what Mamet thinks. And I still don't know what O'Malley thinks -- though I do know that his wordless depiction of Levene's final dissolution is perhaps the most potent acting I've seen on a local stage this year.

This week is your last chance to see for yourself. Glengarry continues at the New Hazlett Theater tonight through Sun., Nov. 29, not counting Thanksgiving (www.barebonesproductions.com).

Tags:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scratch a fundamentalist, find a Pittsburgh native

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 7:49 PM

There's been a lot of talk about how Bishop Thomas Tobin, who heads the Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, has urged Congressman Patrick Kennedy to not take Communion because Kennedy supports abortion rights.

And wouldn't you just know it, Tobin is a Pittsburgh native. I haven't heard anything about the local connection since the Kennedy brouhaha blew up, but a few years back, the Providence Journal did a series on Tobin noting his Pittsburgh roots, right down to the fact that "He was a great fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, of Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and their four Super Bowl titles in six years." The story also notes that at the ceremony installing him as bishop, Tobin

struck a note of levity. He mentioned having already received many letters, including from one fifth-grade student who admonished him for enthusiastically following Pittsburgh football. He read from it.

"I heard you are a Steelers fan," the child wrote. "I am a Pats fan. We are all Pats fans. Too bad for you!"

The bishop paused, then added, to laughter: "Obviously, I have a lot of work to do up here!"

The Journal even featured a 1973 video of Tobin's ordination here in Pittsburgh. (He's the young guy with the thick-framed glasses, though he doesn't say much.) 

So I guess you can put Tobin's name on the roster of people who left Pittsburgh to become prominent exponents of conservative ideals. Put it right there below folks like Orrin Hatch and Rush Limbaugh.

Sadly, Tobin doesn't exactly do his hometown proud in this exchange about Kennedy with Chris Matthews. Starting around the six-and-a-half minute mark, you start to feel like Saint Sebastian got off easy.

 

Tags:

Man With A Movie Camera at the Three Rivers Film Festival

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 8:56 AM

The fest closed out in high style Saturday night with a Regent Square Theater screening of this silent classic, accompanied by an original score performed live by Boston's Alloy Orchestra.

Cinephiles couldn't have asked for more: a sold-out showing, with a pristine 35 mm print of a film that hasn't been screened publicly around here for at least a decade. And the Alloy's propulsive and witty accompaniment was the perfect match for Dziga Vertov's still-astonishing 1929 avant-garde documentary about a day in the life of Moscow.

The film's quick cutting and masterful use of devices from slow motion (beautifully used to depict athletes) to multiple superimpositions and stop-motion animation were surprising enough. But who would have thought a film from Stalinist Russia would have depicted women on a beach, naked from the waist up and photographed frontally, smearing themselves with mud (presumably for cosmetic reasons)? Or a split-second view of a newborn baby, umbilical cord and all, in front of the spread-eagled woman he'd just emerged from?

Perhaps most notable is the title device, the cameraman who's seen trotting through many of the film's scenes, tripod over shoulder. (And he, like Vertov, is indeed male, accounting for the high count of demi-cheesecake shots on that beach.) The cameraman's presence is a wonderfully postmodern device, a constant reminder that we're watching a film, and of what it takes to make one.

Better still in this regard are the scenes depicting strips of exposed film itself, with close-ups on individual frames -- a laughing child, say -- that then "come to life," now taking up the whole screen. (The editor whom we see in these scenes is likely Elizaveta Svilova, Vertov's wife and frequent collaborator, and widely regarded as a co-author of this film.)

Man With A Movie Camera's approach was not entirely new. For instance, the film is very much in the mold of the "city symphony" portraits of other bustling metropoli that were in vogue at the time. And Buster Keaton, for example, had experimented with self-reflexive cinema-themed narratives in such earlier films as Sherlock, Jr.

Still, Vertov's film is that rare silent classic which dates hardly at all. Surely that's largely due to the film's sense of urgency. A friend I saw it with interpreted Man With A Movie Camera as a challenge to other artists to rise to the times.

Finally, the screening felt like a new high for Pittsburgh's decade-long romance with silent films with live musical accompaniment. Previous highlights have included everything from period scores to Chaplin and Harold Lloyd shorts to the Mongolian throat-singing group Yat Kha accompanying another Soviet classic, Storm Over Asia, at the Carnegie Lecture Hall. But the three-man Alloy Orchestra, whom festival organizer Pittsburgh Filmmakers hosts most every year, is the most prolific practioner hereabouts and arguably the best, showing what you can do with little more than percussion and keyboards.  

Tags:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Squonk Opera pulls back the curtain on its next show

Posted By on Sun, Nov 22, 2009 at 11:22 AM

Audiences almost always have questions when Squonk Opera gives a performance. But only rarely do you get to ask the questions directly, when the five-person troupe is still on stage.

That's what happened at the Kelly-Strayhorn theater this weekend, as Pittsburgh's veteran muscial phantasmagorians gave a free preview performance of Mayhem and Majesty. The work is set to debut next spring, and Squonk is still working up new material and seeking a workable structure. The performance was broken up into three short acts, during which the Squonkers unleashed their energies ... and then broke for discussion.

Unlike some of their more recent previous efforts -- including 2008's Astro-Rama --  Mayhem and Majesty will not have any explicit narrative arc. Artistic co-director Steve O'Hearn told the audience that scrapping the narrative was about "freeing up ourselves to be ourselves."

But the signatures of a Squonk work remain unchanged: wry humor, striking visuals, inventive props, and of course the music -- which runs the gamut from haunting lullaby to almost-overwhelming cacophony.  In fact, the work comes out swinging from the outset, beginning with a full-throated roar. O'Hearn later noted that Squonk usually starts more quietly, to draw audiences in -- and then polled audience members to see if they liked the new approach. 

Considering this is a work in progress, the musicianship was tight: Keyboardist (and co-director) Jackie Dempsey had a driving duet with percussionist Kevin Kornicki that felt like a Russian folk dance on meth; O'Hearn and guitarist David Wallace both performed howling solos lushly backed up by the rest of the band. 

And while the set was sparser than in previous full-blown productions, there was still plenty to look at. Among the highlights: motorized umbrellas opening and shutting like flowers, and vocalist Autumn Ayers surrounded by microphones that circled her like fireflies. Meanwhile, a bit of shadow-play -- silhouettes of Ayers using a gramophone horn with O'Hearn playing a clarinet behind her -- was so captivating that an audience member suggested using it in Squonk merchandise.

"I would wear that T-shirt," the Squonkers were told. 

More than 100 people attended the Saturday night performance, and they were enthusiastic about the new work, although a spirited discussion about the lyrics ensued.

Autumn Ayers' voice is perhaps the one instrument audience members remember most: It's one thing to see instruments navigate the varied terrain of a Squonk Opera performance, but it's hard to imagine so much range and power packed into one human frame. Yet audience members noted that the lyrics were almost impossible to hear, lost as they often were in the maelstrom unfolding on stage.

Squonkers argued that the point is that Ayers' voice is an instrument: that she backs the rest of the band as much as the other way around. Besides, they pointed out, hearing the lyrics might not help that much: Ayers gave a spoken-word performance of one song to illustrate that the lyrics fall somewhere between beat poetry and scat-singing. (In another song, the only lyrics I could make out involved repeated use of the texting acronyms LMAO and LOL.)

Squonk Opera, in other words, doesn't feel particularly obliged to "make sense." And if you can let go of the idea that they should, you'll probably have a good time.   

In fact, the visuals which pleased the audience -- a giant face whose features were each projected on separate screens was a favorite -- also confounded it. One young enthusiast wanted to know "what possessed you" to project video footage of squirming microorganisms during one set.

"I just like the way mosquito larvae move," lead video designer Buzz Miller explained. 

"Who doesn't?" O'Hearn asked. 

Tags:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why students shrug at tuition hikes, but scream about taxes

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 6:18 PM

In a blog post earlier today, I asked what seemed like a fairly simple question: Why are students so worked up about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's proposed "Get The Hell of My Lawn" tax ... when they merely grumble at tuition hikes that cost much more every year?

The answer to that question, it seems, is also simple. Students perceive a tangible return for the money they invest in their tuition. Even if they don't get to use the shiny new labs, those investments too enhance the prestige of the school -- and thus the value of their degree.

The way Ravenstahl has structured this tax, meanwhile, almost seems calculated to make them resent it. 

Our intrepid reporter Chris Young was at a city council meeting on the tax today. Among the 50 in attendance were numerous students. He asked several of them a variant of the question, "Why don't you get this pissed off at tuition hikes?"

Not surprisingly, most students he spoke to agreed that, in the words of Pitt sophomore Austin Davis, "universities need to hold the line on tuition." But they also felt there was some kind of payoff. A Robert Morris student, Justin Lotz, put it this way: "Even though I'm charged fees [at school], we have more equipment. If I had to give a tax to the city, I wouldn't see any benefit from it."

I'll be honest: A part of me is tempted to say, "Grow up, students. Being a citizen isn't the same as going shopping." I pay tax money to pave roads I'll never use, and to subsidize a fire department I hope never to call on. I don't mind, partly because people out there are doing the same thing. It's part of living in a community.

In fact, students have a sort of touching belief that everyone else sees nothing but an upside in having them around. One student, for example, asked Young to "Imagine Oakland without college students." Well, I lived in Oakland for two years, and there are plenty of long-term residents for whom that is a constant daydream. But those residents learn to take the good with the bad, the excesses of Semplefest with all the advantages students bring. That's part of living in a community too.

But I can't blame students if they aren't racing to sing Kum-ba-yah with the rest of the city these days. As I noted in a column after the tax was first announced, it's almost as if city leaders were trying to make students as angry as possible. Almost all of the tax revenues are earmarked to pay off the city's massive pension debt ... which means "Many of the city's youngest residents would be footing the bill for some of its oldest."

That's not really the mayor's fault. The money is earmarked for pensions because, earlier this year, state financial overseers placed a mandate on the city to start paying at least $10 million a year into its pension fund. The overseers did absolutely nothing to suggest where that money was going to come from. So this is what Ravenstahl came up with. 

The result is a revenue stream that pays for the one thing students will have the least sympathy for: a pension whose problems date back before they ever enrolled -- and whose beneficiaries may have retired before they were born. 

Which is too bad, because the thing is ... students and the rest of the city have one big thing in common. In one way or another, EVERYONE is being beggared by colleges. Tuition goes up, while contributions to city coffers remain flat or decline.

And while it's fun, and fashionable, to blame Ravenstahl for all this, it's bigger than him.

I've been a reporter for nearly 15 years. And throughout my career, city officials have complained that the non-profits -- among the city's biggest employers -- need to do more. Ravenstahl doesn't have much in common with his predecessor, Tom Murphy ... except for the fact that both have pleaded for more support from the universities and other non-profits. 

Why does nobody seem able to keep the real problem here in mind? That question, it seems, isn't quite so simple.

Tags:

Listings

Digital Issues

This Week...

Read Past Issues

© 2019 Pittsburgh City Paper

Website powered by Foundation

National Advertising by VMG Advertising