Friday, January 1, 2010
We should have known.
We should have realized that it wasn't going to be this easy to pass a prevailing wage bill.
We should have known Luke Ravenstahl would pull something like this.
In case you're joining us late and/or hungover ... late yesterday, Ravenstahl vetoed a measure to require prevailing wages be paid to workers at projects financed with city tax subsidies.
That measure passed 9-0 -- a rare moment of council unanimity. The vote was not entirely without rancor: Councilor Patrick Dowd raised a series of process-related objections -- but he too supported it in the end.
In retrospect, Ravenstahl's response to this bill was odd. When union activists demonstrated in favor of prevailing wage legislation this summer, the administration responded by padlocking the doors to the mayor's office. But once a measure was actually written and submitted to council, Ravenstahl's response was muted: He did not "anticipate being a strong advocate against it," he said.
But then came the veto. Council convened an emergency meeting to try to override it, but couldn't get the six votes needed. That's partly because two of the bill's original supporters -- Tonya Payne and Jim Motznik -- had left office by that point. And it's partly because Dowd and councilor Ricky Burgess refused to vote to save a measure they'd previously supported. But the vote would have been moot anyway: An emergency meeting requires 24 hours notice under state law, and the override would certainly have been challenged in court. Ravenstahl had already won the battle by stabbing the legislation in the back.
If there is any justice in this city -- and maybe there isn't, at least if you're a service worker -- here's what will happen next. City Council will realize how badly it has been used. They will see this for what it is: a craven end-run around them, an insult not just to the city's legislature, but to the entire idea of a legislative process.
And on Monday, they will choose Bill Peduto as their next council president.
Really, what other choice is there if council wants to be taken seriously? Ricky Burgess, Peduto's only real rival, launched his council presidency on the premise that council and the mayor's office should negotiate in good faith. But Ravenstahl's machinations have made it clear that the adminstration can't be trusted to do that. Burgess and Dowd, the only people to oppose a veto override, are teaming up on Burgess' presidential bid. Supporting Burgess' candidacy now amounts to approving of Ravenstahl's underhanded tactics.
But I have a feeling I know what's coming next. Ravenstahl apologists will start echoing Dowd's complaints about process. They will try to say council started it. If council wanted a full debate over the issue, they will say, it should have rolled out this legislation earlier. Instead, the measure got its final vote in December, when two of the nine people supporting it were lame ducks, just days away from leaving office.
For Dowd, such complaints will at least be consistent: He raised them when the prevailing wage bill was first submitted. And prior to the final vote, Dowd loudly complained that he was "silenced" in trying to raise objections to it. So perhaps he'll see this as some sort of comeuppence for the rest of council.
It's not. Even if you granted all of Dowd's points about a flawed process, it would be no excuse for what Ravenstahl did yesterday -- which degraded the process even more. Even if you oppose this bill on principle, it's no excuse for Ravenstahl's total lack of principle in waiting until the last minute before vetoing it.
I hope that Dowd realizes that too. The rap on Dowd is that he focuses on questions of process so he can have it both ways on matters of substance. That way, the theory goes, Dowd has the option of catering to a regressive mayor while still voicing a progressive position on "transparency." But I'll say this for Dowd: He broadcast his position on this bill from the outset. That's more than can be said for the mayor. And if Dowd wants to object to his fellow councilors' tactics in pushing the bill, he should also stridently oppose Ravenstahl's tactics in vetoing it. Ravenstahl, after all, has violated both the process and the substance. He not only opposed a measure that would help workers -- he did it in the most cowardly way possible.
How Dowd responds to that will tell us everything we need to know about him.
Bill Peduto should get unanimous support for his presidency: If Dowd or anyone else on council can't stomach that -- if they want to argue that Ravenstahl's vote is a symptom of a plague on both houses -- then they should abstain. But to cast a vote for anyone except Peduto is to say, essentially, that council is content being Luke Ravenstahl's bitch.
Burgess' rhetoric about a more constructive dialogue with the mayor's office is admirable. I wish I thought we had a mayor worthy of Burgess' aspirations. But because of this veto, it's impossible to believe we do. The working people of Pittsburgh have just been insulted grievously by this mayor. But they aren't alone. Council was willing to stand up for those workers. The question now is, will they be willing to stand up for themselves?
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