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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 9:43 PM

Greetings!

Yes, it's Tuesday, and this is a Monday feature. Were you hitting refresh on your browser all day yesterday while FFW>> was cooking out and remembering our fallen soldiers? Sorry boutcha.

This week's free MP3 download comes from Joy Toujours and the Toys du Jour. It's a pretty, subdued little folk number, and I quite like it, to be honest with you. The track is brand-new, and is called "Tonight Is the Night." Download and enjoy!

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Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Hill District leaders are used to dropping the gloves with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But as their criticism of the team has mounted, the Hill District Consensus Group says the hockey team's president recently directed a cryptic threat to the neighborhood group's leader.

According to Carl Redwood, convener of the Consensus Group, Penguins President David Morehouse was "fuming" after Redwood addressed City Council on May 23 at the Hill District's Epiphany Catholic Church, where members of the public voiced their feelings about the Penguins' plan to demolish the Civic Arena. In his comments to council, Redwood criticized the team for offering little back to the community in exchange for lucrative development deals.

"Morehouse came up to me right after I spoke and said, 'Where I come from, when you get sucker-punched, you punch back,'" Redwood tells City Paper. "We can't even speculate as to what that means."

Today, the Consensus Group issued a press release about the exchange. Titled "Discussions of Multi-Million $ Subsidy for Civic Arena Demo turn ugly: Pens President Lashes out in anger at Hill District Consensus Group," the release states that "While the meaning behind Mr. Morehouse's words is unclear, it would seem that the Penguins would prefer not to have the public subsidies they receive discussed in public forums."

Penguins officials could not immediately be reached for comment. But Redwood's May 23 criticism of the team was scathing. 

During his address to City Council, Redwood fretted that the Penguins won't have to foot the bill for tearing down the Civic Arena or preparing the site for future development. "Where is the community benefit in this deal?" asked Redwood, whose group favors demolishing the arena. "The Penguins expect the public ... to pay for the demolition and the site prep and then turn the land over to them to collect all parking revenue and future revenue."

Some community benefits are already apparent: The Penguins have pledged $1 million toward the Hill District grocery store expected to open in November. But Redwood maintains that the value of subsidies and development rights given to the team could reach $1 billion. "Where is the other $999 million?" he asked. "It is $999 million in profit for the rich people in the Penguins Corporation."

The Penguins currently operate roughly 2,500 parking spaces in lots surrounding Mellon Arena, generating anywhere from $7-15 per parking space for the team. Late last year, the Consensus Group launched a campaign to get the Penguins to allocate $1 per car toward a community fund that would, for example, help pay for a bus loop through the Hill District.

The Consensus Group estimates that the fund would generate roughly $600,000 a year for the neighborhood. But the Penguins want nothing to do with it.

"As Gandhi said, 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,'" Redwood announced during a May 13 Consensus Group meeting. "We're in the ignore phase right now."

Maybe not for much longer.

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Posted on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 4:58 PM

"The first time they told me there was trouble in the Middle East, I thought they were talking about Pittsburgh" – Gil Scott-Heron (from his appearance on 1985's "Let Me See Your I.D.")

Gil Scott-Heron passed away on Friday, May 27 at the age of 62, though his legacy lives. His words can be read in five published books, his music heard on 15 studio albums as well as several live albums and compilations. Gil's music conveys a feeling -- the struggle of overcoming.

My earliest experience hearing Gil Scott-Heron was courtesy of my father's record collection. Growing up in the '90s and being enthralled in hip-hop music, my father always pushed me to explore the roots -- jazz, blues, soul, etc. For my high school senior project I did a 20-some page paper aptly titled "Hip-Hop Music." To explain the art of poetry and MCing, I printed out the lyrics to Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." While I may not have fully comprehended the song at the time, it still resonated with me in understanding the limitless possibilities of one man's voice and words. It was honest, and unique, and the subject matter wasn't being presented in the classroom.

It was that summer, 2005, that I first heard the Pieces of a Man album. The third cut, "Lady Day and John Coltrane" blew me away. The fast tempo and uplifting lyrics were great, but for me it was always the tone and range of Gil's voice that gauged my attention. Also, "When You Are Who You Are" has been a favorite from that album. This record inspired me to listen to his entire catalogue.

In recent days, since Gil's passing, I've revisited his music. Each studio album got a minimum of one listen in full, most got more than two and several tracks were put on repeat. Some songs worthy of an instant replay were "Everyday" (from the 1970 debut album Small Talk At 125th), "Vildgolia (Deaf, Dumb and Blind)" (from 1977's album Bridges), "Angola, Louisiana" (from 1978's Secrets), and "Not Needed" (from 1980's Real Eyes).

Below are comments from several Pittsburghers who have been influenced by Gil's work: activists, artists, DJs, poets, and writers. Tomorrow we'll post words from several more.

Luqmon Abdus-Salaam, poet:

I was on the same bill as Gil Scott-Heron in 1996 at the Philadelphia African Arts Festival with him and the Last Poets.

I saw him give a great performance. One of the most underrated singer songwriters, let alone poets, of our time. I also saw him in Pittsburgh, PA at the old Rosebud, again an excellent performance; this was around 1997.

He made me feel in the performances like a legend presenting his treasured work that is a timeless presentation. His deep baritone voice actually expresses the pain and celebration of black people and had the true humanity of an artist.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" made me feel like this was the call for oppressed people of America and if there was a challenge to the system this song would be the soundtrack.

Jay Malls, DJ:

It's funny because I've been thinking about how I first heard him. My friend in high school's dad was a fan and he used to let me borrow his records. He turned me onto Gil Scott-Heron, Last Poets and all kinds of other stuff. And I'd heard that stuff via various hip-hop, but I had no idea who those artists were at that point. Then I started finding my own copies ...

The first Gil Scott LP I heard was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It's fucked up because I'd never had my own copy for whatever reason until a few years ago. I was at a record convention somewhere in Pennsylvania and I found a copy and then the friend who I mentioned called me (while I'm still at the record show) and told that his dad had passed away. So anyway, that album was amazing to me because I'd never heard anything like "Whitey on the Moon" before, which blew my mind. And then the title track resonated with me because I was familiar with it through BDP using it on Blueprint of Hip Hop.

I think I found some of the later Arista [albums] first. They all had some pretty good stuff on them. I was more into the earlier ones with Brian Jackson. There's one called Bridges that J. Rawls sampled for Black Star "Brown Skinned Lady." That album's great. Winter In America is awesome. That one has "The Bottle." There are tons of different versions of that, covers. Great tune that's really socially relevant, but it had cross-over dancefloor appeal and it's definitely a classic. I still play that a lot.

I think my favorite stuff is the really early releases on Flying Dutchman. That was Bob Thiele's label. The first album is all spoken word and the releases after that are just amazing. Pieces of a Man is probably my favorite and then The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, etc. Johnny Pate is conducting and that's where Brian Jackson comes in playing keys. It's all jazz guys, Pretty Purdie plays drums, Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, etc. It's all stellar, very sincere, heart-felt stuff. I think his appeal is really in his honesty. [He was] definitely too honest for him to ever achieve any real mainstream success, and certainly very radical for the time.

Bonita Lee Penn, poet and journalist for the Soul Pitt Quarterly Magazine:

[Gil's] lyrics were and still are a constant inspiration; a call to duty to anyone who considers themselves a real black poet. He along with other Black male poets of the Black Arts Movement, such as LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), lit a fire to being Black. Gil was strong and fearless with his messages demanding Black Pride, Black Thinking, "get off your ass and do something" Black people themes. I fell in love with his message. Black was beautiful and it was on the radio.

When I first heard "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" I was a young teenager living the good life in the suburbs, but at that same time being confronted with the invisible racial division in my community. I felt isolated from the Blacks in the larger cities, I wanted to be a part of the movement, so I started making statements, one being the first Black student to wear a Dashiki to school. But I wanted to express what I was feeling through my poetry and when Gil's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was broadcast over the radio, my feeling of isolation disappeared and I began to write revolutionary poetry because Gil's words woke me.

Through his music I found my cultural identity and my reason for writing poetry. Whenever I attend a writing conference or sit and discuss poetry, Gil Scott-Heron's name always comes up. My thing is, who will take his place? His music/lyrics live on, but who will continue to light that fire under black folks' asses?

Paradise Gray, activist and member of the X-Clan:

I saw him perform a couple of times. He was incredible. He comes from the jazz tradition, he did spoken word over jazz and blues ... People that [would] go to see him, they knew what to expect when they got there. He's a legend. He's a prodigy. He's been incredible as a musician, and as a poet, his whole life. So, his reputation precedes him. Most people that go to see Gil Scott-Heron can spit his words like Rakim fans ... like Biggie fans, when they go to see Biggie they know what it is. You go with that mindset that you're the student going to learn something as well as hear something. You're not just going to be entertained, you're going to be inspired ...

In the South Bronx when hip-hop was being developed, Gil Scott-Heron was living in the Bronx. So we were aware of him and his poetry and what he was doing with his music ... Gil Scott-Heron himself, he didn't accept that he was one of the founding fathers of rap and hip-hop. He proclaims that he's more from the blues and jazz experience than the hip-hop.

We did a few different festivals as X-Clan, and many times we'd be booked aside Gil Scott-Heron. He was a highly intelligent dude, very artistic, and a great musician, not just a poet but a musician also. He prided himself on his music, rather than just his rap ...

The first time I heard "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" I thought it was incredible. I come from an era where we had legend, after legend, after legend. Our elders are some of the most creative and incredible people that ever walked this planet, especially the elders that created music during the '70s and '80s, when they made real music and creativity was celebrated rather than stifled like it is in today's music industry in general ...

He was an incredible artist who got caught up in a lot of things in life that a lot of our elders got sidetracked with. But I won't judge him as a man, judgment belongs to God alone. As an artist, he's one of the best there ever was. I want him to rest in peace. I'll always remember his contribution.

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Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 2:16 PM

A bit of belated election analysis from city council district 9, where Ricky Burgess won a three-way race in which he got exactly 50 percent of votes (not counting a handful of write-ins).

I haven't said much about the results here, mostly because I figured Burgess to win this race ever since it became clear he'd be running against two female challengers, both with hyphenated last names: Lucille Prater-Holliday, and Phyllis Copeland-Mitchell. If you were deliberately trying to split an opposition vote, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better scenario. And at first blush, election results appeared to confirm that Burgess squeaked by because the two women split the opposition vote in two, with Prater-Holliday getting the much larger share. 

But I took a second look at the race after being pointed to this Pittsburgh Courier piece by Louis "Hop" Kendrick, long a fixture of black political life. In Kendrick's view, Burgess has won a victory not just over his two rivals, but over an entire political machine intent on ousting him: 

Allow me to put the victory of Councilman Burgess in perspective, because it was a total victory. How? He defeated six Democratic chairpersons, five unions and four sitting Pittsburgh Council people ... Those outside forces that sought to remove Ricky Burgess absolutely do not have the best interest at heart when it comes to the residents of the 9th council district.

Kendrick is referring to a series of setbacks Burgess had to overcome this year. He failed to win the backing of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee; he also lost the endorsement of the Allegheny County Labor Council and other labor groups. And obviously, council's progressive majority would not have mourned his departure. Just today, Burgess released a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett calling for more rigorous review of the city's pension fund, and the potential return of the mayor's plan to lease public parking garages. Not surprisingly, it also denounces the as-yet-untested solutions proposed by the mayor's foes. 

So is that majority indeed The Oppressor here? I've argued recently that we may be seeing the rise of a progressive "machine," with its own network of supporters and candidates. Kendrick's exultation over defeating these "outside interests" may sound like confirmation of that theory.

But on closer inspection, the outcome in District 9 suggests that the progressive "machine" still has some problems under the hood. 

For one thing, the "outside forces" never agreed on which candidate to back, and often worked at cross-purposes. To take the most obvious example, Prater-Holliday got the Labor Council's backing -- but Copeland-Mitchell won the party endorsement

Even the progressives themselves were split. Phylilis Copeland-Mitchell got the backing of the 14th Ward Democratic Club ... while Prater-Holliday got support from the Young Democrats, the Sierra Club, and Progress Pittsburgh

But when you drill down into the district-by-district voting returns, the larger trend becomes clear: Even if progressives had been united on a challenger, it's not clear it would have mattered. Burgess has, in his first term of office, outgrown his need for progressive support. 

If you just look at the total vote, Burgess would seem to have posted near-identical tallies in 2007 and 2011: In both races, he finished with 50 percent of the vote. But a closer look shows that the 50 percent he got this time around was a different cohort of voters. 

When Burgess first won the office, in 2007, he did so with help from voters in the progressive heartland. While District 9 is mostly black, and much of it is economically distressed, it also includes portions of Point Breeze -- a more affluent, whiter neighborhood that makes up a chunk of the mighty 14th Ward.

Back in 2007, Burgess was the favorite of those voters; In a 8-way race, nearly 55 percent of the district's Ward 14 voters supported him. Elswhere in the district, he earned just under 48 percent of the vote. It's safe to say that Burgess won the race by carrying Ward 14, and finishing no worse than a strong second in almost every other precinct. Geographically speaking, Ward 14 isn't that large a chunk of his district -- but it accounted for 20 percent of the votes cast in the 2007 race.

This time around, by contrast, Burgess lost the 14th ward, earning only 37 percent of the vote there, to Prater-Holliday's 42 percent. Copeland-Mitchell got 20 percent of the vote ... no doubt including some of those 14th Ward Clubbers.

Burgess' decline in Ward 14 no doubt reflects mounting disenchantment there. Burgess has been tight with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his circle, a bete noir for many progressives. What's more, he's complained that affluent neighborhoods get an undue share of resources that properly belong to poorer communities.

That's not the best way to win votes south of Penn Avenue. But Burgess doesn't have to worry. While his support dropped in Ward 14, he made up the difference by consolidating his support in the heavily African-American portions of the district: This time around, he got nearly 54 percent of all non-14th ward votes.

As a result, even if Prater Holliday got all of Copeland-Mitchell's 191 votes in Ward 14, she'd have been well short of what she needed to topple Burgess.

In fact, Copeland-Mitchell turned out to be something of a paper tiger in this race. From the outset that she was the candidate preferred by Ward 12 chair Jacque Fielder. But Fielder's backing translated into very few votes: Copeland-Mitchell finished last in Ward 12 too, though that was where she performed the strongest.

Prater-Holliday did better, but not nearly well enough: Outside of Ward 14, she won only 4 out of 48 voting precincts.

Having written an account of Progressivism Triumphant this election season, I feel obliged to note that this primary result has some cautionary notes as well. It's one thing for progressive incumbents to hold onto their own council districts: That's playing defense. The one race where they played offense was in District 9, and despite the best efforts of go-to campaign guy Matt Merriman-Preston, it didn't pan out.

And it's worth remembering that if progressives have hopes for a 2013 mayoral campaign, these are neighborhoods and voters they have to connect with. As the indispensible Chris Briem  noted just after the last mayoral primary,

You can't win a Democratic primary if you have absolutely no support from what is the largest, and often the most cohesive, block of votes in the city. African Americans at this point likely make up just about 30% of the city’s population which translates to maybe 40% of Democratic households.

Progressives have been trying: Initiatives like the city's prevailing wage bill, which was supported SEIU, guarantees higher-than-minimum wages for service-sector employees -- a measure that attempts to connect with working-class voters of all races. And you may be seeing more such initiatives in the future

Still, there's work to be done. ouncil's progressive majority is all-white, and they tend to hail from mostly-white neighborhoods. Connecting with black voters is both a moral imperative and a political necessity.

Kendrick is probably half-right: Burgess' victory does reflect his strength as a candidate. But it also reflects some areas of progressive weakness. And if they're going to build on this year's success, they'll have to do something about it. 

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Posted By on Sat, May 28, 2011 at 4:58 AM

They may get lost in the holiday weekend, but both our dailes have stories about the ongoing clash of healthcare titans, and they are well worth reading.

UPMC, the region's biggest healthcare  provider, and Highmark, our biggest health insurer, have been on the outs for months -- with a marked escalation in tensions since Highmark announced a willingness to partner up with the ailing West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS). On the surface, today's story concerns a technical dispute over when a contract between the two entities expires: Will Highmark's network cease covering UPMC facilities in 2012, or 2013? But this somewhat arcane battle gives you an interesting look at the broader war.

Highmark insists that its contract with UPMC doesn't end for another two years, and accuses UPMC of having "mounted a communication campaign aimed at frightening Highmark policyholders." UPMC, for its part, says their contract ends next June, and faults Highmark for "having announced its intention to compete with UPMC as a provider" of healthcare. 

"UPMC has a responsibility to ensure that the highest quality care is widely accessible and affordable for the largest number of people," the hospital chain contends. And the way to ensure access for the largest number of people, apparently, is to walk away from an agreement with the outfit most likely to be insuring them. 

But put aside such concerns -- and whatever amusement you derive from hearing UPMC laud the virtues of competition in the healthcare market. A couple things jump out at you about this fracas.

First, these are the two healthcare entities that the WPAHS, the parent of Allegheny General Hospital, accuses of being a collusive monopoly

Second, doesn't Highmark's position here look pretty weak? The guy with the strongest negotiating position, it seems to me, is the one who is most willing to get up from the table. And that sounds like UPMC, which is making lots of noise about welcoming new insurers to the market. Not to mention the fact that UPMC has an insurance operation of its own. (Which, by the way, makes it a little hard to be sympathetic to complaints about Highmark's willingness to compete: UPMC has been encroaching on Highmark's turf for years.) 

Conversely, when Highmark says UPMC is scaring customers, it seems like an acknowledgement that UPMC has lots of leverage ... and Highmark doesn't want the hospital chain to use it. 

In any case, at the moment, it seems easier to bring new insurance companies into the market than it is to import a rival hospital chain. UPMC has recently struck deals with national insuers CIGNA, Aetna, and UnitedHealthcare.

By contrast, while Highmark is enjoying big revenues today, who does it have to work with down the road? There are independent healthcare providers in the region: St. Clair Hospital leaps to mind. And I'm sure if Highmark did move ahead on plans to partner with WPAHS, the two entities could settle the WPAHS lawsuit. The larger concern may be that -- as is also being reported this weekend -- WPAHS has seen a nearly 20 percent decline in admissions over the past year.

On some level, it's hard to imagine Highmark and UPMC not working something out. Not so long ago, after all, Highmark invested more than $200 million so UPMC could have a nice, shiny new Children's Hospital. But whatever this battle means for UPMC and Highmark, though, the real question is what impact it will have on consumers. Medicare consumers will be unaffected by this squabble, which is nice. But like some others, I suppose, I can't help but be reminded of an old proverb: When elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Posted By on Fri, May 27, 2011 at 2:31 PM

Stephen Glassman, the longtime head of the state's Human Relations Commission, is coming to Pittsburgh. And as he heads out the door, his old foes at the American Family Association of Pennsylvania have a final kick in the ass for him. 

The AFA is one of those "family values" conservative groups. You know the kind: When some legislator in Oklahoma denounces Pittsburgh as a veritable Sodom-on-the-Mon, the AFA is the first to agree. You might think they'd be ecstatic over the news that Glassman will be heading up the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, where he'll take over from the departing Ann-Marie Lubenau

But the AFA is taking this one last chance to urge Corbett to fire him.

Glassman is gay -- and in fact proudly claims to be Pennsylvania's first openly gay state official. The AFA contends that he has been "using the force of law to demand that all Pennsylvanians celebrate the homosexual lifestyle." That no doubt explains why it's now mandatory for Pennsylvanians to attend at least one Liza Minelli concert a year.

In any case, the AFA worries that  the announcement of Glassman's new post "offered no indication that he was leaving his position as Chairman of the PHRC." So they decided to force the issue:

Ever since Governor Rendell 'promoted' Glassman from commissioner to the chairman of the Commission he has used that position to push his agenda -- but what do you expect when you appoint a homosexual activist? We are asking Governor Corbett to do the right thing for Pennsylvania and choose a Chairman that better reflects the majority of Pennsylvanians."

I'm not sure why the AFA felt obliged to put "promoted" in quotes ... does it not count as a real promotion when gay people are involved or something? But this is one time where the AFA may actually be happy with something reported in City Paper: Glassman is, in fact, leaving his state post. 

"What's so humorous about [the AFA statement] is I've already resigned," Glassman said when I reached him by phone. "I guess they haven't spotted it. But I've submitted my resignation, only because I've accepted this very exciting position in Pittsburgh. And in order to take it, I can't do the job of being chair of the commission."

Glassman's resignation is effective June 30, he says -- a date he chose to give Corbett time to settle on a replacement. 

Glassman looks back with pride on the eight years he spent at the head of the commission. In that time, he says, municipalities all across the state have created their own human-rights ordinances, and empanelled commissions to help enforce those rules. Among other accomplishments, the state commission also helped shepherd through an anti-bullying policy in Philadelphia schools, and played a significant role in the notorious Valley Swim Club case, in which black children were ousted from a private swimming club in suburban Philadelphia. 

Rendell, says Glassman, "was so supportive of every initiative I wanted to do -- and I did a lot of out-of-the-box things." And he admits that the move to Pittsburgh was prompted in part by Corbett's victory in last year's election. "The change of administration had a great deal to do with my [departure]. I don't feel I'm going to be supported in the work I was doing there. So maybe it's time for somebody else to take the reins who is in the same party." 

Glassman says it's too early to lay out a vision for what he hopes to accomplish at the Design Center, which advocates for and assists good design throughout the built environment. But he's clearly a big-picture guy.

Glassman is moving into a new loft in East Liberty's Penn Circle area -- "East Liberty is an exciting place to be -- I come from not only an architectural background, but also the civil-rights movement. And I didn't want to be somewhere that was isolated from minority populations."

I noted that East Liberty's redevelopment had already raised inevitable concerns about gentrification, and asked whether such issues could be addressed in his new position. 

"Just before you called," he said, "I was on the phone with a city official talking about legislation that would help protect local residents from being priced out of the market." Such a proposal would work by keeping property taxes stable while a resident remained in the home -- and when the property was sold, a portion of the proceeds would revert back to the city, with interest.

"That way, the city isn't out any money from lost revenue," Glassman says. "I think there are all kinds of public-policy things you can do to address these problems."

And who knows? Since he's techincally retaining his HRC chairmanship for another few weeks, maybe Glassman could make a phone call to another city official, Rev. Ricky Burgess. Who, once again, is a no-show in the official PrideFest magazine. If you take a look on page 7 of the guide to this summer's gay-pride activities, you'll see that Pittsburgh City Council members are welcoming the LGBT festivities. With one notable exception.

click to enlarge Can you see what's missing from this picture?
Can you see what's missing from this picture?

Yes, Burgess, the city's District 9 councilor, is missing from the roll call of councilors listed on the ad.

No surprise here: Blogger Sue Kerr pointed out Burgess' disappearance from the same ad last year, and more recently she's noted his somewhat equivocal position on a resolution to urge state officials to ban discrimination against LGBT Pennsylvanians. And back in 2008, not only was Burgess the lone opponent of a domestic-partner registry, but he tried to conceal himself in a photo taken of council members with officers from the Delta Foundation, which organizes PrideFest.

I'd take Burgess over the folks at the American Family Association, of course. But even so, looks like Glassman may find one or two familiar things in his new surroundings. 

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Posted By on Fri, May 27, 2011 at 1:13 PM

Over the past few decades, arts funding has moved to a more organizationally based model, leaving individual artists with fewer options to support their work. And funding in general is tight lately — witness the current proposal to decimate Pennsylvania Council on the Arts funding (www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A95389). 

Nonetheless, there are still grant opportunities out there for artists seeking support from government arts agencies, private foundations and other nonprofits. The trick is taking advantage of them.

One local opportunity to learn how is scheduled for Sat., June 11, as Silver Eye Center for Photography offers a day-long workshop called Grant and Proposal Writing for Artists. The class, to be held at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' headquarters, in North Oakland, promises to guide participants "through every stage of successful grant writing."

The focus is on photographers and visual artists. The three teachers, Mary Navarro, Renee Piechocki and Ellen Fleurov, are experts in the grant-seeking (and -making) field.

Navarro, a fundraising consultant and adjunct Carnegie Mellon faculty member, was formerly a grantmaker for the Heinz Endowments. Recent consulting clients have included the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, The Heinz Endowments, the Carnegie Museum of Art and Point Park University.

Piechocki directs Pittsburgh's Office of Public Art (run by the City of Pittsburgh and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council) and is an artist herself.

And Fleurov is executive director of the Silver Eye Center, and has long experience as a grant writer for museums and other arts venues; she's also served as a grant panelist and site reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts, among other organizations.

The instructors will take participants through planning, researching and crafting letters of inquiry; writing narratives; and budgeting, packaging and submitting proposals.

The workshop runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., June 11 and is limited to 30 students. The cost is $70, or $55 for Silver Eye members (and for those who mention they got this info from CP's arts blog). Scholarships are also available.

To register, or with questions, call Silver Eye education coordinator Aaron Blum at 412-431-1810 or see www.silvereye.org/programs.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Parking in Pittsburgh has always been a problem. The Mon Wharf floods as often as the Ganges. Downtown garages fill up by 8 a.m. And then there are the tickets, and the dreaded "boot."

But the parking industry has a fun side, too -- and it was on display this week at the International Parking Institute's Conference and Expo, held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"People can think the parking industry is pretty boring," says Cindy Campbell, chairwoman of the IPI. "I've never met so many good, decent people. The parking industry is a people industry and you may not see that, but it's the way it should be. We're not just heartless, terrible people giving citations."

How does parking industry cut loose?

  • Game shows: The enforcement company PayLock sponsored its own version of Family Feud, which had music, blinking lights and lots of clapping from attendees. Convention insiders said the company is known for its showmanship, and last year used a coffin and pall bearers as props.
  • Free swag: If you didn't think the parking industry didn't have a sense of humor, you'd be surprised. Among the free t-shirts spotted at the convention included "I LOVE PARKING TICKETS," a play on the famous Hooters restaurant t-shirt but featuring a parking boot, and one that read "Scofflaw."
  • Lots of new tech: Think Robotic parking systems, where you drive your car into a garage, punch in your money and the car is parked for you ... by a robot. Not the kind from The Jetsons. More of a robotic grid -- cars go on blocks that are moved around, kind of like a big Tetris grid. The technology can go into existing or new garages. "You can fit in the same space twice as many vehicles," says Rod Kirby of Boomerang Systems, who had a robotic parking display.
  • Going Green: The industry has geared itself toward lowering its carbon footprint, says Campbell, and much of that was on display from mobile parking apps that allow you to reserve spots online, from your smartphone or over the phone, to parking guidance systems, which inform drivers what lots have spaces open, and even show you where they are in garages and lots. "It really lowers emissions by avoiding people driving around in circles and circles looking for a spot."

But what of the notorious "boot," the metal clamp that anyone with five or more outstanding parking tickets in the city of Pittsburgh fears?

Plenty of "enforcement companies" were on hand to show off their take on the product, and the guys at Rhino Vehicle Immobilizer were kind enough to show us how the damn thing works. Suffice it to say you really DON'T want to drive your car withone of these on; the device clamps onto your brakepads.

We also talked with Chris Williamson, vice president of manufacturing at Miti Manufacturing, who makes the Rhino.

CP: You guys are kind of the villains of parking for people who have outstanding tickets.

CW: The boot is much cheaper then being towed. No one likes boots, but in the long run it's cheaper.

CP: So these don't damage vehicles?

CW: Most clamp right on the back and use a key. There's another model that wraps around your tires and can hurt it. Some cities don't care, though.

CP: Can people take off the boots on their own?

CW: It's made of steel. And it's all about time. If you take the time, but think about it: In five, 10, 15 minutes, someone's going to come by, you know? But if someone hooked up a chain to [a boot] from another car and drove off, would it work? Yeah. But that takes time.

CP: Who primarily uses your boot?

CW: Municipalities and universities, but for two different reasons. Municipalities want the revenue. Universities are more about compliance. Kids park where they don't want them to so at the beginning of the semesters you'll see a flood of boots so it sends a message.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 6:55 PM

So the election is over, and the campaign-finance reform kerfluffle has abated -- at least for the moment. City councilor Ricky Burgess has proposed legislation to scrap the city's limits on campaign contributions entirely, but his repeal is currently in limbo, pending a public hearing. And based on the discussion in council chambers last week, the debate is shaping up as a stark choice: Leave the ordinance as is, or gut it entirely.

During a May 19 council meeting, Burgess sought a legal opinion from the city Law Department about the ordinance's "legality, workability [and] enforceability." Burgess contended that while his own campaign had followed the rules ("I passed [the legislation], and I followed what I passed. I'm a man of my word") others had not. And while he said he was open to preserving the law, he had concerns that the measure was unworkable. While it "looks good on the outside," he opined, "when you look into it carefully, it's hollow, and has no value."

The other side's position seems just as entrenched. Bruce Kraus, who was the first councilor accused of violating the law, pledged, "I would never vote for the insanity of repealing campaign finance reform." Fellow councilor Doug Shields grumbled, "If I could vote [Burgess' repeal] down today, I would." 

It would be easy for Shields, Kraus, and the other members of council's majority to do just that. But I've argued before that this would be a bad idea, because Pittsburgh's campaign finance law as written is incomplete. It borrows its structure from federal regulations, but lacks the necessary reporting and oversight to make those regulations work. 

I've got another example of the law's shortcomings, which will be the basis of this final (I hope) argument for trying to reform the reform. Because as it turns out, there's a previously undiscussed loophole in the law ... one that allows contributors to potentially triple the amount they are permitted to give a candidate for city office.

Here's the loophole: An executive with, say, an engineering firm could donate the legally permitted maximum ($1,000 for individual donors) to a city candidate. The same executive could then donate money to a separate political committee -- one associated with his engineering firm, for example. And that firm could ALSO donate the legally permitted maximum ($2,000 for committees) to the candidate. That would allow the executive to triple his donation, to $3,000 in all. 

This isn't just hypothetical speculation on my part. I got the idea by looking at this year's campaign-finance reports. Specifically those of Ricky Burgess.

Before I go any further, a couple caveats. As we'll see, Burgess has done nothing wrong here, and neither have his contributors. The pattern I'm about to describe may well crop up in other candidates' reports; I haven't checked. In any case, the loophole is large enough that a city official could be benefiting from it, without even realizing the fact. The only reason I paid special attention to Burgess' report is that he filed it late, and he had a small enough roster of contributors that I could wrap my head around the sums involved.

In any case, here's what happened:

In late April, two of Burgess' individual contributors -- Robert Agbede and George Miles -- gave Burgess $1,000 each. Under the campaign-finance ordinance, that's as big a donation as Burgess could spend this spring. 

Agbede and Miles are both executives with ATS-Chester Engineers, which does water-management work for all kinds of public- and private-sector clients. (Full disclosure: My father was once an employee of Chester.) And like a lot of big firms, ATS-Chester has a political committee of its own. And on the very same date of Burgess recorded Agbede's contribution -- April 28 -- it also recorded receiving another $2,000 from the PAC. 

So where does that committee raise the money it donates? This year, at least, it got a lot of its money from Robert Agbede and George Miles.

According to a report filed earlier this year, ATS-Chester started 2011 with less than $600 in the bank. But in early March, the committee got a cash infusion from Agbede and Miles, who contributed a total of $5,000 between them. (The committee is also carrying a $10,800 debt owed to Agbede, reflecting a loan he made to it.) Weeks later, the committee made its contribution to Burgess.

Am I suggesting that Miles and Agbede are just using the committee to get around city limits? Absolutely not. The committee's been around since at least 2004 -- a lot longer than Burgess has been in politics. And Miles and Agbede weren't the committee's only donors: It also took in $3,100 in contributions of $50 or less. (The law does not require those contributions to be itemized, so we can't say who made them.) Moreover, Burgess isn't ATS-Chester's only beneficiary: The committee also gave $4,000 to county executive candidate Mark Patrick Flaherty, for example. More donors and recipients will likely appear in future reports. 

But here's the point: If you wanted to, you could set up committees that were intended to be mere pass-throughs -- tripling your contribution and your influence. What's more, that extra influence would be harder to track: Some citizens might be geeky enough to check which committees are donating to the candidates. But not many are pathological enough to look into who is donating to the donors.

And all of this would be legal. Pittsburgh's ordinance says nothing at all about creating or using commitees to serve as conduits for additional donations. 

In the world of campaign-finance reform, that is an unusual omission.

Federal law, which has been cited as a model for the city's ordinance, does regulate such "earmarked" contributions. If an individual gives money to a committee, and then instructs that committee to donate the money to a particular candidate ... that money counts toward the individual's contribution limit. An executive could either give the maximum directly to the candidate, or through a committee ... but he or she couldn't do both.

Philadelphia, which has its own campaign-finance law, seems even stricter. Under the Philly law, if you contribute through a campaign and then "direct, suggest, or request" that the money be targeted toward  specific candidate, then the amount contributed counts against both your contribution limit and that of the committee.

I'll be honest: I have my doubts about whether such language could be enforced in Pittsburgh. The FEC regs, for example, say that the "instruction" about where to direct money can be "direct or indirect, express or implied." It's a little hard to imagine local officials here exercising that level or scrutiny -- or subtlety.  There are already doubts about whether even the bill's most straightforward provisions can be policed.

But the point here is this: The city's law, as written, has some holes in it. Maybe not all of them can be closed, but they ought to be discussed. I don't think there's any shame in taking a look at how the law is working, and seeing whether it can be improved. The shame, in fact, would be in not doing that.

Council's majority can simply vote down Burgess' measure and be done with it. But if that's all they do ... then the reform may end up dying anyway. It'll just take a little longer.

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Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 6:52 PM

[Editor's note: Earlier today, the folks who hope to run the new WDUQ-FM released a statement about their plans for the station, which we summarized here. As part of the effort to roll out their vision, execs with Essential Public Media have been meeting with reporters today. Our very own Chris Young sat down with them and filed this report.] 

WDUQ's would-be owners plan to transform 90.5 FM into a news-heavy station dedicated to in-depth local reporting and NPR programming -- while directing jazz listeners to the Internet and a HD radio channel for their music fix.

Officials with Essential Public Media, which is in the final stages of acquiring WDUQ's frequency from Duquesne University, met with reporters today to outline plans for the new station, which they expect to officially launch July 1. They emphasized that the new format will provide Pittsburgh with a "full-service news footprint," including a local interview program and expanded NPR programming.

"We've done extensive research, and what we've learned is that Pittsburgh is one of only two cities in the top radio markets without a full-service NPR news station," EPM chair Marco Cardamone told City Paper. "There are stories that are not being told."

To help fill the local-news void, Cardamone says EPM is currently developing two programs: Essential Pittsburgh, a daily, hour-long interview/call-in show focused on important issues affecting the Pittsburgh region; and Sounds of the City, a weekly feature program broadcasting an "audio collage" of sound bites and stories local people and institutions.

(Cardamone says Essential Pittsburgh will sound more like an NPR interview program than, say, Marty Griffin's daily talk show on KDKA. "We abhor the whole celebrity news and the partisan yacking," he assures.)

In addition to those two programs -- more will eventually be developed -- Cardamone says EPM will dedicate more time and resources to reporting local news. Rather than merely reading headlines from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he says, reporters will be tasked with delving deeper into local events and issues.

"How many times have you listened to a story on WDUQ and said, 'Now what's the story behind that?'" he asks. "Our local news objective is to beef up what is already being offered."

As for NPR, Cardamone says, 90. 5 will carry "all the shows you know and love" -- Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Car Talk, This American Life -- "and a lot more."

Jazz programming will be expanded from 100 to 174 hours per week under EPM ... but only six of those hours will be heard on 90.5 FM. To hear the rest, listeners will either have to visit EPM's Internet audio stream or purchase an HD receiver so they can listen to jazz 24/7 on an HD channel.

According to Cardamone, six hours of jazz will air on 90.5 Saturdays from 6 p.m. to midnight. He says the weekly program will likely feature live concerts, including shows hosted by Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz. The HD channel and the Internet stream, on the other hand, will broadcast "more of what you already have on 90.5."

"There's more jazz overall," he says.

Still, many listeners might have difficulty tuning in. Not everyone has access to the Internet, and picking up the HD channels requires a special receiver.

EPM is offering a "voucher program" to help current WDUQ members purchase a receiver. But Cardamone says it's too early to say how much money EPM will contribute to the voucher program.

Cardamone says HD receivers can be bought for as little as $25. And with the help of the voucher program, he says, accessing the HD channel could be really cheap for listeners. "For the price of a CD, we're offering listeners access to jazz they love" 24/7," says Cardamone. "We think that's a great thing."

For EPM, the switch to a news-heavy format simply made sense. Splitting programming between news and jazz, as WDUQ currently does, "ultimately sends a confusing message to the audience," Cardamone says.

"To be reliable and trusted," WYEP General Manager Lee Ferraro adds, "you have to do [one thing] all the time."

Focusing on news, they add, should also ensure financial support from local foundations, which have long been interested in more local news as opposed to jazz.

EPM has selected Dennis Hamilton to be the station's interim President and General Manager. They hope to find a full-time GM in the next few months, but staffing at the station is still up in the air. Cardamone and Ferraro are, in fact, still unsure as to how many total employees will be part of the news operation.

News programming will be augmented with resources from Duquesne University's journalism program, whose students will have internship opportunities at the new station. EPM also plans to work with "PublicSource," a foundation-backed news outlet that Cardamone says "will do long-form, investigative stories.

"We will help give voice to those stories, even co-produce them, and they will take some of our stories," he adds. "There will be an exchange of content so that instead of being competitive, we can be cooperative."

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