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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Posted By on Sun, May 31, 2015 at 2:40 PM

Making a run for the Democratic nomination is longtime Baltimore pol Martin O'Malley. He's been a city councilman, the mayor and a two-term governor of Maryland. Now he wants to move next door to Washington. D.C. On a lighter note, he plays in an Irish-y rock band and may or may not have provided some inspiration for the character of Tommy Carcetti in The Wire.

Stay tuned to City Paper for updates to the Magnetic Chart of 2016 Primary Awesomeness, as well as upcoming coverage of Election 2016.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 5:46 PM

In the May 19 primary election, four incumbent Pittsburgh City Councilors won Democratic party nominations by relatively large margins. And since everyone knows the Republicans don't win city elections, that means the makeup of city council won't change until at least the next municipal election in 2017.

It would appear the city's constituents are pleased with their representatives. And for the most part, it would seem, city councilors are pleased with each other. Gone are the controversies of years past when a visit to Council Chambers would find red-faced legislators engaged in shouting matches.

“It's not as hostile as I've seen council in the past,” says Moe Coleman, a University of Pittsburgh professor who previously worked in the mayor’s office under Joseph Barr in the 1960s. “There's more camaraderie and less antagonism.”

“Camraderie,” is a word used often to describe this new council. According to council president Bruce Kraus, what outsiders are seeing is reflective of a group of elected officials willing to compromise to get the best results for their constituents.

“I was just thinking the other day — and I made this comment to my staffers — it’s such a pleasure to come to work,” says Kraus, who represents District 3. “It's like a breath of fresh air. I believe politics is the art of building relationships, understanding compromise and cooperation. Everybody brings these different skill sets, and I think what you're seeing is a blended harmony.”

Councilors point to such legislative victories as the land-banking bill that passed last year as examples of what a more harmonious council can get done. The legislation, which was controversial when first proposed, ended up passing with an 8-1 vote.

“Since the new council took over, there have been controversial votes, but the dialogue overall has been professional and courteous,” says District 8 councilor Dan Gilman. “Debate is healthy, but there's an appropriate level of decorum that has been lacking in the past. Land-banking was a vote that could have been highly contentious with some nasty fights but council worked together on things and amended the legislation to reach a compromise.”

Many believe this new-age council took root with the election of Mayor Bill Peduto, who as a former council veteran spent years forming relationships with today’s councilors. And as a councilor, he also spent years as dogged opposition to sitting mayors including Tom Murphy and, more famously, Luke Ravenstahl. But those days of antagonism seem to be behind us. 

“I think the mayor has become a unifying force for council,” says political analyst Joe Mistick. “They all find themselves in the enviable position of having their former colleague as the chief executive. There's a certain camaraderie that comes out of that.”

But camaraderie, councilors say, does not mean that a legitimate system of checks and balances doesn't still exist.

“I'm a big Peduto fan, that's no secret,” says Kraus. “That doesn't mean we're rubber stamping, but we're invested in this shared vision of where Pittsburgh is headed.”

"I think we've built a strong consensus," says District 2 councilor Theresa Kail-Smith. “We're trying to work with one another; we're trying to work with the administration.”

While some might think that because of this new-found harmony in city government, the public can rest easy and not pay as close attention to what's going on in city government, we think the contrary is true. It's never been more important to keep an eye on the happenings on the fifth floor of the City-County Building.

With that in mind City Paper is launching a new blog, "Keeping Up With the Council." We'll take a closer look at the daily workings of City Council, its relationship with the mayor's office and the new laws and legislation they're passing that will shape the future of this city. 

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Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 2:23 PM

Contemporary arts activity in Braddock is nothing new, and we’re still probably a ways from the critical mass that would make that mill town an arts center in the region. But with two noteworthy theatrical productions opening within a week of each other this month, it sure feels like something’s going on.

click to enlarge The cast of "American Falls" - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
Photo by Heather Mull
The cast of "American Falls"
On a couple levels, the more expansive of the two productions is Bricolage’s Saints Tour, about which more will be on this blog next week. But with its new show, American Falls, barebones productions announces the intention to have its own long-term impact on Braddock.

American Falls, by Micki Johnson, is the first production in barebones’ new Black Box Theater, a raw, 80-seat space built into the first level of the former Superior Motors building.

That location is notable on two counts. One, the building is both adjacent to Unsmoke Systems — the seven-year-old gallery and studio space that more or less inaugurated a new wave of arts programming in Braddock — and across the street from U.S. Steels’ still-smoking (and –flaring) Mon Valley Works. Two, Black Box inhabits the same building as famed chef Kevin Sousa’s planned Superior Motors restaurant, which will doubtless have its own impact on the town of 6,000 (and outsiders’ perception of it) when it opens, likely later this year.

And barebones is doing its part. The 12-year-old company, which in recent years has been in residence at the New Hazlett Theater, is bringing its audience to Braddock. American Falls has been selling out, and though the show was slated to close this Sunday, demand remains high enough that founder and artistic director Patrick Jordan is trying to add performances.

In fact, the final three scheduled shows were sold out, but barebones just announced a 2 p.m. matinee tomorrow.

I saw American Falls last night. Directed by Jordan, it’s a strong show, alternately harrowing and ingratiating, despairing and hopeful, about seven people in a small Midwestern town. Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP.

Tickets are $30 and are available here.

Barebones Black Box is located at 1211 Braddock Ave.

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Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 11:14 AM

Point Park University celebrates dance professor Ron Tassone’s life and career with a memorial service at — where else? — the Pittsburgh Playhouse, where so much of his work ended up on stage.

Photo courtesy of Point Park University
Ron Tassone
Tassone, who died in February at age 76, was a Fayette County native who started teaching at the school in 1974. According to a press release, “He established the jazz major within the Point Park dance program and assumed the role of director of dance for 10 years. He choreographed more than 25 jazz dance works at Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse.”

His accomplishments were not limited to Point Park: “He also choreographed and/or directed many musicals at theaters such as the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Kenley Players, Phoenix Star Theatre, Music Fairs, Inc., and West Virginia Public Theatre. He was the co-choreographer of the American College Theatre Festival's award-winning Grand Hotel, performed at the Kennedy Center in April 2002.”

Tassone also performed on Broadway, in shows including Gypsy, Funny Girl and George M, and appeared on television and in films.

Here’s more on his career, and the dancers he influenced, from Point Park’s student paper, The Globe.

The commemoration service will be held at 3 p.m. this Sun., May 31, in the Playhouse’s Rockwell Theatre. The Playhouse is located at 222 Craft Ave., in Oakland.

A reception follows the service. Guests are asked to RSVP at 412-392-6102.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Posted By and on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 4:50 PM

click to enlarge Tomi Lynn Harris, whose son died at the Allegheny County Jail earlier this year, is demanding that the warden step down. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
Photo by Ashley Murray
Tomi Lynn Harris, whose son died at the Allegheny County Jail earlier this year, is demanding that the warden step down.

Today more than a dozen gathered in front of the Allegheny County Jail to protest the recent deaths of inmates and health-care issues at the facility. 

"In this past year alone several people have died because they did not receive the medicine they demanded," said protest organizer Julia Johnson.

Last week, two inmates of the Allegheny County Jail, both in their 20s, died on the same day, bringing the total inmate deaths for 2015 to four. As a result, on May 22, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the county would not be renewing their contract with Tennessee-based  Corizon Health, the company that has been charged with overseeing health care at the jail since September 2013.  Prior to that, a nonprofit out of the county's health department managed health care at the jail.

"As we indicated last Friday, we have both verbally and in writing notified Corizon that we will not be extending our contract and our relationship with them [will] end August 31 of this year," county spokesperson Amie Downs said via email.

But protesters say the county executive's actions don't go far enough. They're calling on the county to hire an interim medical director and asking that community input be included in the selection of a new health-care provider. They are also demanding the immediate removal of jail warden Orlando Harper. 

Video by Ashley Murray

Following their protest, the group took their list of demands to the county executive's office where they were met by two police officers. Two representatives were allowed to meet with Fitzgerald's chief of staff.

"It's clear from this conversation that they don't want transparency — that they want to have these conversations behind closed doors," said Johnson. 

Seven inmates died in 2014, and a January 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that reported the death of a 62-year-old inmate who spent 10 days at the jail, also reported that the Allegheny County Jail's mortality rate is double the average of jails nationally.

That statistic has become a rallying point for the ACJ Health Justice Project, which formed earlier this year.

At the protest, the group heard from Tomi Lynn Harris, the mother of 39-year-old Frank Smart who died in custody at ACJ in January. According to Harris, her son died because the staff at ACJ refused to provide him with seizure medication.

"The warden needs to step down. This happened under his watch," Harris said. "My son begged for his medicine. My son was murdered."

The group also heard from Lynne Boley, the mother of a current ACJ inmate who says her son is not receiving adequate medical care to treat his diabetes.

"Corizon may not kill my child," said Boley. "My son does not have a death sentence. Corizon may not carry it out by medical neglect."

In April, City Paper reported that the state American Civil Liberties Union had opened an investigation into whether HIV/AIDS patients were getting access to medication. Another jail inmate died a few weeks later.

Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, a staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, which provides legal assistance to low-income inmates whose constitutional rights have been violated, told CP in April that the Allegheny County Jail has "probably the worst health care in the state [she's] seen when it comes to prisons and jails."

Corizon's contract expires at the end of August. The private management company and medical staff at the jail just reached their first labor agreement at the end of April.  

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Posted By on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 11:22 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
Photo by Heather Mull

Today through Sunday, a group of the country's most interesting practitioners come together for the 2015 f295 Symposium & Workshop. It's being held at the University of Pittsburgh's Alumni Hall, Frick Fine Arts Building and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

In addition to discussing specific analog photographic techniques like electrophotography, and how to make modern daguerreotypes, featured topics include the business/industry side of photography. A complete schedule of events can be viewed here.

While the symposium and workshops as a whole require purchasing registration, many events are free and open to the public.

Free events include tonight's 7 pm opening reception and exhibition of New York City artist Jerry Spagnoli's "American Dreaming: The War Years, Ignition. 1990–1995."

Spagnoli, who has been a photographer since the mid-'70s, is considered one of the world’s leading experts in the revitalization of the daguerreotype process. Often noted in his biography is his groundbreaking technical collaboration with Chuck Close, using intense flash to create incredibly detailed portraits. Some of his most striking images are from the series "The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the 20th Century." Among many significant images included in this series is an amazing plate created on Sept. 11, 2001, that depicts one of the World Trade Center towers just moments before the building collapsed. Spagnoli will be leading a two-day workshop this Saturday teaching the daguerrotype process.

Other free-to-the-public events on the f295 schedule include this afternoon's 2-5 p.m. lecture with industry panelists, all evening gallery exhibitions at the Frick Fine Arts Building, a portfolio sharing session of work by f295 members, and the photographic industry vendor displays.

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Posted By on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 10:12 AM

Former New York governor George Pataki has jumped into the 2016 presidential campaign. He's in a growing candidate subset of Republican governors, a.k.a. "Washington outsiders": Arkansas' Mike Huckabee is in, and next week, Texas' Rick Perry is expected to join the crew.

Stay tuned to City Paper for updates to the Magnetic Chart of 2016 Primary Awesomeness, as well as upcoming coverage of Election 2016.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 3:49 PM

Western Pennsylvania's own Rick Santorum returns to the fray! We're a bit giddy, our thoughts a swirl of Rick's sweater vests, ancestral coal-dust stories and quotable bon mots (who can forget 2003's keeper: "man on dog"). Remember our zombie Rick Santorum cover last time around?

Stay tuned to City Paper for updates to the Magnetic Chart of 2016 Primary Awesomeness, as well as upcoming coverage of Election 2016.

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Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 2:30 PM

click to enlarge Listen, Lucy's pay-it-forward cards encourage good deeds. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER NASH
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Nash
Listen, Lucy's pay-it-forward cards encourage good deeds.
When we talk about anonymity on the Internet, it’s almost always a bad thing. It’s what enables the casual vitriol, the cyber-bullying, the catfishing, all the stuff we associate with the worst aspects of online life. But anonymity has its upsides. Listen, Lucy, a Pittsburgh-based organization, is tapping into the good side of anonymity to provide a forum for people suffering with anxiety and other disorders.

Listen, Lucy functions like a group diary, where anyone can read and contribute anonymously. Users post about their experiences with anxiety, depression, panic or anything else that they’re struggling with, usually through written pieces (opening with “Listen, Lucy”), but also through videos, music, poetry or whatever they want to share. You can sign your name, but few do, except for founder and inaugural poster Jordan Corcoran.

“My mission is simple,” Corcoran, a North Hills native, writes on the site. “I want to create a less judgmental, more accepting world.”

The seeds for Listen, Lucy go back to Corcoran’s college days as opinion editor at The Merciad, Mercyhurst University’s student-produced newspaper. For her first three years there, Corcoran used her columns as a platform for “little complaints,” entertaining diatribes about the daily trivialities that irk college kids.

But behind the rants, Corcoran was struggling. She had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders as a freshman and continued to work through different treatments throughout college. Medication and counseling helped, but writing became a significant coping technique, albeit privately. That changed her junior year, when she decided to shift gears and share her struggles with anxiety in her column. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and changed the way Corcoran thought about her treatment. She realized there were other people out there who wanted to share their stories, like she had, but were afraid to put their name on it.

After college, the idea wouldn’t go away: an anonymous, public place to air private pain. So in 2013, with a full-time career, Corcoran officially founded Listen, Lucy (her mother’s nickname for her as a baby).

“I came up with Listen, Lucy because I wanted to create an outlet where people can express themselves freely and creatively,” Corcoran writes on her website. “We are all dealing with different issues, and I want to create a community where people can tell their stories and feel comfortable.”

Knowing she needed submissions before the site launched, Corcoran reached out to her favorite teacher from high school, who offered extra credit to any students willing to share their stories (anonymously) on Listen, Lucy. The response was enthusiastic.

“It was so cool,” says Corcoran, 27. “I will always remember the day I got my first story.”

Now, two years into its existence, Listen, Lucy is celebrating with a Re-Launch Party on Thursday at Sweetwater Center For The Arts in Sewickley. The party also marks Corcoran’s decision this year to leave her job at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in the South Side, and commit full-time to managing Listen, Lucy and speaking publicly about her experiences.

In its two years, Listen, Lucy has received around 100 posts, Corcoran estimates. Some are brief and vague, some are long and detailed; some are from students, some from new parents; some are encouraging and optimistic, and some are heartwrenching. That’s part of the appeal of Listen, Lucy: diaries don’t have style guides. There’s no such thing as a typical post.

Beyond user-submitted posts, Listen, Lucy is also home to Corcoran’s Pay It Forward Cards, business-card sized handouts encouraging people to pass on good deeds. There are also T-shirts for sale as a part of something she calls #TheAcceptanceMovement, emblazoned with a quote from Augusten Borroughs on the back (“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions”). Despite the flood of online negativity that usually follows projects this optimistic or earnest, Corcoran says the response has been very positive.

Listen, Lucy might not be the only place to post anonymously online, but that’s not an issue to Corcoran.

“I think the community Listen, Lucy is creating is a huge draw to the site. It is all about accepting people and giving them support if they are looking for that,” Corcoran says. “I also hope that my story and putting myself out there helps bring people to the website. I am hoping if they see me sharing my struggles confidently, it will encourage them to do the same.”

The Listen, Lucy Re-Launch Party takes place from 6-9 p.m. Thu., May 28. Sweetwater Center for the Arts is located at 200 Broad St., in Sewickley.

Tickets are $10 and can be found here.

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Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 1:55 PM

Members of the Pittsburgh community are using music to assist the victims of last month’s deadly earthquake in Nepal.

Chatham University, along with the Nepalese Community of Greater Pittsburgh, is staging a benefit concert, “A Plea for Nepal,” in the Campbell Memorial Chapel on the Chatham campus tomorrow at 7 p.m. 
Pittsburgh Nepalese Community
 Jim Cunningham, of classical radio station WQED-FM, will emcee along with guest musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The suggested donation is $15.

The April 25 earthquake struck the capital Kathmandu and its surrounding areas with a 7.8 magnitude, with massive aftershocks continuing after, including one measuring 7.3 on May 12. The earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 measured 7.0.

Nearly 8,500 people have lost their lives and thousands more are homeless, living in makeshift tents in and around the ruined cities. Some have no home to return to, while others are simply too afraid to return indoors, according to the BBC.

click to enlarge Lilly Abreu (front) - (left to right) Adam Liu, Kaitlyn Vest, Alexandra Thompson, Katya Janpoladyan, Bronwyn Benerdt, Paul Vest, Michael DeBruyn, David Bennett - DAVID BENNETT
David Bennett
Lilly Abreu (front)(left to right) Adam Liu, Kaitlyn Vest, Alexandra Thompson, Katya Janpoladyan, Bronwyn Benerdt, Paul Vest, Michael DeBruyn, David Bennett
The effects of the earthquake are expected to linger for some time, with reconstruction facing many challenges. According to TIME magazine, many of the roads leading to the remote areas in most dire need of assistance remain unpaved, and the country's sole airport in Kathmandu is overloaded with international aid traffic.

The concert is one of many events hosted by the Pittsburgh Nepalese Community to raise money for the relief effort. For more information on upcoming events, visit this page. Those interested in donating, and helping them reach their $15,000 goal, can do so here.

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