From left: Mayor Bill Peduto, Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, Deborah Walker
Two years ago, when Mayor Bill Peduto took office, he moved the Office of Municipal Investigations out of the Department of Public Safety and put it under the purview of the city's law department. Today, Pittsburgh was given an update on the progress the mayor's office has seen as a result of that change.
"We moved OMI under the law department so that it would become an independent organization that would still have oversight under the department of law," said Peduto. "What we've seen over these past few years of working together with OMI, our law department and our police bureau has been rather significant."
According to the law department, lawsuits filed against the City of Pittsburgh have decreased by 50 percent in the last two years. Both City Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge and OMI Director Deborah Walker attribute the decrease in lawsuits and complaints to the increased training being done in all city departments.
The total number of complaints filed against police officers also decreased over the last two years and is down by 43 percent. This is a drop from 337 in 2013 to 191 last year. The total number of complaints against police officers are down across the board in every category including conduct toward the public, conduct unbecoming an employee, neglect of duty and use of force.
"Starting with the police department, [the decrease] is due to the leadership of Police Chief Cameron McLay holding officers responsible for their conduct. Discipline plays a role in that. And discipline can be anywhere from counseling to termination and there's a lot between counseling and termination. Often times the public will think the only thing to remedy a complaint would be termination. But I've seen a decrease in officers violating policies because of the early intervention of the chief of police and his command staff."
Despite the decrease in complaints in many areas, complaints did increase among non-officers, including employees in the Department of Public Works, where complaints went from five to 13. Peduto attributed the increase to whistleblowers, while Walker and Sanchez-Ridge said it's due to the openness of OMI since it was restructured.
"People are now coming to OMI and using our department as an investigative branch of city government. So now they know there is someone who will listen to them and take the appropriate action," said Walker. "We've been very forthcoming in contacting departments and letting them know if they feel there is misconduct in their office, they can come to us, and we will do a thorough and fair investigation."
Pennsylvania’s current race for Republican incumbent Pat Toomey’s U.S. Senate seat could be the deciding factor in which party controls the Senate. “It is inconceivable to think Democrats could win control of Senate without winning this seat,” G. Terry Madonna, a professor and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, told City Paper in January.
And Pa.’s other Senator, Democrat Bob Casey, has officially decided who he would like to work with for the next couple years. Last week, Casey endorsed former Pa. environmental secretary Katie McGinty.
“Katie McGinty will fight tirelessly for Pennsylvania families, and I’m proud to endorse her in the race for U.S. Senate,” said Casey in a press release. “Katie will lead the fight to raise incomes for middle class families, ensure women get equal pay for equal work, raise the minimum wage and make it possible for more families to afford child care.”
McGinty has been the choice of Democratic party leadership for the U.S. Senate seat since she entered the race. Before Casey’s endorsement, she was endorsed by Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Allegheny County, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
“I am honored to have the support and endorsement of Senator Casey – someone who I admire and would be privileged to work alongside,” said McGinty in a press release. “I would be a partner with [Casey] in the Senate and fight for good-paying jobs, investments in clean energy and work to ensure that every child, no matter their zip code, has access to quality and affordable education. I’m eager to get to work for the hard working people of this commonwealth.”
And while the support of the person who will become your immediate colleague is a big boost for the McGinty campaign, competitor and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak downplayed the endorsement in a recent press release.
Sestak claims to have had no politicians’ endorsement in the race thus far. (This is partially true, as U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright from Lackawanna County, Pa. held a fundraiser for Sestak last August but did not officially endorse the former congressman.)
Sestak writes that he is unsure why most Democratic party officials have rejected endorsing him, given his support of big Democratic policies, like the Affordable Care Actand the Economic Stimulus bill, while serving in the congress. He speculates that his time in the military (Sestak is a former Navy Admiral) and shorter time in politics may have led to the rejections.
“There aren’t many veterans in Congress, and none who served 31 years and was a ...general officer — except me,” wrote Sestak. “Perhaps that’s why [I have not received endorsements] … I never grew up in politics.”
According to PBS, the U.S. House and Senate contain around 20 percent members who are veterans. This is down from about 75 percent in 1970 (however, veterans also now make up half of the percentage of total U.S. population as they did in 1970).
“Perhaps too many of our politicians in both parties have acquiesced and maybe that is why the general public — from the old Tea Party to today’s progressive Democrats — have felt attracted to those who seem to break the system,” wrote Sestak. “They just want a public servant.”
And Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the other main Democratic U.S. Senate candidate who is also looking to break the system (Fetterman has endorsed U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders), also downplayed the endorsement.
His campaign spokesperson Leslie Wertheimer sent this response to CP: "The last seven months of [McGinty's] campaign have shown establishment endorsements don't equate to campaign momentum or support from actual voters."
The most recent Harper poll shows potential head-to-head match-ups of Democratic candidates against incumbent Toomey. Sestak fares the best, but is still trailing 47-41, while McGinty trails 47-39 and Fetterman trails 46-36. McGinty has gained five percentage points since September, while Sestak gained four. (Fetterman entered the race after the September Harper poll.)
Last night’s standing-room-only crowd at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium heard a sampling of work from a distinguished cross-section of African-American poets — and concluded with an illuminating discussion of how poetry can affect the discourse on race.
The event, which drew about 400, was co-sponsored by Pitt and the Pitt-based Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, a new organization that hinted at its potential by hosting six top poets from around the country. They included Ross Gay, who teaches at Indiana University and whose collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (published by the University of Pittsburgh Press), just last week won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
The poets spanned three generations; each read two or three poems. Gay read the joyful “Burial,” about using his father’s ashes to fertilize a plum tree. Many of the evening’s poems explored the concept of worth. Pitt professor emeritus Toi Derricotte read her touchstone work “On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses.” (Derricotte is a founder of Cave Canem, the workshop/retreat for black poets with which everyone on stage has been affiliated.) Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, who teaches at Cornell University, read two poems inspired by her time as a student at Washington & Lee University – specifically, by the reverential treatment the school gives the memory of the horse ridden by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Nate Marshall, who teaches at Wabash University, in Indiana, read a line that went: "We know 'African American' is how you say 'nigger' in a board room."
The program, part of Pitt’s Year of the Humanities series, was subtitled “How the Humanities Engage with Social Problems.” It also included Brooklyn-based Rickey Laurentiis and Afaa Michael Weaver, a Boston-based English professor.
Mostly implicitly, the discussion that followed the readings took place in the context of ongoing racial strife: police shootings of unarmed black men, the rise of Trumpism. The host was Pitt professor Terrance Hayes, a CAAPP co-founder and co-director, and himself a National Book Award-winner.
Today, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala released the first television advertisement in his campaign for Pennsylvania attorney general.
Zappala's ad begins with video footage from the traffic stop of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was found hanged in a Waller County, Texas jail after being taken into custody after a routine traffic stop in July 2015. The next clip is from the April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot in the back while fleeing from police in North Charleston South Carolina. The third clip is from elevator footage of Janay Palmer, after she was beaten by professional football player Ray Rice in Atlantic City.
The clips are meant to show how similar tragedies have been avoided in Allegheny County as a result of Zappala's efforts "fighting domestic violence and racial profiling."
"Stephen Zappala has a story to tell that no one else in this election can match. Because of his leadership and unbending commitment to fairness and equal justice, Pittsburgh has not experienced the kinds of community upheaval that resulted in other cities from Chicago to Ferguson, Missouri to Miami Gardens, Florida," Zappala's campaign manager Marty Marks said in a statement.
Zappala will face Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli in the April 26 primary. In February, Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not be running.
On Sunday, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro released the first television advertisement in the the campaign for Pennsylvania attorney general.
In it, he highlights endorsements from current and former Pennsylvania politicians like Gov. Tom Wolfe and former governor Ed Rendell, along with a recent endorsement from women's health advocates Planned Parenthood PA PAC.
“I’ve always taken on the status quo,” Shapiro says in the ad. “In Harrisburg, they didn’t like it when I stopped their perks and pushed for reform.”
In the video Shapiro also expresses a commitment to senior citizens, marriage equality and the environment.
Shapiro will face Allegheny County District Attorney and Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli in the April 26 primary. In February, Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not be running.
This week’s offering comes from the prolific one-man experimental rock project known as Unfinished Symphonies. Stream or download the groovy track "Uh Huh" below, and then take a gander at the many entertaining music videos Unfinished Symphonies has made over the years (if you're a long-time Pittsburgher, you're likely to spot someone you know in at least one of them).
1. Medical-marijuana legislation passed the Pennsylvania State House by a vote of 149-43. The fight that has been ongoing since 2009 has cleared its biggest hurdle, and Senate Bill 3 (as the medical-marijuana bill is called) will now move to the Senate, where it most recently passed 40-7. If it's approved there, Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign the bill into law. ______________________________________
2. Wilkinsburg residents and others from the Pittsburgh area revisited the scene of last week's mass shooting on Franklin Avenue that took the lives of five adults and one unborn child. They called for the two shooters, still at large, to come forward.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen says that seeing former-Pirate Pedro Alvarez in a Baltimore Orioles jersey was "awkward." McCutchen told City Paper editor Charlie Deitch, who is reporting from spring training in Bradenton, Fla., this week, that "It's a game, you know, but I still felt like it was messed up because he's my friend. Before he was teammate, he was my friend."
4. Charges were dropped against the teen arrested in ruckus outside Downtown Pittsburgh's Wood Street T Station, and which City Paper reporter Ryan Deto caught on a video that went viral and drew scrutiny from the Citizen Police Review Board. The 16-year-old boy, Mohamed Abdalla, was originally charged with disorderly conduct. The attorney for three other teenagers arrested on the scene says that none of the charges have been dropped against his clients, including one who faces a felony charge for inciting a riot.
5. Flint water-crisis reporter Curt Guyette, of the ACLU of Michigan's Democracy Watch blog, spoke in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. "The driving force throughout the whole thing were the residents who refused to believe their water was safe," Guyette said.
6. A breast-milk bank in Pittsburgh held its ribbon-cutting this week. The Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank is now supplying donated breast milk to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Magee-Women's Hospital and all area-UPMC hospitals for medically vulnerable infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units. "Our donors are unpaid, they are very generous women who are willing to donate milk they have beyond the needs of their own child," says Denise O'Connor, executive director of the nonprofit.
This week on the City Paper podcast, host Alex Gordon talks to filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell ahead of his visit to Pittsburgh for Reel Q’s “Night of 1,000 Hedwigs.” Our panel discusses the recent violence in Wilkinsburg, and editor Charlie Deitch talks about his family’s brush with gun violence. And, staying in Wilkinsburg, columnist Celine Roberts visits a hopeful spot of economic redevelopment – Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, operating in the former Smith’s Bakery.
On our political blogs:
On our PolitiCrap blog, we report on Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak's new TV ad; that current U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's chosen presidential candidate — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — has dropped out; and that Democratic State House Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, of Summer Hill, recently had his path fully cleared to re-election, thanks in large part to his mother.
On our music blog:
Each week on our FFW blog, we create a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section and included in our concert listings.
This week, staff writer Rebecca Nuttall writes about the Pittsburgh Sociable City plan, which aims to manage the city's nightlife and is being piloted in the South Side. Among city officials' goals: parking enforcement, crowd control and crime reduction.
Back in 2008, Charlie Deitch went behind the scenes of Education Management Corp. and its flagship school, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The story focused on the high price of the educational and financial difficulties of students saddled with massive debt and an education that couldn’t even get them a job earning enough money to pay back their loans. Since then, the company has had massive layoffs, settled a Department of Justice lawsuit for $96 million and watched its stock price drop from $30 a share to roughly 9 cents a share today.
Three months into the new year and the Pittsburgh area has already been wracked by tragedy. Just this week, there was a fire in Bedford Dwellings. Another fire this month killed one and injured three. In a Homewood fire last month, three were killed.
But this week, Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman and Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Cameron McLay announced an initiative to collect stuffed animals for children affected by these and other traumas.
The drive began March 17 and will run until April 30. The stuffed animals should be new, no more than 12 inches in height, and placed in a plastic bag when donated.
“We are launching this effort today so that Pittsburgh Police and other emergency responders have a way to comfort children affected by emergency situations,” Gilman said in a statement on March 17. “No one wants to imagine a scenario where a young child is affected by a fire, a medical emergency, or worse, but our hope is that this is one more way our City’s first responders can help care for kids affected by crisis and trauma.”
According to a release, donations can made at all Pittsburgh Police zone buildings, in the lobby of Pittsburgh City Council offices on the fifth floor of the City-County Building, and the Jewish Community Center’s Squirrel Hill and South Hills locations.
“Our Officers often encounter people when they’re having one of the worst days of their lives. When children are involved, it can be extremely difficult for them to understand what’s happening. We hope these stuffed animals provide comfort to them in tragic situations,” McLay said in a statement. “This is a great opportunity for the Police Bureau to partner with the community to make a difference. These stuffed animals will help the children in our community know that the community cares, and that Pittsburgh Police are here to help them.”
The Moose Lodge kicked off the drive with a donation of 100 Tommy Moose stuffed animals.
We slog through the Twitter streams of the 2016 Presidential candidates and give you a weekly roundup of the more entertaining ones.
Since our last roundup in this head-spinning campaign, there has been: a semi-riot at an eventually cancelled Trump rally in Chicago; a "man from ISIS" (utterly unconfirmed) bum-rushing Trump on stage; a state finally won by perennial also-ran and Ohio Gov. John Kasich; a thumping of Marco Rubio in Florida by Trump; the dust blown off the Big Book of Rules for a Contested Convention; and 1,000 think-pieces about what it all means.
Hillary Clinton got a beer in Youngstown, which turned out to be money well spent; she won the state's primary.
And we say goodbye to Marco Rubio, who spent the last week looking like he was about to cry. His web store is still up, and you can get a good bit of use out of this now-commemorative The Year That Wasn't 2016 calendar.