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Monday, July 9, 2018

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2018 at 12:10 PM

click to enlarge Turahn Jenkins - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAMPAIGN
Photo courtesy of campaign
Turahn Jenkins
On July 2, Turahn Jenkins announced his candidacy for Allegheny County District Attorney in the wake of the shooting death of Antwon Rose Jr. The announcement was a passionate response to Rose’s death and a criticism of current D.A. Stephen Zappala’s not-so-stellar record prosecuting officers who fatally shot unarmed victims.

But just days into his candidacy, Jenkins is already facing calls to withdraw, thanks to his comments from a meeting with LGBTQ advocates. As first reported on local LGBTQ blog Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, then confirmed in a Facebook post from LGBTQ advocate and labor advocate Maria Montano, four representatives from Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community were told by Jenkins that he believes LGBTQ people are living in sin.

“Tonight I was asked to meet with new D.A. candidate, Turahn Jenkins, to talk about his stance on LGBTQIA+ issues after some disturbing revelations regarding his active participation in a church that is extremely homophobic,” wrote Montano on Facebook on July 6. “When asked if he believed that being gay/trans was a sin, he said yes and compared it to adultery.”

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 10:48 AM

According to a March Gallup poll, Americans worry about health care more than any other issue. The poll found that 55 percent of Americans worry about the availability and affordability of healthcare, and only 23 percent worry about it a little or not at all.

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials seem to understand this. Last week, both Pittsburgh City Council and Allegheny County Council passed resolutions asking federal and state officials to take steps to pass a universal, single-payer health-care system.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 1:18 PM

click to enlarge Stephen Zappala - CP PHOTO BY JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo by Jared Wickerham
Stephen Zappala
Allegheny County district attorney Stephen Zappala announced Wednesday that criminal homicide charges are being filed against Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed Antwon Rose.

Zappala said at a news conference that Rose, a 17-year-old from Rankin, was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car involved in a drive-by shooting in North Braddock on June 19. Zappala said video evidence shows shots fired out of the back seat of that car, and the shooter was wearing a dark shirt.

Rose was wearing a white shirt.

“By all accounts, Mr. Rose didn't do anything resembling any crimes,” said Zappala.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 4:13 PM

click to enlarge Advocates march through Morningside to protest Port Authority's proposed fare-check policy - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Advocates march through Morningside to protest Port Authority's proposed fare-check policy
The Port Authority of Allegheny County is proposing a new fare-check policy on its light-rail trains, in which Port Authority police officers will be patrolling stations and cars and asking for proof of payment. If a rider fails to prove payment, officers will run the name through a background check and give the passenger a warning. Upon repeat infractions, riders can be issued criminal charges.

On Oct. 12, a group of 30 advocates marched in Morningside, requesting that state Rep. and Port Authority board member Dom Costa (D-Stanton Heights) reject the fare-check proposal. Gabriel McMorland, of the social-justice advocacy group The Thomas Merton Center, has met with Port Authority officials and spoken at multiple authority board meetings about the potential harm this policy could have on vulnerable populations that often use public transit, like low-income earners, the homeless and undocumented immigrants. Before the march, McMorland said that possibility of putting someone into the criminal-justice system for failing to pay a $2.75 fare is overly punitive.

“They do not appear at all concerned about the potential dangers we brought up,” said McMorland. “We want to stand up against over-policing in this community.”

Nationwide, there are a handful of other transit-police agencies that use armed officers to enforce fare-evasions, such as in New York, Dallas and Cleveland. The policy of Cleveland's Regional Transit Authority is similar to the proposed Port Authority policy, as it makes multiple infractions of fare-evasion a criminal offense. However, recent news reports from Cleveland have highlighted flaws in the RTA system.

In September, the Cleveland Scene wrote about how some RTA transit cops believe that RTA’s fare-check policy is merely a way to generate revenue, and how citations were disproportionately targeting black riders. And in July, TV station WKYC reported how the RTA was charging teenage students with criminal offenses for failure to show their school ID, which acts as their transit pass.

At the Oct. 12 rally, Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance for Police Accountability, worried that if Port Authority were to institute this policy, a minor fare-evasion infraction could escalate, given the oft-tumultuous relationship between minorities and police officers. “Things like traffic stops and pat-downs often escalate to a place where serious things occur, like death or major injury,” said Fisher. She cited the case of Leon Ford, who was severely injured by Pittsburgh Police officers after being pulled over for running a stop sign.

Alma Brigido, the wife of deported immigrant-rights activist Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, told the crowd that this policy will likely decrease ridership among undocumented immigrants, who utilize public transportation because Pennsylvania doesn't allow them to obtain driver’s licenses. “We are obligated to use public transportation in our daily lives.”

As City Paper reported in June, undocumented immigrants could be potentially in threat of deportation with their first fare-evasion infraction. Even though the proposed Port Authority policy prohibits officers to ask for identification, authority officers will still run people’s names through a database that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has access to.

A coalition of advocacy groups surveyed local Latino transit riders and found that about 80 percent of them would stop taking the T, if the proposal were implemented. Monica Ruiz, of Latino-service organization Casa San Jose, said this is troubling because many Latino residents and many undocumented immigrants live in Beechview and other South Hills neighborhoods which the light-rail serves. Ruiz told CP she spoke to one woman who would stop taking the T if the policy were implemented, and she told Ruiz that armed officers on the light-rail would make her and her children “very afraid.”

The group of 30 marchers ended their march at the office of Costa and delivered more than 300 letters from constituents, asking Costa to oppose the proposed change.

When asked for comment on this story, Costa’s office directed CP’s request to the Port Authority. Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the Port Authority, emailed CP  the following statement: “Interim CEO David Donahoe delayed implementation of the proposed fare policy on our light-rail system in June due to unexpected equipment issues. He has taken that time to review how other transit agencies enforce fare payment, and he has not recommended any changes thus far.”

The date for the Port Authority vote on the fare-check policy has not been determined.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 3:49 PM

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY
Image courtesy of Allegheny County
Pittsburgh's recent election headlines have been swamped by the not-quite-announced, but upcoming special election for U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's (R-Upper St. Clair) vacated seat. Murphy, a pro-life champion, was caught having an affair and then allegedly asked his mistress to get an abortion. He will resign Oct. 21, after what has been a controversial and hypocrisy-filled year.

But there are still other important upcoming political races before that special election goes down, and today, Oct. 10, is the last day to register to vote on Nov. 7. Pennsylvania citizens can register online at register.votespa.com.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Posted By on Mon, Jul 24, 2017 at 3:10 PM

click to enlarge Anita Prizio - PHOTO COURTESY OF PRIZIO CAMPAIGN
Photo courtesy of Prizio campaign
Anita Prizio
On July 5, Allegheny County Council passed an ordinance mandating that toddlers be given blood tests to check for lead poisoning. The county’s health director, Karen Hacker, said in a May Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that universal childhood lead testing is necessary in Allegheny County because of lead-paint issues in its aging homes and elevated lead levels in the water supply. (It should be noted that Pittsburgh announced testing results on July 18 that comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, but many consider those standards outdated.)

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Posted By on Tue, May 2, 2017 at 2:07 PM

click to enlarge Immigrant-rights protesters in front of the ICE office in the South Side - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Immigrant-rights protesters in front of the ICE office in the South Side
On May 1, 2016, about 100 marchers took to the streets of Beechview to support immigrant rights. One of those marchers was Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents the next day and has since been deported , even though he had no local criminal record; he received public support from politicians, activists and religious leaders.

One year later, immigrant-rights groups took to the streets again and their numbers more than tripled, with more than 300 protesters in the South Side in the pouring rain. The group even video-chatted with Esquivel-Hernandez from Mexico and he told the group to keep fighting for immigrant protections in Pittsburgh.

“I want to encourage people of all races and nationalities to unite in this fight,” said Christina Castillo of the Thomas Merton Center at the May 1 rally, reading a statement from Esquivel-Hernandez. “We are all from Pittsburgh, we all call this place home, we all have family and love connected to this city, and we need to start fighting united as if we were all a family.”

In joining with that fight, Guillermo Perez, of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, is calling for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to become “Freedom” municipalities, as defined by the American Civil Liberties Union. Freedom polices include nine rules, most of which demand that ICE be barred from city and county facilities without a judicial warrant or pursuant to a court order, and that local police not ask about immigration status or voluntarily release immigration information to ICE.

Because Pittsburgh already complies with many of the Freedom policies, Perez says more pressure must be put on Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, so the county and the city can achieve Freedom status.

In a statement sent to City Paper in January, Allegheny County Jail warden Orlando Harper said ICE officials can check inmates’ immigration status through a database, and that “[ICE] staff come into the facility several times a week to review [an] inmate’s immigration status.” Fitzgerald, as the county's top elected official, controls how the Allegheny County Jail is operated.

Perez says Pittsburgh and other municipalities can’t fully protect immigrants without policy changes at the county jail. “The Allegheny County Jail does not need to share information without a judicial warrant,” says Perez. “Whatever policies that we get from the city, they are not going to help if the county doesn’t also comply.”

Perez says that if undocumented immigrants and their documented relatives fear that authorities could easily learn their immigration status, they will be less likely to report crimes. He cites recent stories showing that domestic violence cases have seen decreased reporting because immigrants are fearful of being deported.

Gabe McMorland, of the Thomas Merton Center, says continuing communication between local law enforcement and ICE can increase racial profiling. He cites a 2007 Arizona Law Review paper showing that having local and state police participate in immigration enforcement efforts increases the “risk of racial profiling.”

On April 30, Perez, along with other immigrant-rights and religious groups, sent Fitzgerald a letter requesting that the county jail stop sharing information with ICE without a judicial warrant or court order. The letter, which Perez shared with CP, also asks Fitzgerald to call on state legislators to oppose anti-immigrant legislation and to publicly encourage county municipalities to adopt policies “protecting the civil rights of all immigrants.”

County spokesperson Amie Downs wrote in an email to CP that Fitzgerald's office has "not received any letter from the advocates and so commenting on its contents and response would be premature." She added that county officials will "certainly review it when received to determine if any of the requests of the county are items that we could do."

In a September 2016 interview with CP, Fitzgerald said that he doesn’t have the authority to alter municipalities' immigration-policing policies.

“I don't have the authority to go to the Mount Lebanon police, to tell them we don’t [want them communicating with ICE] in Allegheny County,” said Fitzgerald. “They could agree, but they don’t have to listen to what any county executive says. … We want to be a welcoming area, but we can’t mandate that everybody be as welcoming as we want them to be.”

However, Fitzgerald said that attracting immigrants to Allegheny County is high on his priorities.

“One of things we are doing, we are proactively reaching out to immigrants,” said Fitzgerald. “We want more immigration in this region. Some of it because it is the right thing to do, but some of it because economically, we need it. We are going to have so many people retiring over the course of next eight or nine years … we are going to 8,000 people short [to fill those jobs].”

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 5:15 PM

click to enlarge Port Authority bus picking up riders - CP PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
CP photo by Aaron Warnick
Port Authority bus picking up riders
One Feb. 24, the Port Authority of Allegheny County board added a last-minute agenda item announcing that Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean’s contract would not be renewed past June. The item wasn’t listed in the board meeting’s initial agenda, and when McLean spoke earlier in the meeting, she didn’t mention her imminent departure. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in a story headlined “Port Authority forces out McLean, seeks executive with more transit experience,” that some board members didn’t know about this decision until the night before the Feb. 24 board meeting.

At the time, Port Authority board chair Bob Hurley wouldn’t elaborate on the decision to cut ties with McLean, only saying that the decision between the board and the CEO was “mutual.”

"This transit agency has come so far from where we were just a few short years ago, which is why I believe now is the right time for me to pass the torch to someone else," McLean said in a statement issued after the Feb. 24 meeting.

On March 3, a TribLive article stated that Hurley will likely leave the Port Authority board and his seat will be replaced by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s chief of staff Jennifer Liptak. Port Authority vice chair Jeffrey Letwin will likely step into the chair role. Allegheny County’s initial announcement of this shift came on March 3 and was at the end of a statement containing a laundry list of legislation that Fitzgerald had introduced to Allegheny County Council; there was no mention of Hurley departing the Port Authority Board.

On March 7, Fitzgerald nominated Hurley to serve on the county’s Airport Authority board. Fitzgerald says he wanted to see Hurley, who is also head of the county’s economic development team, on the Airport Authority because the county owns thousands of acres of developable land surrounding the airport. “The plan was always to move [Hurley] to the airport,” says Fitzgerald. “There is so much economic development opportunity there.”

However, Fitzgerald provided no comment on why Liptak would be joining the Port Authority board in the March 3 TribLive article, but told City Paper earlier today that he is confident in Liptak because “she does a good job wherever she is.”

Liptak, who Fitzgerald says will be leading the search for the new Port Authority CEO, has served in county government for years and offers a breadth of experience in budgeting and development, but with little official public-transit experience. But Fitzgerald says Liptak has been “involved in every transit decisions we make,” and she has “good relationships with all the stakeholders that deal with transit in the region.”

All of these big shifts with little public notice has made some advocates wary of the board-appointee process. Molly Nichols, of the public-transit-advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transportation, wonders why these big decisions happened so quickly and relatively quietly. She is calling for more transparency when board members are appointed.

“PPT would like to see more transparent processes for board appointments, including naming the qualifications of appointees and holding public hearings,” says Nichols. “This would give the public the opportunity to ask appointees how they plan to serve the transit riders of Allegheny County.”

This isn't the first time that Fitzgerald's handling of board appointments has come under fire. Although he has since abandoned the policy, after taking office in 2013, he required all board members to submit undated letters of resignation that Fitzgerald could activate at any time. There was also some tumult when Fitzgerald ousted PAT's former director and put his own appointees in power positions, also in 2013

Fitzgerald’s Port Authority appointees, like Liptak, don’t require any confirmation by county council or any public vetting. Hurley’s appointment does need approval by county council, but out of hundreds of Fitzgerald’s appointees, council has only failed to confirm one, a man indicted on federal embezzlement charges in 2010.

But Fitzgerald says the timing of Port Authority CEO leaving and Hurley moving boards shouldn’t be taken as upheaval at the Port Authority. He says the reason these changes were made quickly is because the authority is stable. “It is not like we have all these problems we have to make changes, it’s just the opposite,” says Fitzgerald.

In terms of increasing public participation in the appointee process, Fitzgerald believes the current system works fine as is.

“We get a lot of folks who suggest board members,” says Fitzgerald. “At the end of the day, the elected officials are given the responsibility that these agencies run well. If it doesn't run right, we are going to be the ones taking responsibility.”

This sentiment somewhat echoes a statement made by Steve Palonis, of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, after the announcement of McLean’s departure. Palonis said in the Post-Gazette, “Rich [Fitzgerald] is the guy in charge and this is what he wants to do.”

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 3:03 PM

click to enlarge Allegheny County seal - IMAGE COURTESY COUNTY.ALLEGHENY.PA.US
Image courtesy county.allegheny.pa.us
Allegheny County seal
Allegheny County is altering its minority-, women- and disadvantaged-owned business enterprise rules, and at least one major Western Pennsylvania woman-owned business isn’t happy about it. The rules were established in 1981 to ensure minorities, women and other economically hampered groups receive more county contracts than they had historically received. Changes to the bill are currently being considered by Allegheny County Council, after being positively recommended in committee.

Cheri Bomar, corporate counsel for 84 Lumber, spoke in opposition to the changes at this week's council meeting, specially pointing to eligibility requirements in the “Small Business Concerns” section. Under these guidelines, only companies that have averaged gross receipts (money received before subtracting costs) of up to $56.42 million are eligible for inclusion into the program.

“We believe there should not be a cap,” Bomar says. “These programs are about inclusion, and this business and others should not be excluded.”

Bomar also says 84 Lumber has a commitment to helping disadvantaged people through its workforce-development programs, which provide construction-job training to minorities and other economically disadvantaged groups.

84 Lumber has been owned and run by Maggie Hardy Magerko since 1992 (Magerko is the daughter of founder Joe Hardy). The home- and commercial-construction giant, based in the Washington County town of Eighty Four, owns and operates more than 250 stores, including four in Allegheny County. The company brought in around $2.5 billion in revenue last year.

Certification in the MWDBE program means that qualified companies are factored into allocated percentages of county contracts. The county will make a “good faith effort” to give at least 13 percent of contracts to minority business owners, and 2 percent to women-owned and “socially and economic disadvantaged” businesses.

But Ruth Byrd-Smith, county director of the Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, says the changes aren’t instituting a cap, they are merely updating the bill to ensure the county is adhering to updated forms of its own government and to federal small-business guidelines.

“Recognizing that it was out of date, this legislation was proposed by the MWDBE Advisory Committee to update its provisions,” Byrd-Smith wrote in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper. “Included in those updates are changing things like references to County Commissioner to County Executive, [and] properly defining MWDBE with contemporary terms and terminology. … There is no proposed cap in the legislation. When certain federal or state dollars are being used for a project, we must follow federal or state regulations.”

Byrd-Smith points to language in the bill defining “socially and economically disadvantaged” businesses to emphasize the companies that the bill is targeted toward.

But Allegheny County Councilor Sue Means (R-Bethel Park), who spoke about the legislation at the meeting, was more upset at the process by which the MWDBE bill came to committee. Means said the last time council attempted to alter MWDBE legislation, a public hearing was held. Means claimed the legislation was being pushed through too fast and said she would want to see another hearing.

“There are problems if the legislature writes a bill that affects certain people and those people are not notified,” said Means, who notified companies in her district that might be affected.

Councilor Michael Finnerty (D-Scott Township) disagreed with Means, however, and claimed she was “grandstanding” and unnecessarily criticizing council. “I think we have transparency. I don’t think a council person should call out council like this,” said Finnerty.

Byrd-Ruth acknowledged the first public hearing (after which the bill stalled in committee and did not receive a vote) and said that language in the bill hasn’t been changed since. “The bill proposes the exact process that the MWDBE Department has been using and will continue to use,” she wrote.

Council President John DeFazio (D-Shaler) postponed the vote until next week because the economic development and housing committee chair, DeWitt Walton (D-Hill District), was not present at the Aug. 23 meeting. Council will reconvene at 5 p.m. in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse on Aug. 30, and the bill could be put to vote then. 

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 5:34 PM

click to enlarge Adnan Hilton Pehlivan, owner of Mediterranean restaurant Istanbul Sofra, speaks at a press conference about positive economic contributions of immigrants. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
Photo by Ryan Deto
Adnan Hilton Pehlivan, owner of Mediterranean restaurant Istanbul Sofra, speaks at a press conference about positive economic contributions of immigrants.
In Allegheny County, immigrant groups are economically punching above their weight. A new study from the Partnership for a New American Economy, shows that 7.6 percent of the county’s gross domestic product comes from immigrants, even though foreign-born individuals only make up around 5 percent of the population.

That discrepancy is why public officials like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are praising the contributions immigrants are bringing to the region.

“It is not just the welcoming heart of the city, it is the economic growth of the region that is the biggest beneficiary,” Peduto said at a press conference on June 12. “A resurgence in our economy that is being fueled by people coming from other countries.”
Peduto says that immigrants in Allegheny County contributed $217 million in state and local taxes in 2014 and  had a spending power of $1.8 billion that year. (This makes up 6.3 percent of the county’s spending power, which is also above the percentage of the county’s immigrant population.)

“It’s great that we have been able to capture some of the data that a lot of us knew empirically about how important the immigrant population has been over the last few years, has been to our economy and quality of life,” Fitzgerald said at the press conference Downtown.

Fitzgerald said in a five-year period, starting in 2009, property values nationally were declining, but in Allegheny County, the values were increasing, with a big boost from immigrants. He also pointed to the study for showing that while the Pittsburgh region’s population slightly declined since 2009, the foreign-born population increased by 8 percent.

“When you look at the contribution that the immigrant population has helped in stemming population decline, improving property values, that contribution that they have meant to our economy is tremendous,” said Fitzgerald.

Peduto said that immigrants are “building a new economy” in the city. Their rates of entrepreneurship are higher than U.S.-born residents in Allegheny County, and are also higher than the national average.

The study also shows that Pittsburgh immigrants have higher educational rates than average, but Betty Cruz of Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative tells City Paper that low-income residents were contributing to the growth too. She says the $217 million in taxes were contributed from “across the board” and not just from wealthier immigrants.

Cruz says immigrants from all backgrounds have contributed positively to “main street” economies like Asian immigrants in Squirrel Hill and Latinos in Beechview.

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