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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hundreds protest at U.S. Senator Pat Toomey's office in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 at 5:21 PM

Protesters march toward Toomey's office. - CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Protesters march toward Toomey's office.
For the past few months, activists around Pennsylvania have been flooding the regional offices of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey to challenge him in person on issues like health care, immigration and the environment. In response, staffers at the various offices have been meeting weekly with six representatives from each group.

A few weeks ago, Pittsburgh joined in on the effort dubbed Tuesdays with Toomey. The first week, approximately 40 protesters went to Toomey's local office in Station Square. Last week, the number of protesters rose to more than 200, according to organizers.

But this week, the Pittsburgh organizers received an email saying that Toomey staffers wouldn't be able to meet with them. And whether it was due to the staff's refusal or the controversial executive orders signed by President Donald Trump last week, earlier today, an estimated 250 protesters showed up at the senator's local office.

"Things are happening so fast in Washington," said Jennifer McDowell, co-chair of the local Tuesdays with Toomey. "It feel like every 15 minutes something happens that we have to stand against."

On Friday, Trump signed an executive order barring foreigners from several majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States, a move that has generated serious backlash domestically and abroad. But yesterday, Toomey released a statement supporting the executive order.

“I support the administration's decision to increase vetting and temporarily suspend the admission of certain individuals from states that sponsor or provide safe havens to terrorists, or are too weak to prosecute terrorists within their borders. Terrorists have successfully infiltrated refugee populations entering Europe and gone on to commit heinous acts of barbarity. I have long been concerned about our ability to distinguish between predominantly peaceful and innocent refugees, and the likely rare, but lethal, terrorists in the midst of those refugees coming from terror havens and lawless lands. That is why I, along with a bipartisan majority of the House and Senate, supported the SAFE Act, which called for enhanced vetting," Toomey said in a statement.

Many of the people who turned out today opposed Toomey's support for the executive order with signs and chants saying "refugees are welcome here." Other protesters marched to protect women's reproductive rights and to ask Toomey not to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid passed under President Barack Obama's administration.

"The people we serve, they depend on the Affordable Care Act. They depend on Medicaid expansion," said Kim Evert, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. "If you take away the Affordable Care Act, if you take away Medicaid expansion, it hurts women's health".

Hundreds marched past Toomey's office and stopped at the Smithfield Street Bridge, where they invited participants to share their health-care stories.

One woman said she's had cancer four times in the past 11 years. Another man told the crowd the story of his mother, who he says died because she couldn't get health insurance. And a woman said that a family member couldn't receive a life-saving transplant until the doctor was told whether the person could afford post-op medications; the only way her family member could pay for these medications, the march participant said, was through Medicaid.

"I felt like the only power I had available is to put my body in the street," said another protester, Jennifer Lawton.

In addition to the street protests, thousands have been flooding Toomey's offices with calls and, when those calls weren't answered, they turned to the fax machine. According to a list compiled by the website Fax Zero, which lets people send faxes for free, in the past 24 hours, Toomey has received more faxes from users than any other representative, clocking in at 1,660.

"Toomey needs to understand that he works for all of us," said Melissa Harkes. "I'm hoping other people see us protesting and making a difference."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto details how he will deal with President Trump's administration

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 1:56 PM

Bill Peduto (left) talking to students at Point Park University - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Bill Peduto (left) talking to students at Point Park University
There is little doubt that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto loved his relationship with President Barack Obama’s administration. He gushed about it to a group of 60 students inside the Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation Downtown on Jan 24.

“The one thing that I wasn’t expecting when I was running for mayor, and one of the greatest rewards, has been the relationship between the White House and the city of Pittsburgh,” said Peduto of the Obama administration. “We were in direct contact with them every week.”

Peduto said he enjoyed the direct link that existed between Pittsburgh and the White House, and that, with President Donald Trump’s administration, he “hopes they continue that.”

“There are going to be philosophical differences between the leaders of American cities and the White House,” said Peduto. “But that doesn’t mean that initiatives that can help people can’t also happen.”

However, Peduto expressed some of the uneasiness that many big city mayors feel towards President Trump, considering many of Trump’s campaign promises run counter to the more inclusive agenda that most big cities have adapted.

“I am an eternal optimist. I try to believe that there is good in every person and that there will be some good that will be able to come out of the next four years. But at the same time we are preparing if there isn’t … the city can’t stop moving forward.”

In terms of Trump’s promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, Peduto said that while Pittsburgh hasn’t officially declared itself a sanctuary city (where local law enforcement refuse to communicate with federal immigration officers in order to maintain trust with immigrant communities), the policies of local police are in line with sanctuary policies, and that isn't going to change.

“Right when we got in office in 2014, we stopped asking for documentation from people,” said Peduto. “Our Pittsburgh police have been doing what sanctuary cities are doing now for the past three years. If that gets challenged and if funds are threatened to be taken away by the federal government, then we will join the other cities around this country and take it to court … and we will win.”

Peduto also talked about his hiring of former Police Chief Cameron McLay and the reforms his administration has brought to the police department. These include a focus on improving community-police relations and moving the city’s internal investigating unit out from under the police department. Trump has suggested that police officers need to institute a stronger emphasis, on "law and order,” something advocates argue runs counter to Pittsburgh’s policies.

However, things turned a little Trumpian (in terms of his combative relationship with the press) when Peduto was asked about a potential ethics violation stemming from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article detailing how large developers in the city were solicited by Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff and chair of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, to donate funds to Peduto’s campaign.

Peduto said the article was “very unfair” and defended the actions of Acklin because conversations between Acklin and developers “showed absolutely no favoritism” and that is was not a “pay to play” situation.

“The story was all sizzle and no steak,” said Peduto. “When writing a story like that you usually chase [what the outcome is]. In this case … you can't say, 'no, there isn't anything there, lets just go ahead and report it anyway because it doesn't look good.' I think that is a line that journalists need to watch very closely.”

Later in the panel discussion, Peduto again expressed his disappointment with the Post-Gazette story, but defended freedom of the press and said “that reporter has every right to write that article.”

“I haven’t had a chance to talk to the writer yet, and I have known him for over 20 years, and it won’t affect our relationship,” said Peduto. “The next time he calls and needs something for a story, he is going to get it. If you are so thin skinned, that you start blasting reporters and saying ‘no I won't take your question’ … you’ll lose.”

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Southwestern Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy uses male pronoun when referring to Chelsea Manning in statement

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 5:19 PM

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) - PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair)
When President Barack Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning this week, a predictably polarizing media storm followed. Many on the left praised the president, while many on the right condemned him. Manning was convicted of espionage and theft charges in 2013 for her role in leaking classified U.S. military information to Wikileaks, however some believed her actions caused no real harm and she was merely acting as a whistle blower. Manning is a transgender woman who has been held in a men’s federal prison since her conviction and, according to her lawyer, has attempted to commit suicide twice while in prison.

And Southwestern Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair), like many Republicans is upset Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, citing the setting of dangerous precedent.

“Three days before he leaves office, our Commander in Chief just set a tremendously dangerous precedent. Commuting the prison sentence of Bradley (Chelsea) Manning signals in no uncertain terms that protecting classified materials, military secrets and diplomatic documents is not a national priority," said Murphy in a statement. "In fact, his actions may have actually cost lives of those who help our nation in the fight against terrorism. Yet, one of the President’s final actions is to reward Manning’s treachery.”

And while Murphy is entitled to his opinion on governing and national security, it is how he addressed Manning that is upsetting the LGBT community. Murphy refers to Manning as “Bradley (Chelsea) Manning” twice in the press release and uses the male pronoun “his” when describing her.

Ted Martin, director of statewide LGBT-advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania, says Murphy should think harder about how he refers to transgender people and not “misgender them” because his profile can create a bad precedent for how his constituents should treat transgender individuals.

“It’s a really unfortunate choice of language for the congressman,” says Martin. “For people in his position, he should really think about how he refers to people in the transgender community. Some people can take the leap to treat other people with respect; it is not hard.”

A 2014 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the overall population. Transgender people report higher rates of bullying in schools and still face large stigmas from society overall.

Carly Atchison, press secretary for Murphy, offered a no comment to City Paper for this story.

Manning said in an article in The Guardian, that her first public appearance as a woman was in February 2010, and she said “I’d long known I was a woman” before that public appearance. Manning leaked documents in January 2010 and has served seven of her 35-year sentence (significantly longer than similar convictions in recent years). Manning will be released in May.

However, those looking closely at Murphy’s LGBT-related record would hardly be shocked that he would choose to use language insensitive to the LGBT community. Murphy voted against a federal bill to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation; he voted for defining marriage between only a man and a woman; and he voted for a same-sex marriage ban.

During his entire 14-year tenure in congress, Murphy has never received higher than a 0 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaigned scorecard, which rates U.S. senators and reps on their LGBT-related votes and stances. (BTW, many other Pennsylvania Republicans have received higher than a 0 rating over the years.)

Additionally, both Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) issued statements deriding the President's decision without referring to Manning by her dead name or using male pronouns.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pittsburgh area Congressman Mike Doyle not attending inauguration of Donald Trump

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 1:41 PM

After what is now a well-known feud between President-elect Donald Trump and civil-rights icon and Georgia congressman John Lewis, there has been a growing number of politicians boycotting the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration. 

Add Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) to that list. Doyle said in a noontime tweet today, "I’m going to #StandWithJohnLewis. I won’t attend the Inauguration on Friday."

Matt Dinkel, head of communications for Doyle, would not elaborate on the exact reasons why Doyle wasn't attending, but said the public scuffle between Trump and Lewis was "certainly the deciding factor." Dinkel could not say if this was the first time that Doyle has 
Mike Doyle
  • Mike Doyle
missed a presidential inauguration.

About an hour after Doyle's tweet, there has been an outpouring of support on Twitter for his decision. As of press time, he received 35 replies (almost all of them positive) and 160 likes.

Lewis said on Meet the Press Jan 14 that he didn't see Trump as a "legitimate" president, citing Russia's influence in the election. Lewis also said, for this reason, that he would not be attending Trump's inauguration.

Trump in response, took to Twitter, as he does, to hurl insults at Lewis. "Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.," tweeted Trump on Jan 14. "I can use all the help I can get!"

In response, many congressional Democrats have decided to boycott the inaugurations. According to the Washington Post, Doyle joins at least 51 other House Democrats in deciding not to attend the event. So far, Matthew Cartwritght (D-Moosic) is the only Pa. House Democrat who has not stated publicly whether he is attending Trump's inauguration. The other four, including Doyle, are all not attending.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wilkinsburg Councilor Marita Garrett running for mayor

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 5:28 PM

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARITA GARRETT
  • Photo courtesy of Marita Garrett
Wilkinsburg Councilor Marita Garrett announced yesterday that she would be running for mayor in the upcoming May primary election.

"Here we are at the top of 2017 and there's so many things on the horizon," Garrett said in a live video on her Facebook profile. "And that's why I proudly announce that I am running for mayor of Wilkinsburg in 2017.

"I will continue to appreciate your support, your encouragement and your help. Wilkinsburg, we're moving forward, progressing. It's such a great community here. Our residents really are social change agents and I just want to continue that."

Garrett will face off against Wilkinsburg Mayor John Thompson, who was elected in 2006. She tells Pittsburgh City Paper she's been considering running for mayor for a year, but her final decision was reinforced/by the results of the recent presidential election.

"A majority of people really thought we would have our first female president. Letting our young girls know this is something that can happen was important to me," Garrett says. "It really shocked and devastated a lot of people. It's time to get more women running at all sectors. Especially here in Pennsylvania. Never having a woman governor or a woman senator, it's time."

Garrett took office in January 2014. During her time on council, she's played a role in key initiatives including a quarterly series of community conversations designed to bring the Wilkinsburg council to the people. She says these meetings have led to increased community engagement throughout the area.

But despite progress in Wilkinsburg, Garrett's community gained negative national attention last year after a mass shooting left five dead. Garrett says incidents like these detract from the positive improvements occurring in the community, such as the Wilkinsburg Sanctuary Project, aimed at reducing youth violence, and the Wilkinsburg Citizen Police Academy.

"A lot of people outside of Wilkinsburg might not recognize those initiatives that we have around public safety," Garrett says. "Public safety is still a concern. There's still things we can do as a community to improve. But we have a great police department."

A campaign kickoff event will be held Jan. 19 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Biddle's Escape.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Western Pa. House Republicans split on ethics vote, but all critical of ethics office

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 2:59 PM

Representative Mike Doyle (center) with other House Democrats during June sit-in - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE DOYLE'S TWITTER ACCOUNT
  • Photo courtesy of Mike Doyle's Twitter account
  • Representative Mike Doyle (center) with other House Democrats during June sit-in
At a closed-door meeting on Jan. 2, U.S. House Republicans met to decide on what their first action would be when the 115th U.S. Congress was sworn into session the next day. By a 119-74 vote, House GOP-ers decided that first issue would be to change the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under the House Ethics committee, which is run by lawmakers.

Southwestern Pennsylvanian representatives present for the vote included Mike Kelly (R-Butler), Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) and Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley). Kelly voted in favor of the measure, while Murphy and Rothfus opposed it.

The lone Southwestern Pennsylvania Democrat, Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale), was not pleased. He wrote in a tweet: “The first action the House GOP is taking in the new Congress is a rule to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics....”

The next day, the decision to move the ethics office was scrapped, due to a flood of calls from constituents critical of the decision, and even a tweet from President-elect Trump indicating this decision shouldn’t be a high priority.

Among Southwestern Pa. GOP reps, only Kelly voted to move the office initially, but all three have stated they dislike the office and it should be reworked. The Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent, nonpartisan office made up of ethics lawyers and other professionals who investigate the conduct of House representatives. The office was established in 2008 after several corruption scandals among representatives.

As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both Kelly and Rothfus said that ethics violations could be policed by a bipartisan panel of House representatives. The reps are also critical that the OCE publicly announces that lawmakers are under investigation.

“I opposed the inclusion of the [ethics office] measure,” wrote Rothfus in an email to City Paper. “This is an issue that there have been bipartisan concerns about, and I think there should be a bipartisan resolution to it.”

Rep. Murphy tweeted this about the ethics board: “I voted NO last night but let’s be clear→ #bipartisan agreement #OCE is broken, secretive, lacking #dueprocess & used for political purposes.”

But the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says the office should remain. “OCE is one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives,” said CREW in a statement, “and it has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug.”

Although the ethics-office move was scrapped, there is still a proposed rule change that the GOP wrote. That change penalizes representatives for recording, live-streaming or taking photographs of action on the House floor. Only C-SPAN is allowed to broadcast live; there are no current enforcement guidelines on members' recording or live-streaming. This proposed rule was inspired following a June sit-in on the House floor by Democrats who had grown frustrated by reluctance to hold a vote on gun-control legislation following the Orlando mass shooting.

In the P-G, Rothfus said he was prevented from giving a speech the day of the sit-in in June and that “we need to have rules that can be enforced so members will respect each other.”

On Jan. 3, Doyle tweeted in response to the recording rule: “GOP’s trying to muzzle the American People’s representatives with unconstitutional, unnecessary rule to kill free speech on the House Floor.”



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