Solution May Be Near
A source close to the PG has shed new light on the surprising events of last week whereby a group of angry Hill District representatives demanded a multi-million dollar payoff from the city as part of the new Pens arena development. Mayor Ravenstahl, County Executive Onorato and Councilwoman Payne appeared to be surprised by the hefty demands, but our source tells us they were in fact well-prepared for the ambush.
The shake-down occurred when the parties met in secret last Thursday. The Hill’s increased hostility, however, had already become apparent to city leaders during a round of secret meetings prior to last Thursday’s. Due to schedule conflicts, Mayor Ravenstahl was not able to attend the first round of meetings and sent Yarone Zober to the negotiations as his representative. It was Yarone who kept the mayor fully apprised of the escalating tensions.
Proceeding with the mayor’s plan to keep the city moving forward, Yarone asked the county if they could come up with any extra cash. Having schedule conflicts of his own, County Executive Onorato sent former City Public Safety Director Nominee Denny Regan to the negotiations as his representative. It was at first unclear what official capacity a former city official might hold in county matters, but no one in attendance thought to ask. This was a fortuitous oversight as Denny confidently replied he could certainly find other parties to shake-down, but worried he could only come up with part of the needed cash even considering his extensive contacts. Ron Burkle and Don Barden, both in attendance and both representing themselves, quickly added no further concessions would be forthcoming from their side of the table as both were financially stretched to their limits.
Our source tells us a last-resort call was then placed to the governor who in turn felt it might be appropriate to try to squeeze some money from the slots distributor “middle men”. “They’re getting a hefty chunk for just sitting on their asses”, Rendell was overheard to have said. The room’s high hopes were dashed when the governor was reminded that “middle men” licenses were rendered worthless when the State Legislature eliminated the requirement forcing casinos to buy their machines from licensees. In fact, one of the unfortunate license holders, former City Councilman Sala Udin, was rumored to now be part of the “unspecified group” who would be controlling the Hill payoff monies. The rumor further detailed Udin’s optimism of having a new source of skimming revenue to replace that which he lost when the Legislature “went off on their reform thing”.
Just when negotiations appeared to have reached an impasse, Governor Rendell came through for the group. It is thought he agreed to provide the final Hill payoff piece by dipping into gaming revenues targeted for property tax relief, pushing meaningful rebates into the “outer years”.
Most all parties were reported to be elated with the deal that was hammered out. Government officials were relieved that arena development could now begin in earnest and Mayor Ravenstahl was especially pleased that all was accomplished without lining the pockets of any trial attorneys and with “no extra cost to the taxpayer whatsoever”.
Only Councilwoman Tonya Payne remained skeptical to the very end. “This is all very confusing”, she said. “But it still seems to me what we have here is just a plain ole ponzi scheme. That’s all it is. And I’m not too happy about one bit of it.”