Friday, April 27, 2007
?? – April 25, 2007
Leo Cat, dearly loved by some and quite frankly feared by many, died on April 25, 2007. He is survived by his owner who will miss him terribly.
Leo’s precise age is unknown but it is assumed he lived a long life; it is a very comforting fact to know that he lived a good one. He spent his first 10 or so years happily sitting on his first owner’s lap, watching television and keeping him company, terrorizing the neighborhood in his spare time. Dogs, other cats, the mailman ….. all feared to cross the path of this big bruiser. But their fear was unwarranted and quite silly as Leo the Lion was a “live and let live” kind of guy. If you behaved yourself and respected his space, Leo would greet you with a rub of his head, his big heart purring loudly. Trouble only ensued if you approached him in some other disrespectful manner.
His first owner died of pancreatic cancer in 1999 and that’s when Leo Cat came to live with his present owner … the daughter of his first owner. Leo developed pancreas problems of his own in 2000 when he was diagnosed with diabetes, needing insulin shots twice daily since that time. Sadly and ironically, Leo also developed pancreatic cancer which ended his life as well.
Leo loved to eat. Shrimp was his all-time favorite. He had a life-long addiction for watching television which broadened to include the computer monitor. Watching birds, squirrels and other backyard critters occupied his days as he got older. He always loved hearing his name because that’s when he got a glint of the realization that he was something separate, individual and unique. He went ga-ga if you told him he was a “good boy”. He'd prance about so excited as if he knew what a big compliment that was. He purred himself to death when his long hair was brushed. And no matter how good or bad he felt, no matter how late the hour was, he always, always met his owner at the door when she came home.
Leo spent his last day home by the window snoozing under the effect of pain meds, but looking out to the goings-on in his backyard every chance he could get. He ate the teeniest bit of shrimp because the tumor was pressing in on his stomach. His owner brushed him constantly and told him he was indeed a very good boy. In fact, he was held and brushed right up to the moment the euthanasia injection ended his pain. “Good boy” was the last thing he heard.
Leo Cat … a really good boy with a very big heart. He will be sorely missed. There is already a huge, empty spot by his owner's front door.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Our mayor has displayed an infuriating habit of plastering his name and likeness on anything and everything Pittsburgh. Whether it moves or not, whether it’s animal, mineral or vegetable, whether he was involved or even born at the time ….Mayor Ravenstahl proudly slaps his name and/or likeness on the object in question. The Garden Theatre’s new marquee, bearing his name and therefore implying his accomplishment, is just the latest example. The City’s fight with the Garden started back in 1989 and by my calculations, the mayor was just 9 years old at that time. Hardly old enough to impact dealings with the Garden one way or another.
So it was with great surprise that I read today's Post Gazette article about Mayor Ravenstahl’s coup in securing a cost-saving, single-provider health insurance and wellness plan for the city. He is to be heartily congratulated; this is really good work. But I’m confused by the name of the wellness plan. It’s called “City Fit – Wellness at Work” and I’m stunned the mayor didn’t insert his name here as well. “City Fit – Ravenstahl at Work” would be more in keeping with the mayor’s proprietary attitude toward our city and everything in it. And besides, his name seems more appropriate here than on the Garden’s marquee display.
CLT Efficient Technologies Group …. Who Are They?
After a blink-of-an-eye RFP bidding process, CLT Efficient Technologies was awarded a multi-million dollar energy consulting contract with the City of Pittsburgh. Under the terms of the contract, CLT will guarantee savings of $542,000 a year to the city’s light bill. The city will in turn pay that savings to CLT for the first four years, but will retain all future year’s savings once CLT is paid off.
What a lucky break for Pittsburgh. Considering the city’s RFP went out at the end of the year, giving interested companies only a couple of weeks to respond, and considering the bid deadline was during Christmas Holiday…. It is no wonder only two of the eighteen Pennsylvania firms licensed to do such work actually applied.
So who is CLT? How were they able to put together a winning bid in lightening speed at the 11th hour of the 12th month during Christmas no less?
CLT’s founding investor is Charles Zappala, uncle of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappalla, Jr. and brother to a former Chief Justice of the PA Supreme Court. He was a contributor to Bob O’Connor in 2004 and is an investor/businessman who’s been involved with a wide range of area companies and projects. He’s had some hits and he’s had some misses.
One fairly big miss involved $215 million dollars, Ohio’s Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (BWC) and MDL, an institutional money management company where Zappala was a Shareholder and Director. Seems the worker’s compensation fund monies were invested in one of MDL’s high-risk funds which tanked, leaving Ohio’s Inspector General none too pleased about the loss. In addition, MDL used the BWC funds as collateral to borrow an additional $5 Billion or so (yes, that’s with a “B”), which it then lost.
Closer to home and closer to the present, Zappala chaired the Regional Asset District (RAD), but subsequently resigned that post to partner with Forest City Enterprises which was vying for the slots license to be awarded for the City of Pittsburgh. Again, Mr. Zappala’s timing was just a tad off on this one too. Forest City lost out to Don Barden’s Majestic Star on December 20th, 2006 when the state awarded Pittsburgh’s casino license to Barden instead of Zappala and Forest City.
Coincidentally, just a few days later, the bidding time for Pittsburgh’s energy consulting RFP would close and Zappala’s CLT would be the lucky company to win that bid. Now it’s hardly the billions of dollars associated with the high-stakes world of gaming or worker’s compensation fund management. (Could they be one and the same thing?) But a couple of million dollars is nothing to sniff at no matter what your net worth. It’s certainly a suitable peace offering, certainly a respectable consolation prize. A real “win-win” situation for everyone involved.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s name and image are popping up everywhere across the city. The familiar “hands-on-hips” visage started out on billboards and appeared at least once on every page of the city’s web site. The famous mug quickly spread to the sides of police cars and buses, park benches and building facades. Even many Pittsburgh landmarks and institutions have been re-named in the mayor’s honor, the “Ravenstahl Regatta” and “Boulevard of Ravenstahl’s Allies” among them.
Pittsburgh now comes one step closer to joining the ranks of Hollywood and other entertainment Meccas with the outstanding Ravenstahl-riddled double-feature premiering this week at the New Garden Theatre on the North Side. The red carpet event is expected to be attended by city, county and state dignitaries as well as other regional movers-and-shakers.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Motznik Looks Worried
Ethics Board Nominee Penny Zacharias appeared before city council Wednesday to answer questions and to describe her excitement at being able to serve the city in this capacity. If approved, Ms. Zacharias will be the fifth and final member appointed to the board, and as such, should precipitate their long-awaited first meeting and activation.
Council members were unusually quiet and reserved, making few comments and posing fewer questions. Bill Peduto noted that Ms. Zacharias was an attorney and that the board could probably use a bit of legal perspective in their efforts. He also expressed his hope that the board could remain “autonomous” as they proceeded with their charter.
Councilman Jim Motznik, on the other hand, seemed to be sweating bullets at the far end of the table. “Just remember to keep an open mind”, he finally implored Ms. Zacharias. “Sometimes things seem one way to one person, and another way to another person. And then you realize that one person thought the other would think something that they didn’t think and that’s why they maybe did something they didn’t intend on doing during the process of moving forward. Just so that you keep these things in mind and keep an open mind as you move forward.”
Motznik was quick to add to his rambling entreaty that he had nothing to fear from the Ethics Board’s long-awaited activation. He continued, however, to sweat bullets sitting next to Ms. Carlisle who refused to make eye contact with anyone, even the perspiring Motznik.
The city’s contest for a Garden Theatre marquee slogan has come up with an unlikely winner … Mayor Luke Ravenstahl! Scores of city residents submitted slogan ideas for a catchy phrase to attract new developers to the former porn theater. But Ravenstahl’s clever jingle, “No Longer For Adults, Luke Ravenstahl Moving Forward” came out on top.
“I’m honored to win this competition, but I want to make it perfectly clear that Denny Regan had no part in influencing the results”, the mayor told a group of reporters. The mayor’s detractors were not worried about the role Regan did or did not play in this contest. Rather, they were concerned that his name appearing on the theater marquee would give him an unfair advantage in the upcoming mayoral election. But the mayor was quick to remind the media that he is uncontested in both the May Primary and the November General Election. “It was a gamble”, the mayor said. “But I talked it over with my campaign advisors and we didn’t think I would lose any votes over this. After all, who else are people going to vote for?"
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Waking up each day in Pittsburgh is always an adventure and maybe that’s why we all love it here so much. It’s simultaneously exhilarating and disconcerting to grab that first cup of coffee and walk out the door armed with the knowledge that anything, absolutely anything could greet you. Anything, absolutely anything could happen.
It could be a water main break that floods Downtown. Or sink holes swallowing cars. Or falling bridges/buildings that sometimes miss killing people, and other times they don’t. Maybe it’s Everyone’s Grandma Mayor Sophie who has decided to move the 4th of July to the 3rd so as to save city overtime pay for police. (Couldn’t she have picked a holiday to move that didn’t have the date as its name?) Or who could possibly forget the spectacle caught on tape of a councilman being chased on foot by the press because of city gasoline he allegedly pilfered. But my absolute favorite, however, has to be the press-conference-from-another-dimension whereby Fire Fighters Union President Joey King tried to explain how Mayor Murphy was guilty of offering him a bribe but he was not guilty of accepting one. How could that be? Because Joey didn’t realize that the $10 million or so in contract goodies that Murphy was offering him, in a darkened back room of some restaurant on the Southside, in exchange for votes, was in fact a bribe! The gall and temerity of that performance, in my opinion, still surpasses even the shake-down attempt by Hill District “leaders” of last week.
But of all the embarrassing, infuriating, enraging moments this city has seen… Why has the Twanda Carlisle debacle tugged at my heartstrings so? Maybe it’s like one of those movies where the actors are so bad and the plot is so thin that you find yourself averting your eyes because it’s just too darned embarrassing to watch any longer. Yes, it’s been horribly embarrassing….. except I can’t decide whom I should pity the most.
Should it be Twanda who doesn’t seem to realize that 17 counts, hefty fines and a prison sentence is not an occasion to smile?
Maybe I feel sorriest for her lawyer who seems to have only two possible defense options, both even sorrier than he is. One posits that someone other than Twanda could have been responsible for the 60 or so cash deposits to her personal bank account. As mortifying as that option must have been to verbalize with a straight face, the other has something to do with Don Imus. Something no one quite understands as of yet.
Should our collective pity go to Twanda’s mother who initially uttered the “Imus” word in the first place?
I truly don’t know, Pittsburgh. Do you? If you do, let me know. Set me straight. So I can get up in the morning, grab my cup of coffee, and look forward to the new Pittsburgh adventures of a brand new Pittsburgh day.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Pictured Above: Councilwoman Tonya Payne who is often mistaken for Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle
Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle has been missing from City Council meetings as of late. Her absence has been made all the more intriguing by council’s silence on the matter. No comment or excuse has been put forth to explain the empty chair.
But it appears Ms Carlisle truly had a valid excuse for her nonattendance. She is being arraigned this morning in a Brookline courtroom on charges of theft and criminal conspiracy. These charges stem in part from a $30,000 “health study” that Carlisle commissioned for her district. The study was conducted by Lee O. Johnson, Carlisle’s mother’s boyfriend and a “doctor” in the sense he successfully paid for and received his Ph.D. from a now-shut-down diploma mill. Johnson’s study, “A Report on the Mental, Physical, Spiritual, Social Status of the Ninth Councilmatic [sic] District," was rife with misspellings, poor grammar and whole sections that had been plagiarized from various other sources.
In Ms. Carlisle’s defense, her actions are unfortunately not isolated nor unusual in Pittsburgh’s political scene. They were, however, egregiously blatant if not shockingly stupid. Think of the trouble that could have been averted had she and Dr. Johnson taken a moment or two to just use their spell-checkers.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Phone Bank Activities Confuse Seniors
With the primary just a few short weeks away, the Ravenstahl campaign has decided to kick things up another notch. Mayor Ravenstahl’s only other opponent, Councilman Bill Peduto, dropped out of the race March 21st leaving Mr. Ravenstahl an assured winner at the polls this May 15th. Others would take an opportunity such as this to sit back on their laurels; but team Ravenstahl is moving forward with a legion of door knockers, phone bankers, and requests to the media to schedule the long-promised debates.
Anna Marie Cancellare, 82, of Bloomfield, was one of many seniors who recently heard from Ravenstahl phone volunteers asking for their votes. “I was a little confused at first”, confided Anna Marie. “They said something about ‘I Like Luke’ and I thought they were from some teen-idol fan club wanting to speak to my great-granddaughter.”
Many other seniors have also been puzzled by the calls. “I asked them who else could I give my vote to?” commented Joseph Donato Sr., also of Bloomfield. “I’m still not sure it was really them who called. After all, whose gonna bother to run in a race all by themselves? No, I think it must have been some identity theft people on the phone. And I told them that! Yep, I told them they weren’t fooling me for one minute.”
But the ‘I Like Luke” team presses on even with hurdles such as these. Their mission is to make this the most exciting and engaging uncontested election Pittsburgh has ever seen.
Monday, April 9, 2007
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.”
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Their list of demands, enumerated in a "term sheet", was quite extensive: An upfront "payment" of $10 million, yearly payments (amounts yet to be specified) for the next 30 years, and an in-perpetuity cut of future revenues from the new arena and surrounding development. The neighborhood would be given, free-and-clear, any city-owned or county-owned land it wanted to develop. And thirty percent of all arena jobs, from unskilled to executive level, would go to "minorities of color". It is not yet clear whether Asians, Middle Easterners or Native Americans could qualify as "minorities of color" under the job quota proviso or whether unemployed Caucasians living in the Hill District would be eligible for the new jobs. Also unclear is whether or not the new hiring scheme has been discussed with local area unions.
Mayor Ravenstahl, County Exectutive Onorato and Councilwoman Payne were clearly put off by the ambush. Mr. Onorato had no comment but Ms. Payne, the most obviously incensed of the group, complained that the Hill residents seem to feel they are "entitled". "You can't walk in to talks that way", she chided. After regaining his composure, Mr. Ravenstahl was quick to interject that he was very much looking forward to moving forward with a fresh and forward-thinking approach to this matter. At least that's what he intended.
The unspoken worry on Grant Street, however, is whether or not other neighborhoods will follow suit. The Hill has the biggest burden to carry because the massive arena development is being plopped squarely in their midst. In that regard it seems only fair that the Hill appropriate the largest portion of the shake-down funds for themselves. But since there is $290 million of public money being funneled into the arena, will other segments of the "public" think they are entitled to a cut as well? Will Southsiders, long denied their fair share of city parking spaces, now demand new garages be built along Carson in a 10-to-1, bar-to-garage ratio? Will every neighborhood with pot holes comprising more than 40% of their street surface area be standing in line with their hand held out?
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The precedent being set here has far-reaching implications for a city that has nothing, needs everything and has no money to pay for anything. Will this tactic be mimicked by others desperate to have their needs met? Will communities hosting the proposed Mon-Fayette Expressway, for instance, now demand a cut of all business and new development revenues spurred by the new highway?
A lot of questions and very few answers to a situation that seems to change by the hour. But our city leaders have proven themselves to be a formidable negotiating team. We can fully expect them to bargain as tough with the Hill as they did with the Pens. What more can we ask?