Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Why, oh why?

The Reverend Wright is not a stupid man.
Being an ex-Marine, the man must be in complete control of himself ….his words, his emotions, his facial expressions. If he does a little dance behind the moderator which elicits laughs and snickers from the crowd …. It must be a premeditated action rather than some sort of involuntary muscular tic.
Being an African-American senior citizen, he undoubtedly has endured a brand of in-your-face racism most younger Blacks are not familiar with. He knows all the hot-buttons which raise hackles among the white racists still among us. Arrogant prancing and preening is one such “hot-button”. Wild tales of government-introduced HIV to exterminate its black citizens is another. Wright the performer and provocateur eagerly and gleefully used these and other constructs as he entertained the nation with his Press Club spectacle so as to purposefully stir all the ugly emotions he could.

Being a biblical scholar, the Reverend certainly knows who Judas was and how the ‘kiss of death’ can just as easily be delivered through the spoken word as a peck on the cheek in the Garden of Gethsemane. Telling the world on national television that Obama, like all politicians, will say whatever he has to say to get elected certainly qualifies as death kiss one. Offering his caricature-self up as a vice-presidential running mate was death kiss two. And unfortunately what followed was death kiss three, four, five ……

So …. Why? Why would a man who has spent the better part of his entire life seeking respect, equality and “liberation” for “his people” attempt to politically assassinate the first black American within spitting distance of the Presidency? Doesn’t he realize a ‘President Barack Obama’ would definitively and forever close a major chapter in the book of ugly race relations in this country? Not that it would herald a day where no racism existed at all. That day, unfortunately, will never come so long as humans are the imperfect beings that they are.

But doesn’t the good Reverend understand the immense, historic turning-point that is finally within reach?

God help us and God help poor, dear Barack Obama ….. because the good Reverend does understand. He understands, he sets out to destroy Obama anyway, so the answer is the good Reverend must not be ready for the present ugly chapter to close.

Whether white America has not atoned sufficiently enough for Wright’s personal satisfaction…… Or whether Wright fears a “liberated” flock will have less need for his prominent leadership…… Or whether he fears prominent finances attached to prominent leadership might dwindle as well …… Reverend Jeremiah Wright is plainly not ready for the present ugly chapter of racism in this country to close.

He’s not the first black man to find benefit in the continued suffering and subjugation of his black brothers and sisters. He won’t be the last. But silly me …. I didn’t think it would be Obama’s own pastor who’d be the one to do him in. I thought it would be one of us racist Whites instead.

Well, Mr. Obama still has my support. For whatever small good that will do.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Luke's Legacy

The youngest, coolest, hippest, freshest mayor of Pittsburgh seems to be doing a bang-up job of crafting his legacy. “Luke the Unaware” keeps piling up a long list of that which has escaped his attention. Even a partial list of his "body of work" is quite impressive. In no particular order:

1) Unaware the Pirates were getting a sweetheart deal for a purchase of SA-owned riverside land.
2) Unaware the two Oregon sign advertisers having dinner with his Development Czar were the same two Oregon sign guys who got sign permits Downtown where signs were prohibited…..And were the same two Oregon sign guys who contributed $25,000 to his mayoral campaign.
3) Unaware his friend and Development Czar took gifts from another friend and sign company ad executive. Said sign company’s Downtown LED billboard was then approved without proper legal process.
4) Unaware his press secretary represented him to the world as “Pittsburgh’s Britney Spears.”
5) Unaware he should have attended a casino hearing when neighborhood invitations were sent out bearing his name. He went to a Red Sox game instead.
6) Unaware promoted city policemen had domestic abuse records.
7) Unaware his no-show status at a public hearing regarding the promoted domestic-abuse policemen might just piss people off tremendously. Especially women. He chose to go golfing instead.
8) Unaware that the tricked-out, black, police SUV he drove to a Toby Keith concert was in fact a Homeland Security vehicle that he was not supposed to be driving.
9) Unaware threatening city council members is a bad, if not stupid, if not illegal thing.
10) Unaware that city council is the legislative branch of our local government, and as such, has the charge of drafting legislation.
11) Unaware that government entities should have approved budgets in place before they start spending money.
12) Unaware the Pittsburgh Housing Authority was spending money on clothing, chocolates, lap top computers, concerts and other entertainment instead of housing basics.
13) Unaware that getting out of Act 47 Distressed City status before we are financially stable could be a very bad thing.
14) Unaware that promising free college to city students without having all the needed money in place to make good on that Promise might be a disappointing if not a very bad thing.
15) Unaware he is not able to promise tax breaks to UPMC in exchange for their contribution to the free-college fund above.
16) Unaware that accepting a $9000 golf-outing, courtesy of the same UPMC referenced above, might not look too good. Unaware that initially lying about it might look even worse.
17) Unaware he was making an embarrassing fool of himself by crashing a Tiger Woods golf outing after he had been officially not invited.
18) Unaware he’s likely to be “cuffed and detained” whenever he pushes and bad-mouths a cop at a Steeler game.
19) Unaware it might look really bad to jet off for an evening of partying in New York with the man who had just been handed $290 million in taxpayer money.
20) Unaware his drunken NYC party night (above) would cause him to miss his next-morning plane home, causing him to miss yet another neighborhood development meeting, would piss off yet another segment of the city who were beginning to fear he might not be too serious about his job of mayor.
21) Unaware that demoting a police commander after she blew the whistle on someone in his own administration might cause the city to be sued, having to pay hefty judgments and fines.
22) Unaware taking credit for ideas and accomplishments not his own might make him look like a lazy cheater.
23) Unaware so many of our city employees were felons and that background checks were not being done.
24) Unaware city workers were building a boat dock on the North Shore without proper permits or clearing the dock with the Army Corps of Engineers.
25) Unaware the city should immediately remove lead from a children's playground. Thought the city should wait until the warm weather play season was over so “they wouldn’t be out there tossing around the dirt while there were kids around.”
26) Unaware it's not cool for a staffer to hack into KDKA’s online poll, skewing poll results in the mayor’s favor.
27) Unaware that a “fair bidding process” is not one where you give companies only 3 weeks to respond, over the Christmas holiday, and then luckily pick a firm owned by the District Attorney’s uncle.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What Makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Is What Makes Pittsburgh Great

Photo: Runners in Pittsburgh’s annual ‘Great Race’

I sell real estate for a living. I’m out there every day of the week, interacting with people from all walks of life, all ages, all races, all demographics. My stomping grounds are not confined to the city center. I’m all over the county on a regular basis and I even dip into neighboring counties from time to time.

When I deal with newcomers to Pittsburgh, I’m forced to look at our city anew through their eyes. Forced to realize that in this day and age all books are judged by their covers and ours sometimes doesn’t make the best first impression. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our highway system is nearly non-existent so commuting anywhere is a nightmare. There’s far too much litter on our streets and hillsides. But worst of all, we have an eerie fashion/trendiness time warp at play in our fair city. We’re a minimum of 10 years behind the times on any fad that’s gripped the rest of the nation and we’re wholly unapologetic for the lag.

So when newcomers inevitably ask me why I like it here so much ….. Why I continue to stay instead of moving to LA where I could “make a killing” on real estate … I’m sometimes hard pressed to adequately express, in three words or less, the real inner-beauty that makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh. If they only have time for the three-word answer, my reply is “It’s the people.” If they can spare a little longer than that, I tell them the story of Mr. Science.

When I first met Mr. Science, he introduced himself as a scientist and artist. He was a 50-something white guy and the “artist” part was obvious …. His wonderful metal sculptures graced the inside and outside of his very modest, unassuming-isn’t-the-half-of-it, 2-bedroom Ross Township bungalow which was now up for sale. But as I started to peel back the layers of Mr. Science, the story just got better and better.

Yes, he was a PhD, held a patent for the determination of protein function, was published in the field of tissue engineering and had just started up a small bio-tech company in Harmar.

“Oh, so that’s why you’re selling,” I chimed in. “Are you planning to live closer to your new company? Fox Chapel maybe?” Fox Chapel is the borough right next to Harmar. Fox Chapel also has the highest median home price in the area, is a prestigious address filled with prestigious homes owned by prestigious people like Theresa Heinz Kerry.

“Oh … yea, living closer to work would be better,” Mr. Science replied. “And, yea, my new place is closer … But I’m not in Fox Chapel. I just bought a small foreclosure over on Chicago St. in Pittsburgh that I’m going to fix up.”

The foreclosure on Chicago St, right off of Mt. Pleasant Rd.???!!! (Hit me with a ton of bricks) I was coincidentally very familiar with this home as I had just been asked my opinion on its worth. It was in very bad condition and its location was far from prime. You see, access to Chicago St is difficult. To get there, one must travel through the Northview Heights public housing project which has gated entrances manned by armed security guards. Not what we in the real estate world would refer to as a “good selling point”.

Mr. Science knew how surprising this choice was. He’d probably already explained himself to a dozen or so family members and friends and so he automatically went about the tiresome task of explaining himself one more time to me.

“You see,” he continued, “I’ve been working with the kids over there at Northview for years now. Every time I show up they all run up to me. They call me ‘Mr. Science’ and they ask me lots of questions or they want me to help them fix their bikes. Stuff like that. They’re really a great bunch of kids and I’ve actually come to love them. I spend all of my off-time over there anyway …. So I figured why not just live there? The Chicago house is perfect because I’ll be right next door to all those kids and I can be with them all the time as a neighbor.”

I didn’t know what to say or even where to begin. I paused and finally said, “Thank you. On many, many levels …Thank you.”

I put out my hand in an attempt to shake his but he stepped back saying, “Oh, no. Please. Don’t thank me. I get more from those kids than I give. And besides, at my age you come to realize that you’ve got to give back or there is no point to living. If I can’t give something back, each and every day, then I just don’t want to be here anymore.”

So there it is, people. There is Pittsburgh. The embodiment of Pittsburgh as found in one Mr. Science. An unassuming 50-something artist/scientist who works hard every day, has not been seduced or sidetracked by wealth or power or the quest for it, does not wear or own the latest name-brand in anything but rather creates his own objets d’art, lives and breathes and thinks outside of the box and considers death to be the day he can no longer give back.

That’s my town. That’s my Pittsburgh. That’s why I stay.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pat Ford Fights Back

Photo: The mayor's right-hand-man, Yaronne Zober

KDKA’s Marty Griffin updated us this morning on the latest developments in the Lamar sign controversy. Marty spoke with supposedly-hibernating Development Czar Pat Ford who predictably lashed out saying:

o He is going to defend himself vigorously in the media. He’s already setting up many interviews with many outlets.

o He was forced out, he did not leave voluntarily. He did nothing wrong and wants his job back.

o He was SET UP (yes, that’s the phrase that was used) for this because he had gone to the District Attorney to spill the beans regarding abuses at the Housing Authority.

And this last point is my personal favorite:
o He says Yaronne Zober is “freezing him out.” Additionally, Ravenstahl won’t even return his calls.

No …. No matter how much any or all of the parties may want to put a lid on this thing right now ….. its going to continue to spread because Mr & Mrs Our Hero are apparently not going quietly.

Post-Gazette: Pat Ford says he was smeared and threatened. Threatened by Bram of the Pittsburgh Comet? The Burgh Report says its a bunch of hooey.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Thank You

One battle behind you, God knows how many more lie ahead. But together you can do it.

Yes, it would be nice if our mayor was competent and also wished to move our city out of the smoke-filled backrooms of the past. It would be such a blessing if he were something other than a Jersey barrier to our city’s success. But he isn’t and he doesn’t.

Unfortunately, in order for Pittsburgh to cross the finish line into the 21st Century, you’re going to have to drag Mayor Luke, kicking and screaming, across that finish line too. Sure, he’ll be there at every turn to claim ownership of the successes you forge. Or to defiantly pout ‘You can’t make me do it, you’re not the boss of me!’ as he does the very thing he says you can’t make him do.

But you’re going to have to ignore the infuriating antics of a self-indulgent child-mayor. You’re going to have to discount the threats hurled at you from his Yinzer posse. Instead, you must believe in the power of a mission grounded in decency. Always a thankless job, I know, but one it seems you all have eagerly taken on.

Many heartfelt thanks to each of you.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lamar Advertising to City Council: "Screw You"

Photo: From right to left, soon-to-be-ex Development Czar Pat Ford and his wife and ex-Mayoral Press Secretary Alecia Sirk enjoying a night out with yet another Lamar Advertising friend Merry Skotnicki (standing next to Sirk) at the Pittsburgh Film Office’s “Blacktie Pittsburgh” event.

Lamar Advertising has refused to stop construction of a Downtown 1200 sq ft electronic billboard even though its permit for construction has been appealed by members of City Council. City code says an appeal “shall automatically stay all actions” but Lamar has in essence said ‘Too bad. Tough luck. We’ve bought and paid for our place in this city and we’re not giving it up.”

City Council contends that Lamar’s sign is illegal because Lamar completely circumvented the legal zoning process, including ignoring a requirement for city council’s approval. (Council found out about the sign by reading about it in the newspaper!)

Lamar contends they got permission from the Ravenstahl administration and that’s all they need. Did Mayor Ravenstahl’s Development Czar, Pat Ford, have the authority to just wave his zoning wand and permit the sign? The same Pat Ford who has accepted gifts from a top Lamar executive and has subsequently taken a leave of absence while an ethics investigation ensues? Apparently the Ravenstahl administration thinks so.

See, back in 2003 Pat Ford negotiated a “swap” deal with Lamar whereby they’d be “automatically” allowed one LED sign, wherever they wanted, for every six standard signs they removed. Pittsburgh’s city solicitor opined at the time that the swap scheme was illegal because it was not codified anywhere in city law. Pat Ford and then-Mayor Murphy decided to completely ignore the law and the city solicitor’s opinion and they gave Lamar the go-ahead to make some swaps anyway.

Now fast forward to 2008: The Swap Scheme has still not been codified by law. But Pat Ford and current Mayor Luke Ravenstahl reason that the illegal practices started in 2003 should now be considered as precedent setting. Yes, that’s right. The mayor, Ford and Lamar broke the law back in 2003, were never punished for breaking the law in 2003, so they now figure they’ve set precedent to “legally” break the law in 2008!

Wow. A very fresh, progressive Luke-like approach to governance. If you break a law and get away with it, especially if you break a law repeatedly and get away with it……you’ve now set precedent to make the illegal legal! Why waste time with all that legislative process and mumbo-jumbo? Just do it the quick and easy precedent-setting way!

Well, City Council has not taken kindly to this new, progressive approach to lawmaking which not only completely usurps council’s power and authority, but also their very reason for being. No, Pittsburgh City Council kinda thinks things should be done the old-fashioned way.

Unfortunately the helter-skelter runaway train called the Lamar-Ford-Ravenstahl Development Express has already left the station with a decent head start. If council wants to recover their rightful place in city governance…… according to Lamar attorney Jonathan Kamin “they’re going to have to go to the Court of Common Pleas and they’re going to have to post bond.”

Why so? Because Lamar says so, that’s why. And Lamar has already *paid* their dues in this town so they feel it is they who have the say-so.

Is this way beyond preposterous, council? Even for Pittsburgh, isn’t this way beyond the pale?

Let’s kick some ass, council. Let’s kick some ass and let’s enjoy ourselves in the process.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Motznik Tries to Scramble Back Off Ledge, Council Blocks His Way

There was a quiet end to one of the latest skirmishes within city council today. Last week Councilman Jim Motznik proposed silly legislation clearly intended as payback to council for their passage of separate legislation which pissed off our Boy Mayor. Motznik, a staunch mayoral ally, introduced two punitive bills: One would gut council’s own administrative budgets, seriously jeopardizing their ability to operate. The other sought to confiscate a purported “slush fund” council maintains, redirecting that money to public safety. Both of these bills were specious at best.

Stunts like this one are commonplace in Jim Motznik’s world. He lives, he breathes, he alternates between stupid, loud, embarrassing outbursts and apologizing for the same. Mr. Hyde-Motznik launches rabid attacks against his political foes, clomps about in sewer boots, and lobbies for a dying man’s job even while the man lies dying. Dr. Jekyll-Motznik comes around afterward, making apologies, trying to mop up the mess so that there’s a nice clean slate for Hyde-Motznik’s next interlude. Unchanging, however, are both Motzniks' support of the Party Machine and its current Cog-in-Chief, Mayor Ravenstahl.

So it was no surprise to anyone when Dr. Jekyll-Motznik approached council today with a measured tone and a calm demeanor requesting that his own silly, payback legislation be tabled. Stunning, however, was that a council majority refused him his retreat. They voted 6-2 to force him to stand out on the ledge of his own making. When his stupid bill to gut council’s own budget came up for an official vote (he being the official sponsor), he was publically reprimanded by his peers, 6-2, as they voted it down.

Biggest shock of the day? Councilwoman Darlene Harris was one of the six majority ‘no’ votes. ( Burgess, Dowd, Harris, Kraus, Peduto, Shields voted ‘no.’ Deasy and Motznik voted ‘yes.’ Payne was MIA)

Harris has previously stood firm with Motznik and the mayor on most every occasion that the Pist-Gazette can recall. So her “defection” today to the “other” side, however temporary or issue-specific, could signal a political power shift of titanic proportions. True, the existing five-vote majority block is already a concern to the mayor. But adding another vote, for a total of six, is the Ravenstahl nightmare scenario as it takes six votes to override his veto.

(Wonder if Ravenstahl now plans to veto council's take-home car reduction legislation..... ??)

If the Pist-Gazette were forced to guess, we’d say Harris has not switched teams though we do believe she has cancelled her membership with Team Ravenstahl. Hopefully Harris has come to value the wisdom of standing by one’s own opinions, making one's own decisions formed by adherence to one’s own values and beliefs. Going out on our own ledge here and because Harris appears to be sane and honorable, we think this is exactly what she has decided to do.

And what of the vote on the second silly Motznik bill? The bill which would redirect a purported council slush fund? It came down exactly the same way with Harris being the sixth vote.

Tictoc, tictoc, tictoc. That's the sound of Ravenstahl's clock running out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Council Prez Doug Shields Asks For Your Help

** UPDATE FROM DOUG SHIELDS: Bill was voted down, 125 to 78. **

The Pist-Gazette is staunchly against any “feel-good” legislation by any governmental body on any topic. Enacting laws which cannot be enforced ….. or worse, enacting laws which, when enforced, do nothing to address the situation said laws were specifically drafted to address … an aggravating, weaselly practice.

Amendment A0617 to (House Bill) H.B. 1845 is NOT such a piece of weaselly legislation. Simply put, this bill addresses the issue of guns sold by straw men which get into the hands of criminals who should not have them.

The scheme occurs when someone without a record (straw man) legally (background checks done) buys guns from a bona-fide gun dealer. The straw man then turns around and illegally (no background checks, no license to sell) sells these guns to criminals who could not purchase the gun otherwise. If a crime is committed with one of these illegally sold guns, and the gun is traced back to the straw man, he simply claims he did not commit the crime and has no knowledge of the crime because the gun was “stolen”.

A0617 to H.B.1845 puts an end to this dangerous nonsense. It requires every gun owner to report stolen guns to the police within 3 days of the theft. Failure to report the theft will be a crime in and of itself. So, Mr. Straw Man’s choices will be drastically narrowed. He can either stop selling guns illegally, or he himself will start paying for the crimes committed with the guns he has illegally sold.

Pretty straight-forward and very common sense. Please read what Doug has to say and PLEASE contact the state representatives Doug lists below NOW. Time is short:

We need the blogging community’s help! The Council of the City of Pittsburgh believes mandatory reporting of lost or stolen handguns to the police is a common sense reform whose time has come in Pennsylvania.

Law enforcement and police across Pennsylvania strongly support a lost or stolen handgun reporting law as a key tool to help police crack down on straw buyers of illegal handguns.

The bill in question is an amendment to HB1845, and the amendment is sponsored by Rep. David Levdansky, D-Allegheny County. It simply, requires people who buy a handgun to report the handgun if lost or stolen to the police within three days of discovering the loss or theft. Violating this law brings penalties ranging from a summary offense for a first violation to a felony for repeat violators.

It will be voted on Monday,March 31, 2008 in the House.Opponents in the House, led by the NRA, are raising a host of procedural objections.

We need Allegheny County residents, to call their local state representatives and urge them to do the following when the House returns next week:
Vote YES on the Levdansky Amendment (A0617 to H.B. 1845) This amendment is the lost or stolen handgun reporting law at issue.

Phone calls to House members NOW can absolutely make a difference.

** Rep. Sean Ramaley, Leaning yes. D-16th, Allegheny/Beaver. 724-266-7774.

** Don Walko, D-20th. Undecided. PLEASE CALL. 412-321-5523

** Lisa Bennington, D-21st. Leaning yes. Call anyway. 412-361-2040.

** Joe Preston, D-24th. Yes. Call anyway.

** Joe Markosek, D-25th. Allegheny/Westmoreland. Undecided. "Interested but noncommittal." 412-856-8284.

** Tom Petrone, D-27th. Leaning yes. Give a quick call. 412-928-9514

** Frank Dermody, D-33rd. Leaning No. PLEASE CALL. 724-274-4770.

** Marc Gergely, D-35th. Undecided/leaning No. 412-754-3500.

** Harry Readshaw, D-36th. Undecided/Leaning No. PLEASE CALL 412-881-4208

** Bill Kortz, D-38th. Leaning No. "Opposes gun control." 412-466-1940.

** Dave Levdansky, D-39th. Yes. Rep. Levdansky is the prime sponsor of the Amendment. Call him and thank him for his leadership on this important issue. 412-384-2258

** Matt Smith, D-42nd. Undecided. 412-571-2169.

** Nick Kotik, D-45th. Leaning Yes. Please call. 412-264-4260.

** Jesse White, D-46th. Alleghny/Beaver/Washington. Undecided. 724-746-3677

** John Pallone, D-54th. Allghny/Armstrong/Westmoreland. Undecided. 724-339-1990

** Mike Turzai, R-28th. Undecided/Leaning No. PLEASE CALL 412-369-2230

** Randy Vulakovich, R-30th. Undecided. 412-487-6600

** John Maher, R-40th. Leaning Yes. CALL HIM. 412-831-8080

** Mark Mustio, R-44th. Undecided. 412-262-3780

Thank you,

Douglas Shields
City Council President, City of Pittsburgh

More “Not A” Legal Opinions From The City

Drawing: Majestic Star Casino and garage

Ooooooh …….. So close, yet …

On Friday, the City and Don Barden filed a legal brief stating that the proposed Majestic Star Casino’s garage is not a “structure”, but rather it is a “use”.

Dang! And here Ms. Pist thought they’d take her suggestion and claim the garage was not a garage, but instead a “bridge of cutting-edge design” which diverts traffic from one end of the casino property to the other.

In other casino news ..... State legislators want to change PA slots laws so as to remove our "welcome mat" for organized crime.

In other on-going, scandal-related administration news ….. We’ve had political potholes, political plowing, and now we have political parking.