Archive for May, 2009

Chris Potter – Hitting for the (Election) Cycle

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Yesterday on the City Paper’s website, Chris Potter published “Hitting for the (Election) Cycle.”  Read on to hear what he has to say about reform, and this year’s primary election cycle in the City of Pittsburgh.

Hitting for the (Election) Cycle 
By: Chris Potter 

Most years, being a reform-minded Pittsburgher is like being a Pirates fan. Spring rolls around, and while a primary election may create excitement in other cities, we’ve come to expect the same old dreary, uncompetitive performance. By mid-May, you’re already telling yourself — again — that it’s a rebuilding year. Even though you can’t help noticing that nothing ever seems to get built.

On the surface, there’s little reason to think the May 19 primary will be much different. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl seems all but certain to win re-election. He faces two spirited challengers, Pittsburgh City Councilor Patrick Dowd and attorney Carmen Robinson. But they suffer from the challenger’s curse: Their best hope for getting attention lies in attacking their rival … who then accuses them of running a “negative campaign.”

There’s a bit more cause for optimism further down the ballot. Two of the three contested council seats — those of Tonya Payne and Theresa Smith — are held by party-endorsed incumbents who have plenty of reason to feel confident. But sometimes you win just by showing up for the fight.

Both Payne and Smith are facing challengers — Daniel Lavelle in Payne’s case, Rob Frank and Georgia Blotzer in Smith’s — who have allied themselves with the cause of political reform. And they’re doing so in working-class districts whose politicians, traditionally, haven’t offered that message to voters recently.

In fact, the only council incumbent not facing a challenge this May is … Bill Peduto, a leading critic of Ravenstahl and business as usual. You’d think the old-school pols could have found some warm body to run against their nemesis, but apparently not. So while reformers may get blown out of the water May 19, they appear to have a deeper talent pool.

What’s going on here may be something like the “50-state strategy” that Democrats used in the last presidential election. Instead of just campaigning to his base and a handful of key swing states, Barack Obama fought just about everywhere he could. Republicans, meanwhile, became increasingly focused on their traditional strongholds. Similarly here, the progressive message is being pitched not just to the folks in the East End, where it has always resonated, but to the West End and the South Hills as well.

It’s a winning strategy — even if all the challengers lose. Days before the primary, council passed a first-of-its kind overhaul of contracting procedures and campaign-finance rules. The landmark measure was proposed by Peduto, but is being supported, however reluctantly, by Ravenstahl and his council allies. It’s probably no coincidence that each is running for re-election against reformers.

What’s more, Ravenstahl has also put a bigger dent in the Democratic Party machinery than Peduto ever could.
In the sole open council race this May, District 4, the mayor has made waves by supporting a candidate who wasn’t endorsed by the Democratic Party: Anthony Coghill.

Ravenstahl’s motive is obvious: If you’re the mayor, you’d much rather have a guy on council who owes some of his success to you. Especially when the endorsed candidate, Patrick Reilly, is backed by Pete Wagner, whose family represents a power base that rivals the one Ravenstahl shares with County Executive Dan Onorato.

But whatever Ravenstahl’s motivation, he’s made it a little easier for the next unendorsed candidate to get a second look. And the turmoil of the Reilly/Coghill match-up could even help deliver District 4 this year to Natalia Rudiak, who’s denounced party shenanigans from the outset … and who won’t owe anybody anything if she’s elected.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling for a Dewey-beats-Truman headline here. Or even Pirates-beat-Brewers. If Ravenstahl wins, he’ll have four whole years before facing another election. And progressives have a knack for cheating themselves out of victories. In 2007, three reform-minded candidates actually got elected to council: Dowd, Bruce Kraus and Ricky Burgess. Hopes that the newcomers would join to form a progressive coalition have, well … not panned out. The relationship between Dowd and Peduto is especially fractious.

But look on the bright side. No matter what happens this May, Ravenstahl will almost certainly face an independent challenger — most likely Dok Harris, the son of Steelers great Franco — in November. Harris may not have a prayer either. But for a Pittsburgh reformer, like a Pirates fan, the chance to go to extra innings can be a victory in itself.

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The Pittsburgh Post Gazette Weighs in on the Reform

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Today the Pittsburgh Post Gazette published an editorial on the passage of Councilman Bill Peduto’s campaign finance reform legislation last Tuesday. Read on to see what they had to say about the recent reform in Pittsburgh.

Reform season: Nothing encourages change like an election
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The primary election is seven days away but some results already are in and citizens are the winners.

In a recent and remarkable turnabout, City Council enacted and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl intends to sign far-reaching new policies that should go a long way to improve accountability and transparency in city government business.

Give credit to Councilman Bill Peduto for recognizing that, with the mayor and two council members facing opponents on the May 19 ballot and voters citywide paying attention, this was the time to push.

He ran with measures that limit campaign contributions, require registration and reporting by lobbyists who work on issues before city government, and create a searchable online database of campaign contributions and city contracts. In addition, he proposed a measure that gave the force of law to a written policy issued last month by Mr. Ravenstahl that bans most no-bid professional city contracts.

Council passed them all unanimously last Wednesday, and Mr. Peduto said none of the measures would have been enacted if elected officials weren’t facing the voters this month.

Yes, the city would have been better off if these sound measures had become law long before this, but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. The key now becomes guaranteeing compliance and enforcement against violators.

And Mr. Peduto is ready with more items for a to-do list, including: eliminating instances of politicians emblazoning their names on public property, a reference to new trash cans in city business districts that bear the name of the mayor; barring officials from sending out city-paid mailings close to election time; and requiring subsidized developers to minimize their impact on neighbors and the environment.

Let’s hope the urgency for improving city government and eliminating practices that suggest that what matters is know-who, not know-how, won’t dissipate the morning after the election.

First published on May 12, 2009 at 12:00 am

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The Reformation Comes to Pittsburgh

Friday, May 8th, 2009

On Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh City Council took the largest step against pay-to-play politics in the City of Pittsburgh since the adoption of the Home Rule Charter.

City Council voted to pass all five of Councilman Bill Peduto’s reform bills, and forever changed the system of campaign finance, and the way that contracts are awarded in our city.

This package of reform bills will:

- Cap contributions by individuals at $2,000 for Mayoral and City Controller Races, and $1,000 for City Council races.
- Mandate the creation of an online, searchable database of all campaign contributions and city contracts.
- Ban all no-bid contracts over $30,000.
- Create the Lobbyist Disclosure Act, which would require all lobbyists to register annually with the city.
- Create the Lobbyist Registration Act, which would require all contract bidders to disclose any payments to lobbyists and consultants.
- Strengthen the city’s ethics code to greatly limit gifts to government officials.

This reform was passed in City Council on Tuesday thanks to all of YOU that took the time to speak out for reform. Thank you to everyone who contacted City Council and the Mayor, and made your voices heard- we could not have done it without you!

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Welcome to Reform Pittsburgh Now

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Our site has launched! Start by taking a look at our Theses and our Report Card on Pittsburgh City Council, which will be filled out on Tuesday May 5.

Check back regularly for updates!

Pittsburgh skyline

Posted in Attacking Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, Breaking the Cycle of Pay-to-Play Politics, Creating a Firewall Between Politics and Government, Eliminating Political Walking Around Money, Ending No-Bid Contracts, Hiring Based on Merit, Opening Government's Books, Reforming the Investment of Public Dollars, Strengthening the Ethics Code, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »