Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gutter: Who wants to get held down?

The highly-encouraged daily reading of The Radical Middle has an excellent post today on the topic of the sanctity of marriage. The whole topic of gay marriage - or at least the frequent proposals to legally demonize it - has always stuck in my crawl, and TRM has one of those classic “let’s have fun and point out how stupid this is” posts, so I recommend you check it out.

Fortunately for me, that segues into a post for me to make, since I seem to be thinking about same-sex marriage and the issues surrounding it quite a bit lately.

In fact, after last week’s primary, I haven’t really had anything to say, or at least nothing really worthy of being spread on this blog. But like I said, same-sex marriage has a sticking power with me for whatever reason, so here I am putting up a post.

First off, I think most reasonable people can see through the ridiculousness of notions such as “defending marriage” or “protecting the sanctity of marriage.” With a conservative estimate of somewhere around 40% of marriages ending in divorce, it’s difficult to place much value in the sanctity of the sacrament.

To a certain extent, those who are truly interested in defending marriage or protecting its sanctity would probably be well-served by crafting laws against infidelity, poor money management, differing opinions on child-rearing, household cleaning tendencies, and careers that require long stays away from home, because all of these factors have contributed to the degrading of marriage as a sacrament.

Of course, we hear that marriage doesn’t need to be protected (need protecting?) from divorce; it needs to be protected from the vile filth of man laying down with man. And we know that’s bad news because it says so in the Bible.

But there are plenty of things that the Bible says are bad news, and they’re not all constitutionally prohibited. In fact, of the traditional Christian ten commandments, only three are prohibited by law (don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness). And of the other seven commandments, two of the prohibited acts - have no other gods, don’t make for yourself an idol - are actually protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

As far as I know, there aren’t any movements afoot to constitutionally prohibit working on the Sabbath or refusing to honor your mother and your father.

So why this issue? Why is same-sex marriage picked out and trumped as the worst threat to our nation? How does this always seem to end up on the tongues of grandstanders?

Well, I guess you could start with homophobia. There’s a lot of that in this country, and if you’re a politician looking for votes, you could do a lot worse than to play on the in-born (inbred?) fears of a largely-homophobic populace with the threat of a couple queers moving in next door and flaunting their gay-sex lifestyle under the grace of the law (not to mention the affront it would be to your own marriage, loveless and joyless as it may be).

But I think there’s more to it than just good old fashioned queer bashing. This is the question I’ve been tossing around the past few days, and the conclusion I keep coming to is this:

It’s oppression.

I mean, let’s face it: if you’re in power, who is left to kick around? You can’t go after the blacks anymore. And women were always good for some oppressing, but they’ve got the law behind them, too. So what’s a powerful person to do? The law is protecting all the traditional groups that suffer under the oppression of those in power.

Still got the gays. Always got the gays. And if you can’t physically abuse them, you can demonize them and demoralize them by the power of the law. Psychologically, you can continue to remind homosexuals that they are not on an even par by legally telling them that their love - and, by extension, their lives and their being - is not permissible.

So let’s call it what it is. It’s not a defense of marriage. It’s not about sanctity or sacrament. It’s not about the bond two people are trying to legally form, a bond that will no ill effect whatsoever on you or your life or your children, save for maybe contributing to a more tolerant and forgiving society.

It’s about oppression. It’s about those in power protecting and furthering their power through stomping on those below them.

“You can’t get married. Why? Because I said so. And by me controlling your life, I’m reaffirming and strengthening my own power.”

Because when you’re in power, you need to have somebody to hold down. And like I said, there’s nobody left but the gays.

Well, I guess there are always immigrants. But that’s just a given.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gutter: At least David Johnson cares

The cliché says that you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners. By the same token, you can judge a city - or town or region - by the way its local television stations handle news.

In that regard, Pittsburgh’s interest in the election of its next mayor could be described as secondary, at best.

Of course, this isn’t news for anyone who has watched this city live in inertia since the 1970’s - or before - and in situations like this, new evidence of apathy can have just as much impact as the original evidence of apathy.

Anyway, we knew the voter turnout would be low for Tuesday’s primary. But the local news coverage of the election was so unbelievably disinterested that you almost have a hard time blaming the body politick for its lack of civic involvement (which was reportedly at 21%).

We’ll start with the positive.

Channel 11 did what was supposed to be done: a live broadcast on PCNC starting at 8 PM when the polls closed with live look-ins on the Ravenstahl, Dowd, and Robinson election night parties. The broadcast wasn’t without its shortcomings - referring to District 2 candidate Georgia Blotzer as “Georgia Blouser” both in a graphic and from the mouth of David Johnson - but the mere existence of live coverage at least implied that the election was relevant.

Then there was the 11 o’clock news. The primetime-iest of primetime news broadcasts, the top dog of local news, the main course for relevant information. The 11 o’clock news has a time-honored tradition as the pulse of what’s happening each day in your city or town or region. So on the night of an absolutely essential election, what led the local news broadcasts?

Some kinky sex and a closet-pooper who lost his car.

KDKA led with the sordid tale of a student and teacher from Carrick who possibly had sex with each other. For WTAE and WPXI, the most important news of the day was the woeful story of Najeh Davenport, the former Steeler running back whose car was stolen and totaled, which reinforces the old adage:

“If it bleeds (black and gold) it leads”

Except in this case, it used to bleed black and gold.

Just to reiterate: this was a story about FORMER Steeler running back Najeh Davenport. And WTAE and WPXI led with it.

WTAE did assure us all that at 11:15 they’d have a special report on the day’s election, thus buying themselves a quarter-hour before they had to talk about the primary.

WPXI made up for leading with the Davenport story by following it with a long segment of election coverage, including more field reports from all three election night parties.

KDKA went from the teacher-student sex story to an update on repairs to those notorious steps in Greenfield that led to the rape of an 11-year old a few weeks ago, while WTAE segued from Davenport into a story about a dog getting tasered and killed.

From the Greenfield steps, KDKA went into something that included the graphic “Car vs. Motorcycle” - which I think was about an accident - and then a story about a car crash on Route 28. Still no election talk.

After that, KDKA caught up with the other two stations with a report on Najeh Davenport and his Impala before giving an update on the light pole that crushed a woman at a bus stop in East Liberty. Then, finally, at 11:07, KDKA let us in on the fact that there was an election, with a good block of coverage.

WTAE really bought themselves some time with the “special report at 11:15.” I guess the first 15 minutes or so of a broadcast are probably the most-watched minutes, so WTAE was smart enough not to waste any of it with silly election coverage. Instead, they hit on Davenport, the tasered dog, a young boy who wandered away from school, the Carrick student-teacher sex, James Harrison’s White House refusal, a weather report, a very special story about Ryan Clark (including a very special one-on-one with Sally Wiggin), a sports report, and a shameless pimping of a special Penguins playoff t-shirt (the shirt says “Stixburgh” with an image of Marc-Andre Fleury).

After all of that, WTAE went to commercial before coming back with its “special report on the election,” the best part of that report being Bob Mayo’s interview with Luke Ravenstahl, parts of which I’ve already posted about.

And through it all, WPXI just kept plugging away with election coverage, even dedicating time to races other than mayor and examining the Georgia Blotzer slate card issue. By contrast, KDKA let us know that we could find out about the other races by going to their website.

So I’ll give some credit to David Johnson, personal favorite Darieth Chisholm, and WPXI/PCNC. At least in terms of coverage minutes, they made it seem like they were interested in this election.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gutter: This guy...

Talk about being gracious in victory.

On Channel 2 after being declared the winner, re-elected Mayor Luke Ravenstahl touted his "positive campaign" and said (as transcribed by me):

"Patrick [Dowd] was very offensive to me. I hope he would offer an apology. We asked for it many times."

Ravenstahl then said that he looks forward to working with Councilman Dowd, but cautioned that "[Dowd] has some explaining to do."

Then on Channel 4 he said it again, talking about how his mother told him to not say anything if he had nothing nice to say.

"So that's what I did. Patrick crossed the line and I asked for an apology. He didn't offer it; hopefully in the very near future he will."

You deserve nothing. No apology. Nothing. Dowd pointed out truths about you and your administration. I can only hope that the new City Council makes your professional life difficult at every turn over the next four years.

Nothing is over. Nothing.

Gutter: Damnit

Luke wins.


Not that it's a big surprise. Just disappointing.

More tomorrow.

Peak: Go Pat go

Monday, May 18, 2009

Peak: Some questions on the eve of the primary

- Any other 6th or 9th warders out there looking forward to the trip to St. Mary’s Lyceum on Tuesday?

- Is it just me or does Tonya Payne have the biggest campaign ads of any candidate in the city?

- Upon seeing one of those omnipresent “Ravenstahl Getting It Done” signs, has anyone else had the urge to knock on that person’s door and ask just exactly what Ravenstahl has gotten done for them?

- Is it hard to not read too much into the fact that the Bakery Square site has two of those signs?

- And does anyone else see a certain “pandering to the lowest common denominator” in the Ravenstahl camp blatantly co-opting the whole “Git ‘R Done” subculture?

- Is it wrong if I vote for Anthony “Tony” Ceoffe because the Lawrenceville United newsletter makes for a nice bi-monthly toilet reading? (Okay, that’s probably not a good idea)

- Is it wrong if I vote for Susan Evashavik DiLucente just because those “I’m choosin’ Judge Susan” signs are stuck in my head?

- Are there any political leanings I should know about when weighing the Allegheny County Bar Association judicial recommendations?

- Do newspaper endorsements carry weight to anyone other than newspaper editors and campaign managers?

- Wouldn’t it be interesting if some of the current City Council members issued endorsements of their own in this primary?

- Would Carmen Robinson’s efforts have been better-spent in the District 6 city council race?

- Wouldn’t it be nice to get some sign of involvement, some sign that apathy has not completely taken over this city?

- And wouldn’t it be nice if the indication that apathy has not won comes in the form of a plurality for Patrick Dowd?

- Is a there a percentage of votes that gives Dowd - win or lose - some kind of moral victory?

- And if Dowd doesn’t win, does a strong showing give him any added political clout on council or in the city?

- Why didn’t this get more pub, particularly from the Dowd camp? (***Update below***)

- In the Post-Gazette’s Twenty Questions for the Would-Be Mayor feature on Sunday, how many of Luke Ravenstahl’s answers could have been summed up with the response: “the status quo is fine”?

- How many people in this city think the status quo is fine?

- Isn’t it obvious that certain notions - like transparency in government and accountability for city officials - are good things?

- As a matter of fact, can anyone give one good reason why Luke Ravenstahl should be re-elected?

- If I put a picture of me and a picture of Luke Ravenstahl next to each other, do you think I could convince people that the Mayor endorses this blog?

- And from there, how many steps will it take to get my name on a garbage can?

- At the very least, could I get invited to Ravenstahl’s Election Night Party at Hofbrauhaus in the South Side Works (since I can’t get a table there otherwise)?

***Update*** - Just got an e-mail from the Dowd people. They sent out a media advisory about the call, but apparently the local press didn't really bite on it. Here's the text of the e-mail that was sent to the media:

An interactive telephone town hall where voters will have an opportunity to ask Democratic Mayoral Candidate Patrick Dowd questions about his reform vision for Pittsburgh.

Patrick Dowd will bring cutting-edge technology to his grassroots campaign for reform, reaching out to tens of thousands of Pittsburghers in the decisive final days before Tuesday’s primary, something that has not been done before in a mayoral primary. “This campaign for reform is about giving Pittsburghers a voice.” Dowd said. “My campaign is grassroots – not astroturf – so I don’t have millions to spend on TV commercials. Instead I’m trying to find new ways to bring people together so we can talk about how to reform Pittsburgh, whether it's answering a voter's final question before she heads to the polls or talking to someone for the first time. Together, we can bring change.”

Personally, I think it's a pretty cool idea. We'll see if it helps tomorrow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Peak: Fair and balanced

While my blog has been largely dormant for the past two years - with only smatterings of activity, generally between May and July - I haven’t lost touch with Pittsburgh’s online community. The list of links on the right side of this page includes the blogs I read the most, and if you keep a regular diet of those sites, you’ll generally have some sense of what’s going on in Pittsburgh.

Anyway, if you spend any considerable amount of time on those blogs - and their comment threads - you’ll likely encounter The Pittsburgh Hoagie, aka Matt Hogue, a member of the Allegheny Democratic Committee. Mr. Hogue is a political blogger who also frequently posts on other blogs, and it doesn’t take long to see where his alliances fall. Mr. Hogue is a staunch party member and his full support lies with Luke Ravenstahl.

As such, it has become fairly expected to see Mr. Hogue show up on local blogs announcing his support for the current Mayor in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. The problem is, Mr. Hogue’s support is so unfailing, so determined, and so relentless that it comes across as a blindly and thoughtlessly towing the party line.

Now, I don’t know Mr. Hogue. I’ve never met him, never corresponded with him, and only once or twice posted a comment on his blog. So I don’t wish to speak for his study of the Mayor or his challengers, Patrick Dowd and Carmen Robinson, and I am only presenting the perception of Mr. Hogue’s comments and postings, not his actual line of thinking.

Anyway, as I was reading the local blogs one day - probably a comment from Mr. Hogue (aka Matt H) like the one on this post, which offers very little insight and screams of blind obedience - I started thinking about the recurring themes in Mr. Hogue’s posting. And it occurred to me that, if Mr. Hogue truly is thinking for himself and not just following the line of the party, then the best thing he could do would be to voice his own concerns about the current Mayor. By showing some objectivity, Mr. Hogue might sway some of the perceptions about him that exist in the so-called “Burghosphere” (if he were so inclined).

But then I realized that what’s good for the goose is, indeed, good for the gander. If Mr. Hogue can grant himself some credibility by showing some critical thinking about the Mayor, then so should I. Throughout the recent history of this blog, I have spoken against Luke Ravenstahl and in favor of Patrick Dowd and Carmen Robinson.

But the truly informed, truly objective voter understands that there are no absolutes: Dowd is obviously not an absolute positive, nor is Ravenstahl an absolute negative. He became Mayor in September of 2006; surely something good must have happened in the past 32 months, right?

So, in an effort to be as objective as possible - and to convince myself that I’m not just following the “Anyone But Ravenstahl” party line - I set out to find some positive things the Mayor has done for the city of Pittsburgh.

I figured the easiest way to accomplish this was to go to the Mayor’s home court. There is no purer form of self-serving rhetoric - and I say this in reference to all candidates for all elected office - than a campaign year website. Surely we’ll find some positives in there, and then I can feel good about myself when I go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for Patrick Dowd.

So let’s see; what can we find…

Okay, here we go:

During his three years in office, Mayor Ravenstahl has been "Getting it Done" for Pittsburghers. Clean and safe neighborhoods, new development, balanced budgets, diversity, technology, transparency and green are just a few of the ideas that come to mind to define the Ravenstahl agenda.
Ugh. This is not going to be easy.

Safe neighborhoods - Yeah, no. Last year’s homicide rate kind of screws that one up.

New developments - Yes, I suppose there have been some new developments. But with the near-daily emergence of new developer-slash-campaign contributors who end up getting benefits from city government - check the sixth paragraph in this piece for a recent example - (with a hat-tip to The Radical Middle, as well as a thanks for the shout-out) the new developments all seem to carry a little stink.

Balanced budgets - That seems to fall under the umbrella of “things he takes credit for but doesn’t really deserve to.”

Diversity - I don’t have any real numbers on this but I have to say that it’s hard to imagine this administration really being that diverse.

Technology - Sure I guess the Mayor has probably kept the computers on Grant Street up to date. Or something.

Transparency - You’re kidding, right? This administration wouldn’t have half the problems it’s got right now if there was any kind of transparency. This one falls under the “It wouldn’t be listed here if Dowd didn’t say it so damn much” category.

Green - Yeah, the city seems to be making some strides on the green front. I guess.

Okay, so that didn’t go so well. There have to be some things that he’s done well, but since that blurb in his bio didn’t help, I’ll have to come up with some on my own.

The Pittsburgh Promise - This thing seems to have a lot of detractors, and I can admit that it’s not a perfect system, but it’s a good start and the intentions are at least headed in the right direction. Ravenstahl didn’t come up with it and he wasn’t the one who noticed it working in Kalamazoo and he wasn’t the one who decided to bring it to Pittsburgh, but he helped the process along once it got started, and I’ll give him credit for that.

311 - I don’t know what other people’s experience has been with 311, but I’m okay with it. I like the concept, and the few times that I’ve called it, I’ve gotten results. Plus, I’ve noticed a lot of patches getting done on streets and alleys around me - including the one that was used in the famous Pokey Politics video (watch the second video on the page) - and I’m assuming that 311 calls were the source of the fixes.

The baseball field in Bloomfield - This one hits home since I live in Bloomfield and have lived near the baseball field for more than six years. The ballfield under the Bloomfield Bridge used to be a mess. It had a bad turf rug that was always bunched up in numerous places, and I can’t imagine anyone ever really wanted to play on it. Now the field is really, really nice. Grass, good dirt, big foul poles, a warm-up bullpen beyond the outfield; I mean, I’d say it’s almost state of the art. And Ravenstahl was behind it; I know this because there was a sign with his name on it for a year or two after it was finished.

(Sorry about the quality of photo; my cell phone's camera lens is pretty dusty)

So I did it. I came up with three good things the Mayor has done for Pittsburgh. That’s pretty good, right?

Now I can feel a proper sense of self-righteousness about voting for Dowd on Tuesday because I am an objective voter. Hooray!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Peak: A good reason to run

Photo: Post-Gazette

In the past few weeks of blogging about next week’s Democratic primary, I think I’ve been pretty up-front about my opinions regarding the three candidates for the party’s mayoral nomination: Luke Ravenstahl, Patrick Dowd, and Carmen Robinson.

Not surprisingly, I’m pretty firmly in Dowd’s camp for a number of reasons. But lately I’ve been thinking back to the first time I met the District 7 councilman. It was back in January at one of his Council-to-Go meetings, which provide a unique opportunity to interact with the councilman in a localized small-group setting.

The Council-to-Go I attended was in Polish Hill. I was living in Lawrenceville at the time, but I couldn’t find any info about a meeting in my neighborhood so I decided to crash the party. At the time, speculation was running rampant that Dowd would be announcing a candidacy for the Democratic mayoral nomination so I figured I’d head up to Polish Hill and see if he’d say anything about that.

Naturally the Council-to-Go meetings are more geared toward the voicing of local concerns, and the Polish Hill gathering was very much in that vein. But at one point in the evening, a resident somewhat off-handedly remarked "So I hear you're running for mayor." A quiet, almost uncomfortable chuckle came from the group, but Dowd didn’t shy away from the question.

“We’re talking about it,” he said. “It’s about frustration, and maybe that’s not a good reason to run.”

That really caught my attention. Was frustration a sound reason to seek public office? That was the question I asked myself from time to time over the next month until Dowd officially announced his candidacy.

And as the campaign went on, I kept thinking back to that night in Polish Hill. After attending the meeting I began writing a blog post that never made it online, but here’s part of what I wrote/thought:

Is frustration a good motivational tool?

I’m really not sure. I think that running out of frustration is somewhat different from running in the interest of change/progress, and even if the two overlap and intersect in a number of ways, there are still some distinctions that could affect the end results.
And I tossed these questions around throughout March and April. But in the past few weeks, as I’ve watched the three candidates debate and I’ve read their comments in the press and observed their actions, I’ve come to believe that not only is frustration a good motivational tool, it could be the most appropriate cause for running in this election.

Frustration is - or at least should be - a major part of next Tuesday’s primary. For progressive, reform-minded voters and candidates, frustration is the driving force behind everything that will happen at the polls next week. With each new item of indiscretion and each new thwarting of responsibility that comes to light, the danger of Luke Ravenstahl and his administration becomes more and more threatening.

But it’s not just the threat of Ravenstahl that creates the frustration; it’s the complete and utter lack of - and disregard for - accountability and leadership that has led this city into its current state. And because the Mayor and his administration refuse to accept responsibility or even answer the queries about their actions of the past three years, the city’s residents grow frustrated.

And that frustration is the bond that links us - all of us, regardless of socioeconomic status - to Patrick Dowd, he of the doctorate in European intellectual history.

I didn’t get this at first. But slowly, Dowd’s frustration has come more and more to the forefront. I remember during the WPXI debate (can’t find any video to post) when the topic of trash cans came up, Ravenstahl famously accused Dowd of being on “three sides of an issue,” attempting to cloud Dowd’s accusations by juxtaposing the purchase of $1,000 trash cans with Dowd’s request for trash cans in his district.

The Mayor’s “logic” - at least as he stated it - said that, since Dowd requested trash cans, then he couldn’t criticize the Mayor for the purchase of $1,000 trash cans in the South Side. Obviously the rub is that Dowd likely never intended for his requested trash cans to cost $1,000, but it almost feels silly to point out how ridiculous Ravenstahl’s claims were, so I’ll leave to it The Radical Middle who summed up the situation pretty well:

Mr. Dowd again attacked Mr. Ravenstahl for buying $250,000 worth of garbage cans, and the mayor again noted that the councilman's office had requested the cans before twice criticizing their price tag.

"Mr. Flip-flop over there," the mayor called Mr. Dowd. "That's pretty creative. I didn't know you could be on three sides of an issue."

The Mayor is not that stupid. No one could possibly be that stupid. But he could, of course, be that disingenuous.
Okay, I’ll go with disingenuous. That makes the point.

But what was most interesting to me was that, as Ravenstahl was spewing this disingenuousness (which is actually a word), you could feel Dowd’s blood boiling. Hell, my blood was boiling. And as Ravenstahl spoke - with confidence, I might add - the “three sides of an issue” nonsense, Dowd was heard off-camera uttering the sarcastic laugh of a man who is debating with someone who is relying on twists of logic that few would actually believe.

It was the kind of laugh that you emit when you’re trying to avoid saying the words that are surging up your throat and into your mouth. Sometimes when you feel like you might throw up, a few hearty spits can do the trick to bed it back down temporarily, and that was the kind of laugh that came from Dowd.

Anyone who has ever been in a discussion/argument/debate with someone who is using poor logic and ridiculous miscontructions (not a word) of reason knows what Dowd was experiencing at that moment.

It was frustration.

And to further the dicussion of frustration, we have this (courtesy of The Pittsburgh Comet):

About halfway through, Dowd starts getting fired up, and by the end, he’s as animated as we’ve seen him in this election.

And I think it’s fantastic. Dowd is allowing the frustration - his original reason for running and perhaps the purest reason for running - to become his dominant emotion. He’s letting it all out, asking us all why we are sitting by and allowing these improprieties and illicit acts and everything else that has happened under this Mayor’s watch. He’s fed up with it, he doesn’t want it to go on any longer, and he believes that Pittsburgh should be in better hands.

Are his hands the best to do the job? Maybe. He seems to have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done.

But best of all, he has looked at the current situation and he is frustrated by it. That’s where he and I and hopefully many others share common ground.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Peak: An old issue resolved

The first - read: only - big issue on this blog came two years ago with the sordid tale of the Parkway West Rock Thrower. With a vigilance and, dare I say, exuberance virtually unmatched in just about any other area of my life, I paid daily diligence to the story as Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, was identified and arrested. And after his arrest, the story gained even more intrigue - for me, at least - as various details came out and copycats emerged.

If you're bored, you can follow my documentation of the saga here.

Anyway, I bring this up because today news is out that Ramous, the terror of the Parkway West, has been sentenced for his antics:

A Carnegie man was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison this morning for throwing rocks at cars on the Parkway West over a two-year span.
That line pretty much sums it up; no new details came out of the sentencing, in which Ramous pleaded no contest to the 40 counts against him.

Justice, thy will is done.

Peak: Getting on board

Patrick Dowd was probably already the popular choice in the local online community. Now the local mainstream media is on board as well:

The Post-Gazette endorses Patrick Dowd for the Democratic nomination for mayor on May 19.

The editorial board starts off its approach to the primary the way most of us have:

By pointing out why you shouldn’t vote for Luke Ravenstahl.

The string of youthful missteps that marked Luke Ravenstahl's first months in office have evaporated and the mayor has matured in the job, but Pittsburgh still lacks a leader with a broad, deep vision for the city's future.

You don't lead by arguing that there is nothing wrong with city contracting practices, even if -- in the face of numerous examples of pay-to-play politics and an approaching election -- you eventually order a long-needed ban on most no-bid professional contracts.

You don't lead by announcing good intentions, as the mayor has done in backing city-county consolidation efforts, but then doing little to pressure legislators to support them.

And you don't lead by mixing politics with the provision of government services, as Mayor Ravenstahl did when he reopened a city police station in the West End, which didn't make sense given the zone's relatively low call volume.

With its shrinking population, impending contract negotiations with city unions and growing pension and debt problems, Pittsburgh doesn't have time to wait for Mr. Ravenstahl, 29, of Summer Hill, to gradually evolve toward more sound positions. The city needs a stronger, forward-looking mayor who can move Pittsburgh ahead now.

I can’t really disagree that the first conclusion you must reach in this primary is that Ravenstahl needs to be replaced (“needs replaced”?). And while the P-G goes on to point out a number of reasons why Dowd is a pretty good candidate to do the replacin’, I think that they hit on one of the biggest issues right off the bat:


In my admittedly nascent position as an observer of city government and politics, one of the main truths I’ve absorbed over the past two or three years is that possibly the biggest quality Pittsburgh needs in a mayor is leadership. Strong, willful leadership. While Ravenstahl is probably directly responsible for a fair portion of the nonsense and chicanery that has taken place and continues to take place around the city, a major part of the problem appears to be that there are plenty of people working throughout city government who have milked their positions for all their worth.

And it’s a lack of strong leadership that permits this kind of environment to fester and grow.

So, first and foremost, Pittsburgh needs strong leadership. A close second behind leadership in the city’s list of needs is accountability for that leadership. And to get the accountability, you need transparency in all city government acts.

Leadership. Accountability. Transparency.

Sounds like three Patrick Dowd talking points, doesn’t it?

If nothing else, the guy seems to get it, and I suppose that’s why the Post-Gazette - and me, and most of the local blogs I read - are on board with Dowd.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gutter: Sucks to be us

Okay, so you’re Major League Baseball. You’re hitting the second month of the 2009 season, and you’re going up against:

1 - One professional sports league that currently has its three best players going head-to-head in the playoffs

2 - Another professional sports league with its own two best players seemingly on track to run into each other in the championship series

3 - A third professional sports league that is in its offseason managing to maintain a position in the headlines thanks to one of the sport’s legends refusing to finally retire

That’s a lot of competition for the sports entertainment airtime. And what’s the best way for Major League Baseball to keep itself relevant?

I know: have one of the game’s best players become yet another name to fall with a positive result in a test for performance-enhancing drugs.

Let’s go with the Washington Post story.

The riveting, uplifting story of Manny Ramírez's transformation from cancerous malcontent in Boston to dreadlocked, beloved eccentric in Los Angeles was derailed yesterday by the news that the Dodgers' slugger has been suspended 50 games for violating baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
And while we’re at it, let’s get the Pirates’ take on the matter, courtesy of John Grupp at the Tribune-Review.

A snippet:

"Very shocked," Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth said. "It sucks for him."
I’m sure that, at least in part, McLouth was referring to the fact that Ramirez will lose about $7.65 million due to his 50-game suspension. But you know what?

Screw him, McLouth. You know who it sucks for? It sucks for us, the baseball fans in this country who still think - or hope or wish - that the game still mattered and carried some relevance in the modern-day NFL-crazy America.

But no matter how much we cling to baseball, time and again baseball screws us.

So Barry Bonds broke the home run record and he probably did most of it on steroids. That sucks but it’s okay because one day in the not-too-near future, Alex Rodriguez - in all of his purity and good looks and nice-guy-ness that couldn’t be diminished even by his struggles in New York and his affair with Madonna - would break Bonds’ record and baseball would once again have a home run king it could be proud of.

The issue of giving Bonds an asterisk would fade away when he was the No. 2 name on the list. As long as the No. 1 spot was held by someone we could trust, someone we knew was clean, someone who got there honest, everything would be okay.

Except A-Rod admits this spring that he used performance-enhancing drugs, and we the fans get screwed.

And when A-Rod goes down, we all come even closer to the realization that there is no one - no one - in baseball that you can be sure about. Everyone is suspect.

There was a time not too long ago when you could say with confidence and authority that Manny Ramirez was the best right-handed hitter in the game. And when you said that, you could feel good about yourself because, for all of Manny’s antics and ridiculousness, he was one hell of a good hitter and you were sure he was clean. No questions there.

Until now. Until Manny tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin (which, according to the graphic on ESPN, is “A women’s fertility drug that has also been taken by steroid users to restart their body’s natural testosterone production coming off a steroid cycle”). And now there’s no way anyone can - or should - believe that anything Manny ever did came from honest measures.

It doesn’t matter if Manny says he has “taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons” in that Washington Post article. No one cares. You had a banned substance in your system and you got caught. You’re a cheater and you screwed us. We, as fans, have the right to expect something approaching a fair competition, and by having that substance in your system, Manny, you screwed us.

So I’d like to return the favor and say “Screw you.”

But it’s not that easy. Because what Manny and A-Rod did to us this spring is effectively - and further - indict every single player in Major League Baseball.

LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke was on ESPN talking about how the Dodgers will get by with Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Casey Blake. But how am I supposed to know that those guys aren’t doing it, too? Before these two players, before these guys who were two of the best hitters in the league, before these players who you felt like you could count on to be clean, you could always keep the wool pulled over your eyes and believe that Major League Baseball was in the downturn of the Steroid Era and that juicers were the minority and not the near-standard that they were 10 years ago.

Now? Not so much.

Now you can look around the league at the best players in the game and question each and every one of them.

Albert Pujols (wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?)
Carlos Pena (he sure does hit a lot of home runs)
Miguel Cabrera (seems like a natural candidate)
Ryan Braun (he’s got surprising power
Evan Longoria (see above)
Adrian Gonzalez (he’s a power-hitter; that’s all you need to know)
Ian Kinsler (he’s slugging .642; that’s reason enough)
Jason Bay (at this point, why not?)

And that doesn’t even get into the pitchers. I’m sure you could throw a lot of accusations around about pitchers, particularly after Roger Clemens’ revelations last year.

As a matter of fact, the only people I’d bet on not using steroids are the Pirates, who are third-to-last in home runs so far. Then again, given the incompetence of that organization, they’re probably using performance-enhancing drugs and sucking at the same time.

So yeah, Nate McLouth, you might think that it sucks for Manny Ramirez, but the truth is, it sucks for us.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gutter: More on the over-wrought front

In the aftermath of the first televised debate, I wrote two weeks ago about how Patrick Dowd’s shot at the pay-to-play culture in Pittsburgh missed the mark slightly because it was somewhat overwrought/over-worded/over-spoken. I argued that Dowd’s claim - which I agree with - would have been more effective if issued in simpler terms.

It’s not dumbing down your position; it’s making it more effective.

Now we get this from the Dowd campaign:

So let’s look at that.

“Luke Ravenstahl is making headlines for the wrong reasons, and it’s turned into a national embarrassment.”

Seems like an okay start, even if we ignore the fact that when the words “National embarrassment” are on the screen, they’re backed up by an image of an article by Rich Lord in the Post-Gazette.

“First, Luke’s 1,000-dollar trash cans.

Visuals: “Ridicule nationwide;” a trash can with a $1,010 price tag; and a USA Today article with the headline “Pittsburgh mayor puts his name on 250 trash cans.”

“Then, his risky Wall Street-style bond deal that cost taxpayers millions and put our city in more financial peril.”

Since most people in the city don’t really understand what the bond deal is - myself included - I suppose a six-second mention (from :10 to :16) isn’t really going to change anyone’s opinion on the matter.

“Now, Luke’s done it again, embarrassing himself nationally by taking credit for tax cuts he actually voted against…twice.

Which is backed up by an AP release headlined “Pittsburgh mayor apologizes for misleading campaign ad in which he touted mandated tax cuts,” with Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun logos floating around.

“It’s time to end the waste and political games. It’s time for Patrick Dowd.”

And those are all good points. Dowd picked his biggest issues - incompetence, misuse of taxpayer funds, and a lack of accountability and transparency - and jammed them all into a 30-second ad.

And by the end of it, what is the general impression the viewing public is supposed to come away with? I guess it’s that Luke Raventsahl has embarrassed the city of Pittsburgh on a national scale, and that’s why the people should elect Patrick Dowd.

Because anyone outside the 412 area code really gives a damn about Pittsburgh. Seriously. I watched The Hills Monday night and all that L.C. could talk about was how she couldn’t get over the fact that Ravenstahl has been trumpeting the tax cuts that he actually voted against…twice.

Okay, that’s a bad example. But have Ravenstahl’s antics really caused that much of a stir nationally? Maybe he made some waves for being so young when he took office, and maybe the Tiger Woods thing got a little attention. But we’re not talking about Kwame Kilpatrick here. Hell, even the mayor of Braddock seems to have gotten more national press than Ravenstahl.

So while Ravenstahl is something of an embarrassment to all of us living in the city, I’m just not sure that that’s the best angle to take in a campaign ad. There are so many things you could use as ammo to fire at the Mayor, but somehow the embarrassment claim just seems to miss the mark.

But I think the presentation of this ad is just as much of a problem, if not more. As I alluded to earlier, there’s a lot of info jammed into the 30-second spot (like the :06 appropriation of the bond deal). Upon posting video of the ad, our friend The Pittsburgh Comet made some inquiries into the Dowd camp and generally got this reaction to the ad:

"Luke has done so much awful stuff over the past three years, it was impossible to fit it all in to a 30 second spot."

(The Comet goes into a discussion of other issues that could be touched upon, and that’s a worthwhile read, but I’m going in a different direction.)

The Dowd people are right: it is impossible to fit the Mayor’s three-years’ worth of indiscretions into a 30-secodn spot. So don’t even try. I know you want to talk about garbage cans and bond deals and the political appropriation of tax cuts, but understand the medium you’re working with. 30 seconds is a short amount of time, but the most effective commercials - in any realm, be it political or otherwise - aren’t the ones that attempt to load as much information as possible into the spot. Rather the effective commercial lands a simple, solid blow.

“Under Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh is for sale. Whether it’s illegal billboards, 1,000-dollar trash cans, or illicit sex clubs, the city of Pittsburgh has been open for business at the pleasure of the Mayor and his cronies for the past three years. So it’s up to you to decide who should be in charge of this city: the deep-pockets campaign contributors or the taxpayers, voters, and residents of Pittsburgh?”

Land a strong, solid right and get people thinking about the issue that you think is most important. And then close with something like:

“Because the city can’t afford any more Luke Ravenstahl.”

And boom goes the dynamite.

But instead, the Dowd campaign tried to get as much info and issues into one 30-second spot as possible. Just like when Dowd was asked in the first televised debate if the perception of a pay-to-play culture exists in the city of Pittsburgh and he responded:

“In this culture that we live in, given the administration we have, it’s easy to see that.”

When he could have just as easily hit with a hard “Yes, there are pay-to-play politics in this administration. There are too many dots to connect to feel otherwise.”

Dowd’s not pulling his punches in this campaign; in fact, I think he’s hit the Mayor with a lot of shots, assailing Ravenstahl’s record and integrity (and all with good cause). But the message needs to come through clearer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gutter: Juxtaposition as a humor device

The third and final debate was held earlier this week. Channel 11 WPXI/PCNC originally broadcast the debate Monday night and re-aired last night. More or less the debate looked a lot like the previous two, and near the end one of the candidates observed that they have been answering the same questions and arguing about the same topics. Not too much has changed throughout this trio of debates, but I guess that’s to be expected when you have an incumbent who is full of targets and a couple of challengers who are all too willing to take their shots.

Oh yeah, and a city that’s rife with corruption, financial peril, a shrinking population, and all kinds of other good times.

Naturally, the debate saw each candidate issue his or her respective go-to statement, whether it’s the need for transparency and accountability in city government (Patrick Dowd), the importance of understanding that Pittsburgh is a city full of distressed neighborhoods and distressed people who need individual and specific attention (Carmen Robinson), or simply the notion that things are a-okay (Luke Ravenstahl).

And, of course, Ravenstahl’s “things are good and we’ll keep getting them better” claim included the expected reference to Pittsburgh as America’s Most Livable City (Incidentally, if you Google “Most livable city” you come across the website Mostlivable.org, which bears no mention of Pittsburgh on its front page).

But when I heard Ravenstahl hit on the Most Livable claim during the re-broadcast last night, I got all excited and giddy inside because I remembered that I had just read an article about how this area has the highest rates of vacant properties in the state. “Most livable?” I scoffed. “That’s hard to claim when no one lives here!”

But alas, when I went back and re-read the article today, the high rates of vacancy are limited to Duquesne, Braddock, and Monessen, where more than 25% of the city’s houses are empty.

Unfortunately for my witty, biting, cynical observation, all the high vacancy areas are outside the city of Pittsburgh.

So there goes that one.

But the mention of the Most Livable claim does provide another jumping-off point from which to talk about Carmen Robinson and why she seems to “get it,” certainly more than the Mayor and perhaps even more than Patrick Dowd (or maybe at least more than Dowd has let on). Robinson has made her campaign about dedicating city resources to the tired, huddled masses. Robinson’s campaign is about going to the lowest depths of the city - the areas that could never be described as “Most Livable” by anyone - and starting the revitalization of Pittsburgh there.

On her campaign website, if you click on Politics 101, you get an in-depth discussion on gentrification. And at a time when Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Target are being/have been identified as keys to a rebirth of East Liberty, that seems like a pretty relevant topic.

From the opening statement of the first televised debate, Robinson has hit on the “tale of two cities” theme. Ravenstahl jumped right into the “Most Livable” claim and Robinson fired right back, citing the “two faces” of Pittsburgh, one being the Most Livable/City of Champions, and the other being a distressed city.

“I don’t think our Mayor is being honest with the people,” Robinson said. “We have to look at both sides of the coin.”

More than either of her competitors, Robinson seems to be looking at both sides of the coin.

I think I’ve said before that I hope Robinson ends up serving in city government in some capacity after this election cycle and that it’s a good thing that she has emerged as a relevant public figure. Part of me now wonders if perhaps she overshot the mark by running for mayor. Last I heard, there was an election in District 6, too; Robinson lives in the Hill District, and the incumbent city councilperson certainly has her share of detractors.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gutter: Mayor Big Mac

The mayoral candidates squared off again last night, and while that debate won't be available for public consumption until the hot primetime hour of 7 P.M. on Saturday night, the Post-Gazette got to witness the events in real-time live-action (I'm pretty sure the Trib was probably there, too, but for some reason the Trib's website is very unpredictable on my computer; today is one of those days when it's not working).

Anyway, the debate that happened last night but will only exist in theory until tomorrow night was also the debate that almost never happened, and Carmen Robinson used last night's debate as another opportunity to point out the fact that the Mayor tried to duck public forums as much as possible.

Carmen Robinson, 40, took the mayor to task for saying two weeks ago that he could not change his schedule to appear at last night's event. Although he eventually agreed to last night's taping.

"Once public opinion said 'that's really bad,' he called here and said I only had one day [that he could appear]," said Ms. Robinson.

"We're here. Let's not waste our time talking about the past," Mr. Ravenstahl responded to the Hill District attorney.

Yes, let's not waste our time talking about the past. If you're an incumbent who would rather run on trumped-up paper-thin claims of success that crumble at the first hint of scrutiny, if you're an incumbent whose track record is so spotty that infomercial salesmen hawking dishwasher detergent use it to represent the results of Brand X, if you're an incubment who would much rather campaign on phony promises about what you're going to do rather than stand accountable for what you've already done, then yes, I can see how you'd rather not talk about the past.

Mr. Ravenstahl leapt into the fray when he got there. His foes, he said, "continuously talk about me and make this campaign about Luke Ravenstahl and my administration.

"I have chosen to make it about you," he told the few dozen people in the Sunnyside Elementary School auditorium.

To which The Pittsburgh Comet succinctly replies:


Exactly. Challengers for elected seats are, first and foremost, charged with pointing out why the incumbent should not be re-elected. So yes, Mayor Ravenstahl, they are talking about you. Because that's what they are supposed to do. And you are supposed to run on the merits of your administration.

To put it another way: you're supposed to talk about the past.

But for some people, that's not exactly the most ideal subject.

Peak: Because it's good

And sometimes that's all the reason you need.

And because sometimes you need to be reminded that it's possible to be both dorky and soulful.