Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Act 47 and n'at

Char had a post about how Doug Shields is joining the movement to get us out from under Act 47 status. Which is interesting because it dovetails well with apost on 414 Grant Street about what the Act 47 legislation and the ICA actually do. Just to rehash building’s post a bit, Act 47 status changes the nature of binding arbitration with the police and fire unions, requiring the arbitrator to take the city’s financial status into consideration (where (s)he doesn’t without Act 47). Building describes ICA as the legislature’s eyes on the city’s finances. Now Jim Ferlo has apparently lobbied to have the ICA board removed, but our city officials such as the Mayor and now the Council President have asked to have Act 47 status rescinded. With Act 47 gone, the city would lose control over certain taxes like the parking tax, but I suppose it could just double the earned income tax or something. I tried to raise the alarm about the ICA, that it had signed off on the Mayor’s budget with its projected deficits out four years. I think it might be of benefit to the city if the ICA team went away, right now they seem to exist to encourage the Mayor to take the city down the wrong path. And if you look at Jane Orie's treatment of the Mayor when he was in Harrisburg to discuss the Parking Tax issue, you see she is only interested in controlling, if not throttling, Pittsburgh. But Act 47 status still seems to be a good thing right now. It’s like that metal bar the little cars ride at that Turnpike ride at Kennywood. We can’t stray too far off the road as long as we are in Act 47 status.

I think I might rehash the election just a bit more (Schultz, look away!). I saw the end of “Twelve Angry Men” the other day, one of my 10 or so favorite movies. I think that I, and maybe some of the other nearly 24,000 that voted for DeSantis, might have hoped the election would go something like that movie. The scenario starts with the primary, where Luke was the only choice on the democratic side, but that’s ok because he is the anointed successor to Bob O’Connor and the democrat is always the right choice for Pittsburgh, right? But maybe a few people would meet and talk to the republican, and he would talk about some ideas for dealing with the city’s fiscal problems, not ideas you would want to contemplate in normal times, but these are not normal times. And those people would get out and talk to others. And the republican would clearly spell out his ideas in the debates and even more people would wonder and think, does the democrat have plans like these? You know how the movie goes, the prosecution’s case is thrown into doubt because of quirks the witnesses had. Not dis-proven, just shaken to the point of a reasonable doubt. So too, if people had looked at the ideas Mark DeSantis presented, and then compared them to the vacuum that is Luke Ravenstahl, I think they might have been persuaded that trying something is better than doing nothing when the city is in bad shape.

As it turned out, voters had to work too hard to find out Desantis’ ideas. His sound bites on the TV news (and there were a lot of them) were inevitably about the Mayor’s latest ethical mistake, not DeSantis' policies. Policies did appear on his website, outlines of full blown ideas, but they would be replaced by new press releases and essentially disappear. And this is all besides DeSantis' only average debate performances and his late start to the campaign.

It might,... it should have been like “Twelve Angry Men”. Except that elections aren’t won by the side with the better policies. Read The Political Brain by Drew Westen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trying to move on ...

I was going to post again about the election, but honestly there’s little point. I recommend the book “The Political Brain” by Drew Westen. If you read it, you may see where some of my posts are coming from.

Early Returns reported way back on November 8th about a possible change in the Mayor’s ride. They talked about how the Mayor’s black Impala had some dents and in fact had been involved in a fender-bender that had bent the hood a couple of days before the election (as first reported on the Burgh Report). ER was at pains to stress the Mayor was not even in the car when it had its accident, for what it is worth. But now there is a Burgundy Ford Explorer that seems to have taken the Impala's place. ER could not confirm that it is assigned to the Mayor, but it was in his parking space. Back in October I was trying to put a positive face on the Homeland Security Tahoe scandal and suggested the Mayor request a Ford Escape hybrid. It would have set such a good example for the city, and in fact could have been ordered as the first in a vehicle fleet. Instead … well, possibly the Explorer is a temporary vehicle while the fate of the Impala is decided. Or at worst, maybe the Explorer could be exchanged for a hybrid Escape.

There have been a few blog posts about the Allegheny Conference, mainly reacting to a negative Trib article about them. I had taken a look at the Allegheny Conference website through somebody's link about a week ago and found everything had a copyright date of 2006, with no reports newer than 2005. Well, I looked just now and all of a sudden everything is 2007. Except that when I hit the news headline archive link, it goes … no where. Well, apart from that, what a difference an annual meeting makes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What I did the day after ...

I’ve been standing back from blogging some after the election (obviously). I had a sister-in-law in last weekend and a different sister-in-law in before that (Janet, who comments on the last debate I mentioned).

I did something relatively obnoxious the day after the election, which I suspect was not caught by my two or three regular readers (not counting the scores of undergrads looking for easy information on “Cognitive Dissonance” who hit here often). Early Returns, the PG’s online blog/gossip pages, had linked to some blogs after the elections, to take the temperature of the Burghosphere (or, as I like to put it, the Burghospree) regarding the election. I checked out the listings and saw one blog I didn’t recognize, with a decidedly pro-Luke type message. Now, that should of set off alarum bells in my head, or at least I should have let well enough alone since the election was (and is) over. But I went over to ”Say Whaaat”, a blog written by a young woman named “KT” who happens to work in HR somewhere, and is, for intents and purposes, apparently a perfectly nice person. She also happened to vote for Luke. In fairness, she wrote a post in July asking her readers who they thought she should vote for. Of course, in July Mark DeSantis had not started his campaign, would not start it until early September, would not release his fiscal plans for a couple of weeks after that, the bare minimum of detail about the Mayor’s 5 year fiscal projection would not be made public for a couple of weeks after that (with the projected deficits), etc etc. As far as I know, my blog might have been the only one to carp on the projected deficits out four years and beyond, and Bob Mayo is the only reporter who asked about it in a debate (a question the Mayor obfuscated, talking about how the ICA had approved his budget). Of course, the issue did get a paragraph or two in one story in the PG. The point being that KT would have had to have been particularly diligent to even catch any of that. Anyway, if you use the above link you will see I responded to KT’s post with a long comment, with a couple of admitted snarky bits in there. Her response to my comment was disappointing but hardly surprising; she ignored the long boring bits and snarked right back at my snarky comments. I did post back basically apologizing (after all, I was a guest on her blog), and she did much the same, along with a comment about agreeing to disagree, politics being what it is. By the way, in fairness to me, I didn’t expect Early Returns to link to such a non-political blog.

The day after the election Morton Coleman said “The campaign, which featured discussion of topics as divergent as ethics rules and pension funding, "was an educational process," Mr. Coleman said. "I don't think we've had that in a long time in a November mayoral campaign."”. That comment actually raises questions. One question is whether that education should have directed voters to one choice or another, and whether it did. But a more important question (to me) is how effective that education was, other than for people like Dr Coleman, in academia. KT’s comments lead me to believe that she really wasn’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of what the two candidates stood for.

Now, in my opinion, the Mayor did very little to define his specific plans for the future, choosing mostly to run on his one year record. But in a city where democrats outnumber republicans five to one and the democrat is the incumbent, he really didn’t need to do more. It was up to the challenger to make specific proposals and then hammer the incumbent to respond to the (challenger’s) proposals. In fairness, DeSantis did some of that, but obviously not five to one’s worth. For example, KT said she viewed the DeSantis website, yet she was not impressed. Perhaps that was because the main menu links took vistors to paragraphs of catch phrases, while the actual pages with content had to be chased through a news releases link. The main set of fiscal proposals, although still available, eventually was not directly accessible on the website.

Much (or at least some) has been made of Squirrel Hill and Shadyside’s turn out for DeSantis. These neighborhoods were/are described as more affluent, and thus (some say) more willing to vote republican. There is another feature of these neighborhoods, though; their proximity to Pitt and CMU. I think the educational nature of this election was successful to the extent that neighborhoods where people with advanced degrees are more likely to live (to be close to work) turned out for the challenger. But the DeSantis campaign failed to talk to the rest of the city. That is something candidates will have to look at in 2009, how to talk issues and facts in such a way that Squirrel Hill understands, but also so does Brookline.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Join the excitiing field of security work ...

The Downtown Partnership has an update to their program to take us into the future of downtown security:
“Safety Ambassadors
Seven days a week, Safety Ambassadors walk and ride bikes throughout the Golden Triangle, on the lookout for problems or people needing assistance. They are trained to deal with panhandlers, homeless individuals, and minor medical problems, as well as to provide directions and information about Downtown and nearby attractions. Starting Monday, November 12, their new uniform will be a vibrant red, making them even easier to spot on a busy street. ”
Vibrant Red. Cool. As long as they don’t end up like this fellow.

H/T to Peeet Girl

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Well, I've been warned ...

Well, I’ve been warned to “quit over analyzing”. Apparently I don’t understand the bottom line.

Naw, I want to say a little more. Bram had a youtube video from the movie “300” on the Comet in honor of Dr DeSantis. I think that is a bit much. Mark DeSantis’ campaign might have worked better at the state or maybe the federal congressional level. DeSantis made a point of emphasizing issues and policies over personality, which plays ok if you are addressing a whole state or at least a larger congressional district. DeSantis did occasionally, perhaps inadvertently, go negative, such as when he talked a couple of times about the Mayor’s lack of humility, and when he called the Mayor’s attack flyers “sad” and what you do when you have nothing left to talk about.

But mostly DeSantis talked relentlessly about the abstract issues, in proposals and in the debates. He certainly had some original ideas and interesting proposals. Mostly they were abstract, though, with no substance for voters to hang on to. No folksy annecdotes to help the message go down easier. The Mayor was equally abstract and vague, but when there is a tie in a political debate, the incumbent generally keeps the votes he started with. DeSantis even acknowledges the importance he placed on the “issues” in this passage from the end of his concession speech:

“This wasn’t about politics.

This was about policy. This was about progress. This was about people. And now, finally, it’s about the promise of a new and better Pittsburgh.

We love this city. And we’re going to continue to believe in it. Just as we’ll continue to believe in the power of taking a chance, in the possibilities of change, and in the always bold and noble purpose of public service. We’re going to continue this work. We’re going to redouble our efforts. And we’re not going to stop until Pittsburgh is once more the best and most prosperous city in America.”

This would have been ok if Mark had been trying to become City Manager or something. But a Mayoral race is about politics, and popularity. Especially in this race, where a republican is trying to win over a bunch of democrats, and scare a bunch of democrats away from the incumbent. If you had violated your principles just to win, we would have forgiven you, offered you absolution. Because the thing is, in politics the principled guy loses (see Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, John McCain et al).

Split the difference ...

Well, that would be that. The conventional wisdom held that the Mayor would have cruised to victory at least 70/30, DeSantis’s supporters (including me) were hoping for no more than 60/40, preferably 55/45. So we ended up with 64/35, with 1% of the perennial “Mickey Mouse” write-ins. Splitin' the difference. Yep, I am ignoring the socialist and the libertarian, who between them got fifteen hundred votes. Damn election stealer’s. No, "stealer’s". It’s not Monday night.

Total city votes cast about 67,000. I’m not sure what that means for the city, percentage-turnout-wise, but county wide turnout was at 28%.

A competent Mayor would have gotten that 70/30, maybe 75/25 like democrats of the past have gotten. Actually, Joe Weinroth, with his lack of campaigning, got 27% of the vote against the supposedly wildly popular Bob O’Connor. That was the best showing by a republican in many elections, FWIW. Actually, now Mark DeSantis' is the the best showing by a republican in many an election, going from five to one to slightly less than two to one.

Still, a competent challenger might have won against this Mayor. And I don’t want to take away from Mark DeSantis with that statement, he is passionate and intelligent, but he was a first-time campaigner, and I wonder if he knows why he lost ( … besides the five-to-one registration thingie …).

George W should have lost against Al Gore in 2000, and he did, actually. But the reason he got close enough for the Supremes to toss it to him is that he could hide his true tax-cutting , government-hobbling self in a folksy exterior. The suggestion I had made to Mark was to use personal-type anecdotes in the debates. By personal type, I mean something like Joe Police-man has been on the force for twenty years and is looking to retire. He’s looking forward to taking his grandkids to Sandcastle and traveling with his wife. Except that his pension has been cut in half, so he is going to have to look for work, in this city. He can’t afford to move out of the city, but his kids couldn’t afford to stay, because they couldn’t find good paying jobs here. So Joe and wife will be traveling, on the bus, to see his grandkids. If he can get time off from the McDonald’s where he works. If he can't, maybe the grandkids can visit and have half off Happy Meals (tm). – kind of fing. Correctly done (for example, shorter), it might have made a difference. But that’s obviously not on the issues, per se, and I think Mark wanted to present the issues and let voters make up their own minds.

Would a different style in the debates have been worth the whole 15% Mark needed to make up? Probably not, he probably also needed to hammer on the Mayor’s problems by presenting negative ads. Bill Peduto’s prediction that anyone going negative against the Mayor in spring would suffer more might well not have held true in the fall, after Tiger-gate, Golf/domestic abuse-gate, Ethics-board-gate, Tail-gate and I can’t even remember which all else (not counting the earlier Heinz-gate-gate, McNeilly-gate, BurkleNY-gate and the off-duty police pay issue).

In other words, Mark needed to run a mature campaign with professionals. He was Robert Redford in "The Candidate" (even if he does look more like Peter Boyle), but he didn’t have Peter Boyle, he had ..., well ..., Jim Roddy (and Mark didn't win where Bobby Redford did). I don’t know if Mark listened to Jim, or what Jim said. Jim may well have been off raising the half million for Mark's campaign, and may not have had time to talk to Mark. Mark also needed to run a five month campaign instead of a two month campaign. Maybe with five months his messages about the issues could have sunk in, but with two months he needed to get down into the dirt. Instead Mark went down with his head held high, but the major point is 65-35. Sorry Mark. The burghospree is rough sometimes. And Pittsburgh is one for two on PhD's in government.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I want to continue “refining” my case for Mark DeSantis over Luke Ravenstahl, though in fact what I want to talk about now may not put him in the light his supporters want to put him in.

Back on Wednesday I wrote that I didn’t want this to be an ABL (Anyone But Luke) race. Part of the reason that I didn’t want that is because of the way those races tend to go. If people think more about why they dislike a candidate than why the like the opponent, they seem to tend to invest the opponent with characteristics they favor. So I have read, here and there, about how Dr DeDantis is a progressive.

To be honest, I’m not sure what a progressive is. I think I have a pretty good handle on populists, and I used to think I knew what a conservative is, until the conservatives in this presidential administration (and Neocons) spent money like crazy (or like Keynesians), and invaded two countries. But I’m kind of stymied on what a progressive is. Is it a populist who ignores what the people say, but tries to help them anyway?

I know Bill Peduto is supposed to be a progressive, as is Michael Lamb. I don’t know much about either man except that Peduto is supposed to be the smart guy on council. Actually, Peduto might be trying to reposition himself as council’s elder statesman, now that Dowd is headed toward council. In any event, I don’t know about any specific piece of legislation Peduto produced, although I think I am supposed to be able to find out now. So at the moment, I am not sure what a Pittsburgh Progressive is supposed to be, although I can tell you, I don’t think Mark DeSantis is that guy.

I mean, in some sense, yeah. I don’t know if I credit the charge that the Mayor is philosophically or religiously opposed to contraception, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. But regardless the Mayor’s public position is to be opposed to Gay Marriage, Civil Unions and to be Pro-Life. This puts DeSantis well to the left of the Mayor on these issues.

These guys are staking out nonsensical differences between them that in fact should not matter. As I have been saying, the residency requirement gets decided by state law, and while the support or opposition of a Mayor may have some impact on the legislature, the state still can, really, do what it wants. But I believe each candidate thinks they get something out of maintaining the illusion that their respective positions on residency makes a difference.

My feeling is that the really important differences are in their views on economic policy. In this area we don’t have as much as I would like to go on, really only speeches from the Mayor and an outline of a policy from Dr DeSantis. But that outline is, to my way of thinking, very instructive.

I think that a DeSantis administration would be a time of pain for the city. A cornerstone of his policy is a hiring freeze, and letting the positions of people who retire or leave stay open. Now, he also says he wants to put more police on the street by pulling them from behind desk duty. Apparently he intends to replace those uniformed police with civilian hires, so this hiring freeze isn’t absolute. But overall apparently we could expect to see city services decline, unless we get a bunch of retirees to volunteer to cover some services (until they die).

The combination of county and city services in Parks, Information Technology, Purchasing (if that hasn’t already been fully done), Law, Maintenance and Tax Collection as proposed by DeSantis is an intriguing idea. Besides eliminating either a city or county manager (except maybe in the Law Department), there are probably some economies of scale, where maybe two people can do the work previously done by three. Maybe. Certainly worth looking into. Because both city and county are currently hurting for money.

On the other hand, DeSantis has made it clear he would like to create a friendlier atmosphere for new startup small businesses, as well as for minority owned small businesses and businesses that can supply the city and county. The Mayor and the challenger talk about streamlining the process by which business permits come into and move through city hall. Of course, you can ask why the Mayor hasn’t done this already, since he is in office now (I believe he had claimed to have do it already, but now he talks bout doing it in the future).

The picture of DeSantis emerges, to me, not of a progressive but of an economic pragmatist. That’s definitely not the same thing, progressives look for ways to better serve voters and other citizens, while someone like Dr DeSants looks for ways to save money while keeping the current level of service. I don’t think DeSantis would oppose the idea of doing more with less, just that on a practical level usually the most you can expect is doing the same with less until someone goes on vacation.

All those bloggers and newspaper columnists and people interviewed in the paper who project their hopes and labels onto DeSantis need to stop and take another look. If, by some miracle of chance DeSantis does win, he may surprise some of his East End supporters. I’m here today to say, take another look.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

continuing, and ending, a short lived tradition ...

Sooooo, continuing … and ending … my short lived tradition of posting after a debate … I looked around the Burghospree just a bit and saw some comments and at least one post, FWIW.

I think you might be able to say that DeSantis carried this one. He finally hit a stride, and got comfortable enough in his own skin. He lost the catholic vote, of course, except maybe not. He said he was pro-choice and not opposed to gay unions (I think they said) and why not. How many catholic’s are in fact more tolerant than their church, because they have to live in the real world? These things happen anyway, and for the Mayor to oppose them is to make women and gays fear persecution. Which, interestingly, was Mark DeSantis’ gaff, talking about the broken windows policy of policing, he happened to say something about going after small crimes and persecuting them, when he meant prosecuting them. I felt a little like I was in a Dostoevsky novel, with D chasing down R.

Anyway, I think DeSantis really hit his stride early, talking about what he would do to encourage minority business ownership. It got his brain there and there he stayed, talking about the need for Pittsburgh to have new businesses and thus new jobs. Practically every answer he gave revolved around the business theme in some way, to the point where he stopped himself at one point and said something like look, government doesn’t start businesses, but then indicated how government can remove obstacles. My mom called right after the debate and pronounced DeSantis the winner, and I am inclined to agree.

Of course, what is interesting is what is not said. I still don’t believe the Mayor can give a waiver for residency to city employees, I still believe it is a state thing. But both candidates believe it is in their interest’s to act as though the do have some power over the residency requirement. Nothing was said about ethics, that I heard anyway. The question Bob Mayo asked first, in the first debate (http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/politics/14462281/detail.html), about the deficits in year’s four and five of the Mayor’s five year plan, almost totally ducked by the Mayor and never asked again, damnit. Ethics did not come up at all tonight, which must have been a relief to the Mayor, and maybe DeSantis as well.

There was one question tonight, and I not sure which, in which Ravenstahl did not answer the question at all, and Stacy Smith looked a little startled. I think it started when the Mayor was talking about how DeSantis says he wants to be able to hire from outside the city as we as from inside, and how that was a slap in the face to city resident potential employees. DeSantis countered by commenting on how the Mayor said he conducted a “national” search when he asked his directors to resign. I think that was when Stacy Smith asked “What about it, Mr. Ravenstahl?” and Luke did a big non-sequitor. I’ll have to look again when QED fulfills its promise and has the debate on their website.

So, please, think hard about your vote on Tuesday.