Saturday, December 16, 2006

Even More Taxpayer-Financed Campaigning

Yesterday's mail contained a very interesting delivery. As a city resident, this is the time of year when we usually await – but do not often receive – our trash pickup and recycling calendars from the city government. These multi-colored calendars tell us when we should expect our regular trash pickup, when to set out the recycling, and when the city will be collecting bulky items. While they cover an entire calendar year, the city has often failed to get them sent until late January or early February.

In the past, these calendars haven't exactly been works of art. They've just been your basic, 12-month calendar with the collection days highlighted in various colors. A sample calendar for the current year can be found here, at least until the city decides to take it down at the end of the year. As you can see, they are pretty basic in graphical style, but they were more than adequate to get the job done.

So yesteday, we received a new garbage-collection mailing from the city. Not the actual calendar, but an oversized postcard. In fact, this thing is seriously oversized at 11 full inches wide and 4 inches tall. On one side, highlighed in big bold letters on a red background, it screams "New GARBAGE collection day". On the other side, with the same highlighting, it screams "Your GARBAGE COLLECTION DAY may have CHANGED". Clearly, with it's unusual size, bright red highlighting, and big bold ALL CAP lettering, this is a city mailing that one should pay close attention to.

Of course, it also contains one other thing on both sides of the card. You might have already guessed what appears there:

By the way, if you look very carefully at the image, you can see that our mayor has his tumbs stuck down into the waistband of his pants. Kinda makes you wonder where he puts them when he isn't being photgraphed, doesn't it? Note to self; pack hand sanitizer when attending any Ravenstahl campaign events, to be used post-handshake.

In addition to the image itself, the front of the postcard also lists "LUKE RAVENSTAHL/MAYOR" in big bold letters on a bright purple background. This extra notice must be there just in case we had forgotten who he is, or hadn't noticed the black-on-gold notice within either of the two "REDD UP" graphics at the tops of both sides of the card. The biggest message being sent here, in case you missed it, is that the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh is Luke Ravenstahl. That's LUKE RAVENSTAHL, everybody, king of the ALL CAPS TYPEFACE!

Oh, but the really interesting thing about this mailing is that, at least here in my neighborhood, our garbage collection day did not change. Despite the boldfaced warnings that we really needed to pay close attention, garbage collection will still be on Wednesdays next year, just like it has been for the last two years. So the only relevant announcement for us is that city will be moving from a once-per-month pickup of bulky items to picking up a smaller number of bulk items every single week. That's nice to know, but they could have just told us the same thing when they get around to sending us our regular calendars in a few months.

Anyone want to bet that these caledars, when they finally arrive, also feature the Ravenstahl "REDD UP" graphic, so that his image will be magnetically afixed to every refrigerator in the city for the entire year? That would be, of course, the entire election year.

There probably are people in other parts of the city who will see their regular garbage collection day change at the first of the year. These people definitely need to be told what their new day will be be. To handle this notification, the city could have sent a regular-sized postcard to only those homes in the affected areas. That would have saved a bundle on printing and postage costs. It also would have been a far more sensible and efficient method to distribute this news to the people who were affected by these changes.

But it clearly would not have been the most sensible and efficient method to distribute campaign literature less than two weeks after the Mayor announced his candidacy. And quite obviously, that's precisely what these mailings were intended to be. Taxpayer-financed pictures of Master Ravenstahl are popping up everywhere you look, and at least some of us are wondering about the political motivations that are behind it all.


Anonymous said...

I rec'd the same card, and, as my pick-up day hasn't changed, my thoughts echoed yours. Bill Peduto should demand to know exactly how much this mailing cost taxpayers and make the point that the city could've simply issued cards, sans photo images, to neighborhoods whose pick-up days have changed, assuming there are any? Why hasn't the ethics commission weighed in on the general question of whether Luke's campaigning on city time violates state or city ethics provisions?

Anonymous said...

30,000 according to KDKA

Richmond K. Turner said...

It's not clear to me whether KDKA and I are talking about the same mailing. 2PJs indicate that the $30,000 mailing was an announcment for the 311 phone line, and when you watch the KDKA video that is attached to their article, it's clear that this this garbage collection card is not what they are talking about. So, if it was $30,000 for the 311 advertisment, this has to be at least another $30,000 (if not even more, since I didn't get the 311 mailing) for the worthless garbage collection notice.

Anonymous said...

So $30,000 for the 311 line + $30,000 for the trash card + the cost of "free" billboard advertising (all things that traditionally were & could have been advertised on the City website or via "free" media coverage) + marla cassidy's $70,000 salary (can we get a refund of denny regan's salary? or at least the checks he cashed while on suspension?) + the cost of the unelected mayor's time cavorting w/celebs and giving press conferences on unfunded scholarship programs instead of working on reducing his own budget + the salaries of councilmembers who sit back and say nothing while Luke raids the piggybank + 6.5 million for lien buy-back + the verdict in Cathy McNeilly's whistleblower case against luke and denny + who the hell knows what else...maybe luke hopes to offset these new expenses with the $10,000/year reduction in Cathy McNeilly's salary?

Matt H said...

If you truly had a grasp on the issues you would know that the lien buy-back was a great thing for the city. Do you know how many development projects have been stalled in the city because of this issue?

Mark Rauterkus said...

Luke has had a great mentor -- Tom Murphy. Same one Bill Peudto studied from as well.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Matt, I haven't ever said a thing about the lien buy-back. I even like the lien buy-back. If I could sell anything I owned today and then buy it back in a few years at one-tenth of what I got for it, then I would consider it a very good deal indeed.

I realize that you are directing your comment to anonymous-3, and not to me, but other, more casual readers of these comments may not. I just wanted to make things a bit more clear.

Anonymous said...

I hate to get off the subject of the post, but in response to MH's assumptions, it's far too premature to tell whether the lien buy-back will ultimately be a success or (not knowing whether the City is excusing $5k or $5 million on a given lien) another example of taxpayer-financed private investment. All agree that development can be good, but this transaction cannot be wholly rubber-stamped as "good" or "bad" as the devil is in the details. Having said that, this isn't the question today - the question is: where is the $6.5 million coming from? It seems in one breath we're told that the cupboard is bare, so much so that we are paying for 2 oversight boards, while in the next we're spending like a "kid in a candy store". We read articles about the aging city vehicle fleet, escalating pension costs, employee wage freezes and demands that the controller reduce his spending, but then the mayor drops $60,000 here, $6.5 million there on separate projects... The people aren't required to simply swallow whatever the mayor is serving - they can and should question who, what, when, where, why and how. If one truly has a grasp on what a democracy is, one would understand that.

Anonymous said...

Luke’s campaigning on the tax payers’ dime issue is one that we need to take up. There are good questions & points that I haven’t seen addressed yet – including:

1. How much city staff time was used on producing these campaign mailers & billboards?

2. Why couldn’t the 311 mailing simply have been an insert into our city tax bills – this is a mailing the city already does (&, unlike the garbage schedule, it’s one everyone gets & gets it on time). There was plenty of free media on the 311, as it’s a non-emergency line, were lives in danger if they’d waited to put an insert about it in our next tax bill?

3. Why send out a 2nd mailing, this one about changes in garbage pick up, which was basically useless, since it didn’t even include the yearly schedule? And how much did this mailing cost?

How much will the 3rd one, with the yearly schedule cost? Will Luke’s photo be plastered all over it too?

We need to take action - not wait for some white knight. We’re the citizens, voters & tax payers of this city. We’re supposed to be in charge. I am going to do the following today:

1. In addition to contacting our own council members, (see city website for contact info), we should also complain on Luke’s 311 Line.

2. Send ltrs to the editors & ask the City Hall reporters to get on the stick & start looking into & reporting on this stuff

Pittsburgh City Paper
Fax: 412.316.3388 or email: Editor, Chris Potter:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Letters to the Editor
Fax: 412- 263-2014 or
City Hall Reporter: Rich Lord - & phone: 412-263-1542

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Letters to the Editor
Fax: 412-320-7965 or email:
City Hall Reporter: Jeremy Boren - or 765-2312

Matt H said...

Mr. Turner,

I was respoding to something anonymous said, not you.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,
At some point you have to let go of the hard-on you have for Tom Murphy. He wasn't the greatest mayor but blaming him or invoking his name in every discussion about any Pittsburgh ill only deflects the focus and blame from the people in charge RIGHT NOW. Let's move on already.