Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Does Anyone Love Ravenstahl? Or Brian O'Neil's Latest Column?

Last Thursday, the Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neil -- whose perspectives are usually warmly welcomed, at least in my home -- wrote a column which has received a rather chilly reception. His effort, titled "2 Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates in Search of a Difference", examines the two men -- Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl and City Councilmember William Peduto -- who are competing for the Democratic mayoral nomination. Both candidates are proposing what seem to be similar tax abatement proposals, offering a 10-year, 100% tax break on any newly-developed property within specific city neighborhoods. While there are some differences in the two plans, especially in terms of which neighborhoods are included in the tax abatement scheme, they are generally quite similar to one another.

In fact, they are a bit too similar to one another, both in their general nature and in the timing of their respective announcements. And since Master Ravenstahl's plan was decidedly sparse on specifics, while Mr. Peduto's proposal was accompanied by 60-some-odd pages of supporting analyses cobbled together during a year-long study by an 18-member tax force, it was abundantly obvious just which candidate had come up with the idea first. As he has on so many occasions, Luke Ravenstahl is attempting to squeak by at the last minute by copying the homework of the nerdy kid.

But according to the Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neil, this is actually a good thing:

As long as challenger Bill Peduto keeps offering ideas, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl keeps stealing them, this city has a chance to make a nice run.

"Stealing" is ordinarily a pejorative, but not in politics. It is a poor politician who attacks a good idea from a rival. A smart politician seizes the idea, tweaks it and claims it for his own.

That's what's been happening in the Ravenstahl-Peduto race, which has frustrated the less known, less moneyed, less telegenic and less politically connected Peduto, but it's hard to see how this take-and-take is bad for the city.
Mr. O'Neil then goes on to cite example after example of Master Ravenstahl, as the Burgh Report puts it, "... cribbing his way to the election". There was an issue about bus revenue being devoted to streetside tree maintenance. There was the question about whether to collect the annual $52 "Emergency and Municipal Services Tax" in one lump sum or through $1-per-week payments. There was the idea of nominating Fire Chief Michael Huss -- and not Dennis Regan -- as Director of Public Safety. In every one of these cases, Luke "Flip Flop" Ravenstahl has reversed his earlier position and ended up agreeing with Mr. Peduto.

But Mr. O'Neil didn't see these reversals as a problem. After all, he argued, "[w]ho can argue that learning from early mistakes is a bad trait in a politician?".

Actually, if you read the letters to the Post-Gazette's editor over the past two days, it would seem that plenty of people have an argument with this conclusion. The first two letters appeared yesterday:
Idea source

When folks say two heads are better than one, they tend to assume both are heads full of ideas. But this old saying doesn't apply when all the insight, innovation and wisdom are coming out from under only one thinking cap.

Brian O'Neill, who claims that it doesn't matter so much if either city Councilman Bill Peduto or interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wins the upcoming mayoral election, does not seem to care that all the great ideas he cites in his Feb. 15 column ("2 Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates in Search of a Difference") originated from Mr. Peduto's diligent work.

I would like to emphasize to him that, if Mr. Ravenstahl ends up finishing the remaining two years of this term, Pittsburgh will be left to flounder with a man who has not yet presented the city with a promising initiative of his own (although he's attached his name to plenty).

On the other hand, if this election brings Mr. Peduto into the mayor's office, with him he'll bring all his policy expertise and his ability to keep coming up with fresh ideas. The city's future is in the balance, from its financial straits to its aging population to keeping the Penguins here. It matters deeply who wins this election.

Developing creative ideas that will address the challenges our city faces is a mark of sound leadership. Shouldn't we choose the candidate of innovation rather than the one who just copies him?

South Side

Copycats OK?

Columnist Brian O'Neill ("2 Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates in Search of a Difference," Feb. 15) says that it is OK that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl keeps stealing Councilman Bill Peduto's ideas.

How would he like it if he saw his ideas in someone else's column?

Then, after that one-two punch on Monday, even more of these letters appeared today:
Great leaders are those who generate great ideas

Does it really matter who wins the mayoral election? Brian O'Neill doesn't seem to think so. In his Feb. 15 column, "2 Candidates in Search of a Difference," he points out that both Democratic candidates are proposing similar ideas for the future of the city, and maybe it's not important which man wins.

Hmm, I remember these same arguments being made during the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Would anyone care to make that argument today?

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hasn't told us his ideas for improving the city of Pittsburgh. Well, that's not entirely true, as Mr. O'Neill points out -- the only ideas the mayor seems confident in supporting are plans put forth by Councilman Bill Peduto. Mr. Peduto has a clear vision about where he wants to take the city. With his focus on neighborhood-based development, environmentally friendly policies and historic preservation, he is setting forth an agenda that will revitalize our city.

If you look at American history, our greatest leaders have been the greatest idea generators. Mr. Peduto has the right ideas for the city -- even his opponent seems to think so. We do not need a middleman mayor like Luke Ravenstahl to parrot the ideas of Bill Peduto.


It does matter

While I thank Brian O'Neill for bringing to light Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's pilfering of quality ideas from Councilman Bill Peduto ("2 Candidates in Search of a Difference," Feb. 15), I cannot agree with his conclusion that it makes no difference who ultimately wins the election in May.

Ideas are but the beginning for changes that must take place in order to save our city. The implementation of a progressive vision takes a real, original leader, as in Councilman Peduto, not a follower.

Pittsburgh has run out of time. We cannot afford to wait and "see what the kid can do."

Squirrel Hill
What's noteworthy here is that the Post-Gazette didn't publish any letters in support of Mr. O'Neil's views. Or, for that matter, in support of Master Ravenstahl's theft of Mr. Peduto's intellectual property. In many cases, the paper makes some attempt to counterbalance thesse kinds of letters with others representing the opposite perspective. One can only suspect, therefore, that the Post-Gazette simply hasn't received any. All of these letters appeared in the printed version of the newspaper, but the Post-Gazette often publishes additional letters on its website. Yet even there, one can find no letters in support of either Mr. O'Neil or Master Ravenstahl.

Indeed, it's not just this fairly small group of motivated letter writers who have taken issue with Mr. O'Neils perspective. The Post-Gazette's own editorial board -- which usually runs in lock-step with the Interim Mayor's press releases -- even noticed the difference between the two candidates' proposals, and particularly the difference in how much preparation had gone into each of them:
Pittsburgh Council has before it two ideas for offering tax breaks to draw new residents to targeted city neighborhoods. One is a thoroughly researched and analyzed 64-page proposal from Councilman Bill Peduto. The other is a thin and speculative concept from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. ...

There are attractive elements in both plans, but only Councilman Peduto's, to date, has the necessary supporting analysis. The administration needs to deliver similar justification for the mayor's ideas if council is to give the same weight to his points in this key public initiative.
I have zero confidence in the Post-Gazette's editorial board. They may have noticed Master Ravenstahl's vacuousness in this one instance, but they have a habit of swinging back around to his side in the end. The letters from the paper's readers are, to me, far more interesting. Maybe the public in general, and not just those who populate the burghosphere, are actually beginning to notice that Luke Ravenstahl is a failure of a mayor. One can only hope.

UPDATE: The day after this post originally appeared here, the Post-Gazette published yet another letter from someone who disagreed with Mr. O'Neil's perspective on the mayor's race:
His sudden interest

I am writing in response to Brian O'Neill's Feb. 15 column "2 Candidates in Search of a Difference." I am a realtor in Pittsburgh and served on the Shared Tax Abatement for Neighborhood Development Task Force organized by Councilman Bill Peduto to study his proposed tax abatement for Downtown.

I worked for more than six months, with representatives from more than a dozen different groups (everyone from labor to building owners), to develop a plan that would revitalize Downtown, bring in new revenue to the city and promote green buildings, historic preservation and public art.

During this process, then-Council President Luke Ravenstahl never attended a meeting and never sent staff in his place. Now that he is running for election, he suddenly has a vested interest in our work.

However, he never asked to meet with us, never asked for our opinion and never credited the working group or the consultant for our hard work. The mayor's announcement is not backed by any plan, there has been no research and there is no economic impact study to go with it.

As someone who loves this city and has worked long and hard on plans to redevelop Downtown, I am greatly disappointed that our mayor would play politics with such an important issue.

North Point Breeze
In the interest of fairness, I should point out the the Post-Gazette also managed, on that same day, to find someone in this city who thinks that the theft of Mr. Peduto's intellectual property is a damn fine thing:
Energizing proposal

I would like to applaud Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for his progressive proposal to offer tax abatement incentives for development projects in the city of Pittsburgh ("Competing Plans Air to Boost City Housing," Feb. 14).

In particular, Mayor Ravenstahl's proposal pays homage to the late Mayor Bob O'Connor's promise to return our city neighborhoods to their former glory. In contrast, Councilman Bill Peduto's proposal to offer tax incentives for projects Downtown and in adjacent areas, to the exclusion of our city neighborhoods, falls short and creates a vacuum effect that will hinder private investment in our neighborhoods.

The mayor should be commended for his attempt to energize the Downtown living initiative without "throwing the baby out with the bath water" as is proposed by Mr. Peduto. If adopted, the mayor's proposal to provide development incentives for neighborhood projects will yield a powerful catalyst for energizing private investment and expanding community development success.

On behalf of Wylie Holdings and others engaged in community development efforts, I can only hope that Mr. Peduto will see the shortsightedness of his plan and embrace the broader proposal offered by Mayor Ravenstahl.

Business Manager
Wylie Holdings LP
Oh well. There had to be at least a few old-school back-room political hacks out there who think its a fine idea if Luke Ravenstahl stays in office for another few years. After all, old-school, back-room, back-scratching politics is precisely how this city got into such a huge mess in the first place.


Mark Rauterkus said...

The two, Luke and Bill, are like two peas in the same pod.

Or, ... in this case ...

When a couple slow-dances, it is not easy to tell who is leading and who is following.


It doesn't really matter. They both will twirl and continue the downward spiral.

My heart skips a beat, however, watching, as I fear both are much more like Tom Murphy and less like Bob O'Connor. But then again, those two were very similar in policy ideas.

Even with the outrage over the Sabre Systems re-assessement process, it was Bob O'Connor who came up with the "unified tax plan" and Tom Murphy quickly followed. Whatever.

The "unified tax plan" is a policy that still needs to unravel and be put on the junk heap of bad policies.

Anonymous said...

Mark - seriously, the "two peas in the same pod" doesn't even make good nonsense when describing Bill and Luke. One is the bright, honest, creative kid in the front of the class who's full of potential, the other is the below-average, dishonest kid in the back of the class who shows up late, forgot his homework and then cheats off the girl in front of him during test time.

Back to the Admiral's post - so the PG rec'd 4 letters on this point, hmmm, maybe this will get the ed bd's attention? O'Neill's comments are offensive to anyone who really cares about the City and about having caring and decent people in charge of the City. Using his logic, George Bush should stay in for another 20 years because there's always some smart senator who will be coming up with good ideas for him to steal - of course, that's assuming that Opie/George recognize the ideas as good ones and have a clue as to how to implement them.

Anonymous said...

"Failure of a mayor!?!" He's been in office what, six months? Too soon!

Richmond K. Turner said...

"Failure of a mayor!?!" He's been in office what, six months? Too soon!

I, without any hestiation at all, stand by my finding that Luke Ravenstahl is an absolutely failure as the mayor of the City of Pittsburgh. Yes, it's been just six months. And that's what's so remarkable to me.

As I've stated many times in the past (read this, for example) I started out squarely in support of this young mayor of ours. I thought it was cool beyond words to have him in office.

And now, after just six short months, he has managed to eat through that good will. With bad decision after bad decision and error after error, he used it all up and converted me into an unbending critic of his administration.

Do me a favor, OK? Go read all three parts of the Police Secondary Employment story. Pay special attention to Part III, where it describes how Interim Mayor Ravenstahl flushed over a million dollars of our money down the toilet just to placate the police union.

And then, if you still think that this mayor is anything but a failure, feel free to post a response and tell me why I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

If the interim mayor had done absolutely nothing in the last 6 mos., he would come out ahead of where he is now - the old "it's better to keep your mouth shut and make people wonder if you're stupid than to open it and remove all doubt..."

Mark Rauterkus said...

Bill is at the head of the class. Except, he couldn't do the homework, his job. So, he cried to have others come into our city and do budgets for him. Overlords arrived. Bill was thankful.

Luke might be called "handcuffs" by this blog's prime author. However, Bill handcuffed himself and the rest of city council, the mayor and the citizen's hope of democracy and self determination.

These days, neither are saying a word about nor doing much to get the overlords packing. Two peas in the same pod.

They both want new layers of government. They both want bigger government. They both want a pass on accountability.

New czar of development. New public service director. New 'working group' for tax abatements. New red-light cameras for watching citizens. New booster groups for professional young people. New tax breaks for special interests. New ploys to others (mainly Harrisburg) for new bailouts because the last bailout they wished for didn't work.

Both are clueless in terms of saving the region and city.

Anonymous said...

In your "I'm not bitter" post, you seem to turn against Ravenstahl because of Regan and his machinations, admittedly an O'Connor thug. Give the guy some time to clean up someone else's mess.

And the cost recovery is "suspended," not eliminated, correct? Seems that story may need a Part IV.

The true test will come after the primary, if Ravenstahl wins. Then he can clear some more O'Connor deadwood and be his own man. If he doesn't, I'll be willing to reconsider your "failure" declaration.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Are you seriously saying that Luke Ravenstahl should not be held accountable for his decisions over the past six months? That he has somehow been forced into making these decisions because of those people who are leftover from the O'Connor adminstration are still there?

Honestly, I'm not trying to be a smartass here. I'm really trying to understand.

The man is our mayor. He is the one who is supposed to be making these decisions. The inital Regan appointment is certainly an O'Connor mistake. But the decision to nominate him to Director of Public Safety was all Luke's. And it was a bad one.

The decision to whitewash Mr. Regan's wrongdoing and allow him to resign without punishment was all Luke's. And it was a bad one.

The decision to demote Catherine McNeilly was all Luke's. And it was a bad one that will cost us upwards of $100,000.

And most importantly, the decision to retain all of the mean, nasty, they're-forcing-me-to-make-bad-choices O'Connor people was all Luke's. And it was probably the worst one them all. He could have, and clearly should have, already appointed his own people. It should have happened months ago. And yet the only departure that we've seen was Dom Costa. Who, just coincidentally I'm sure, was standing in the way of the plan to elminate the cost recovery program.

And as for the cost recovery program, if it was merely "suspended" as you claim, where is the movement to bring it back into life? Haven't heared anything about it? That's because there isn't any effort to revisit this topic. Read the letter that the FOP president sent to his memebers. They were over the freaking moon about it, and they sure as hell don't expect to ever see it come back to haunt then again. If it were any other way, there would be no reason for them to "thank" the interim mayor for anything at all.

If and when there is actually some sign from this administration that the cost recovery plan is being re-examined, I promise to trumpet the news from the highest mountain. Unitl then, there is absolutely no need for a Part IV. And trust me, absolutely nobody with whom I've talked to about the issue ever expects that to happen.

Unless, of course, it suddenly becomes an issue in the upcoming election. Then you are likely to see Ravenstahl reverse himself yet again, faster than you can say "Flip Flop".

Luke Ravenstahl has had ample opportunity to kick the O'Connor "deadwood", as you call it, to the curb. He hasn't done it, despite the fact that his connections with these people have cost him dearly.

To do so many things wrong in such a very short period of time can hardly be considered the hallmarks of success. Maybe you aren't willing to label him as a failure just yet, although I can't imagine what else he would have to do to convince you of this fact. But I sure as heck am.

And seriously, thanks for posting your comments. I may disagree with you, and I certainly haven't hestiated to say so. But I truly welcome the oppotunity to hear from the other side of the coin. I welcome the oppoturnity to reexamine my own positions. And I so rarely get to do so when discussing Luke Ravenstahl, since most of the people around these parts share my perspective on him.

Please keep reading, and keep posting your comments. You will never receive anything other than a fair hearing of them from me. Thanks again!

EdHeath said...

Yeah, the thing that occurred to me, reading Brian O’Neil's column, was that eventually Peduto might stop wanting to have his ideas stolen. He might take his ideas and, uh, be quiet. What would Luke do then? What would Pittsburgh?

Of course, Luke does come up with some ideas on his own …

And I’m thinking the PG got more than 4 letters.

Anonymous said...

How about a Part III-B, then?


Richmond K. Turner said...

How about a Part III-B, then? [link to Post-Gazette story]

I'm so sorry that it took me a few hours to put up a post in response to the new Post-Gazette article. Those nasty people I work for kept wanting me to talk to them, as if they had any claims on my time. But you will be happy to see that I have, as promised, trumpeted the news from the highest mountain. Or, at least, here in my blog. Which is about all I can do.

You don't honestly believe that they would be talking about reinstating this program if the press hadn't been asking about it, do you?

Smitty said...

as a candidate for everything,please expound on what you would do as Mayor to remove the city from its current financial junk pile..

Mark Rauterkus said...

Smitty, just saw the question. Sadly, my reply hardly fits at the back of a thread devoted to Ravenstahl's love, and posted on (this) another blog.

But, since you asked. An early act that should be done -- "Lay the Shovel Down." (Theme song.)

The big ticket spending has to stop. Provide bike lanes, not a $.6B tunnel.

Next, it is time to re-think every policy. (Think again!) I want an open and honest approach, as in open-source software. This will take lots of teamwork with everyone. King's men and king's horses can't put Pgh together again.

Hence I'd move to halt authorities and begin by making the board members accountable with retention votes. I'd start a democratic Pgh Park District, spun out from Grant Street. Move back to land-value tax. (Hint: LVT is an abatements for everyone.) Slice the Pgh Public Schools with a horizontal division at 8th grade.

Email me, Mark@Rauterkus.com. Visit my blog, wiki and expect an on-demand book called "PLANKS" in the fall.

Smitty, would you like to run too?