Tuesday, March 20, 2007

At Some Point, It Gets To Be Pathological

Some of you probably think that I'm happy about this. Or that I'm rejoicing in the opportunity to stick it to Pittsburgh Interim Mayor Luke "The Debate Chicken" Ravenstahl for yet another minor scandal. Or that I am so desperate about his prospects in the upcoming Democratic primary election that I'm willing to exploit this latest situation for all it's worth. But to be completely honest with everyone, I'm none of those things. I don't feel happy. I'm certainly in no way rejoiceful about these latest revelations. And desperation is the furthest thing from my mind at this point. Instead, if I had to pick any words to describe my feelings at this point, I would say that I am just enormously sad about the entire thing.

Thanks to some excellent reporting by the Tribune-Review's Jeremy Boren, the region woke up to yet another bad-news story about Interim Mayor Ravenstahl. It is certainly nothing to be happy about. The burghosphere is, as you may have guessed, buzzing with this story (The Burgh Report I, The Burgh Report II, 2 Political Junkies, and MacYapper). Even there -- in venues that are starkly anti-Ravenstahl -- the mood is far from gleeful. Our city has a mayor for whom bold-faced lying has become an almost autonomic and reflexive act. That is certainly nothing to celebrate.

The story, if for some reason you haven't already encountered it elsewhere, begins last Tuesday, after the big public announcement which heralded the deal to build a new arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Interim Mayor Ravenstahl was offered the opportunity to fly to New York City with the Penguins' co-owner Ron Burkle on a his private Boeing 757 for a dinner at some swanky restaurant. Despite the fact that there were plenty of important things on Master Ravenstahl's schedule for the next day, he agreed to join Mr. Burkle on this little celebratory junket. As the Tribune-Review describes these events:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hopped a private jet to New York City to have dinner and drinks at a posh Manhattan hotel hours after announcing a $290 million deal to build a new Uptown arena for the Penguins.

After last Tuesday's announcement, Ravenstahl attended the Penguins game against the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena with team co-owner Ron Burkle, who invited him onto his private jet and treated the mayor to a meal at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan. [snip...]

Because of the trip, Ravenstahl missed a meeting Wednesday morning with Hill District community leaders in the office of Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato to discuss how to develop homes and businesses around the site of the Penguins new arena.

The Rev. Johnnie Monroe, of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, was there.

"We would have preferred the mayor himself, but I think Mr. (Yarone) Zober was there," Monroe said, referring to Ravenstahl's chief of staff. "We were all right with that. We were hoping that at the next meeting he's going to be present himself along with a representative from the (city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority) and the Penguins.

"We were promised that when the next meeting is held, that all of the participants will be in the room," Monroe said.

Ravenstahl said he missed the meeting because of the trip to Manhattan.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't in town at the time," he said. "Yarone was there. He handled everything on our side."
Anyone who's spent any time living in this city knows, or damn well should know, just how sensitive the topic of arena-building is in the Lower Hill District. The neighborhood was more or less decimated when the Civic Arena -- now called Mellon Arena -- was built there in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Nobody, and especially not the people who live there, wants to see any additional negative effects flow into the area, either from the construction of the new arena or from the redevelopment of land where Mellon Arena now sits. These people are justifiably concerned with what the future will bring, and they wanted some reassurance from our local political leaders.

And to some extent, they got those reassurances. But despite the fact that they are residents of the City of Pittsburgh, they ended up meeting with the County Executive instead of the Interim Mayor. At the time, I thought that this was a bit strange and potentially insensitive of Master Ravenstahl. Why wouldn't he meet with them, when it was clearly the right thing to do? Why allow County Executive Dan Onoroto to fill the role that was rightfully his? But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that he skipped this important meaning with a key constituency because he couldn't resist the opportunity to hang around with a billionaire and see the inside of his big shiny airplane.

In particular, I really like the quotation in the Tribune-Review from Rev. Johnnie Monroe. He's obviously a smart man, and he clearly knows that he should try to spin his response to be as favorable to Interim Mayor Ravenstahl as possible, but there are some subtle digs in there as well. He expresses disappointment in the mayor's behavior by noting that he and his colleagues had expected, and would have preferred, that Master Ravenstahl had been in attendance. He further conveys this disappointment by noting that he only "thinks" that mayoral chief of staff Yarone Zober attended the meeting, implying that sending an underling was not enough to command any serious attention. And he broadcasts, loud and clear, the message that Luke Ravenstahl had damn well better show up at the next meeting, and bring along a few other noticeable absentees who also missed the last one.

At least Dan Onoroto knew better. At least our County Executive knew how important this meeting was to our city, even if our city's interim mayor was acting like a giddy summer intern who was suddenly asked to drive some important papers out to the vacation home of the managing partner.

Deciding to accept this invitation by Mr. Burkle would be bad enough, of course. It sends a message that Luke Ravenstahl would far rather spend his time with rich white guys than poor black ones. But what is even more disturbing is that, yet again, Master Ravensthal choose to mislead a reporter when he was asked about his behavior. As told by the Tribune-Review:

Ravenstahl initially told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Monday morning that he did not travel to New York, but he changed his story in the afternoon after the Trib confronted him with more details about the overnight trip.

Ravenstahl initially was asked whether he had traveled to New York "on anything related to the Penguins." He said he denied it because he didn't consider the trip to be Penguins-related business. [snip...]

This wasn't the first Ravenstahl denial to turn into an admission during his 6 1/2 months in office.

On Jan. 18, after denying it for months, he acknowledged that police handcuffed and detained him before a 2005 Steelers game at Heinz Field. He never was charged.
The really sad thing about this latest attempt by Master Ravenstahl to lie to the press is that it was completely unnecessary. Clearly, the press had the details about the trip. Clearly, the story was going to come out. Clearly, the interim mayor was going to have to come up with some kind of ex post facto justification to make the trip seem more important than the meeting with leaders from the Hill District. But instead of just making these justifications, Luke Ravenstahl went out of his way -- as he has in the past -- to mislead the press.

Again, we are being treated to tortured explanations about why this lie wasn't really a lie. We are told that because the interim mayor was asked about a trip to New York involving the Penguins, it was acceptable for him lie to the reporter. In his mind, because he considered this journey -- with the Penguins' co-owner -- to be more about his campaign than about hockey, this was not a lie at all. On KDKA Radio this morning, Master Ravenstahl even tried to argue that this wasn't "another" lie to the press, because his lies about the Heinz Field incident hadn't been made directly to the Tribune-Review itself:

And, and, you know, with... without, uh, you know, I guess, expressing my frustration too much, uh, I was never, ever questioned by the, uh, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the Heinz Field incident and so forth. For that newspaper to claim that I denied to them for months, uh, anything that happened at Heinz Field is just.. it's just flat-out wrong, and uh, I guess I was a little bit frustrated as I read the article this morning, with, uh, uh, I guess, uh, with the tone of it, and, and the approach that was taken, because in my opinion, uh, you know, you can.. you can get me for what I did that day, but don't sensationalize, uh, and, and, make things up that just aren't true. And I think that's... that was the most unfortunate part of the story this morning.
Of course, if we are going to be parsing semantics with such a fine-toothed comb, it is important to recognize that today's Tribune-Review article never claimed that the mayor had made his Heinz Field denials to directly the Tribune-Review itself. It says only, "On Jan. 18, after denying it for months, he acknowledged that police handcuffed and detained him before a 2005 Steelers game at Heinz Field." There is no mention of precisely to whom these denials were made. It's not even implied that these denials were made to the Tribune-Review. No matter what the meaning of the term "is" is, the interim mayor lied yet again on KDKA this morning.

At a certain stage, this continuing pattern of telling outright lies in the face of press questioning becomes enormously disturbing. It begins to seem like the symptoms of some enormous underlying character flaw. Master Ravenstahl could had held off the reporter with a simple, "I have no comment on that right now, I'm afraid. I want to look into things and make sure that we have all of the information that you are looking for. I'll have someone call you back in a few hours." But instead, he reverts to this pattern of attempting mislead a reporter by lying about things, and then being forced to reverse himself when his lies become inescapably apparent.

This pattern doesn't serve anybody well. But then again, neither does our interim mayor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post, Admiral. This is an incredibly sad day for the reasons you mention, however, there is another story to be told - the story of Luke's blatant violation of the Ethics Code. Relevant provisions:

B. Gifts and Favors

No public official, City employee or agent of the City shall solicit or accept from an
interested party, nor shall an interested party offer or give anything of value to a public
official, City employee or agent, subject to the following exceptions:
1. Gifts from direct family members;
2. Non-pecuniary awards publicly presented, in recognition of public service;
3. An occasional non-pecuniary gift of nominal value;
4. Complimentary travel for official purposes;
5. Admissions to charitable, civic, political or other public events;
6. Admissions to cultural or athletic events not to exceed $250.00 per calendar
year in the aggregate and $100.00 per calendar year from any single person,
agent or other interested party; or
7. Complimentary meals and/or refreshments.

A. Receipt of Benefits or Compensation
􀂃 No contract shall be made with any City elected or appointed official, officer or
employee, or with any corporation, partnership or other nongovernmental entity of which
he/she is a member.
􀂃 No elected official, officer or employee shall:
1. Benefit from any contract, job, work or service for the City, or accept any
service or accept anything of value, directly or indirectly, upon more
favorable terms than those granted to the public generally, from any person,
firm or corporation having dealings with the City; or
2. Solicit or receive any compensation, gratuity or other thing for any act done
in the course of public work.


E. Solicitation, Political Activity and Campaign Contributions
􀂃 No solicitation may be made of City employees for any purpose during working hours.
􀂃 City employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity during working hours
and at all times in City offices.