Thursday, May 3, 2007

Peduto, Politics, Paving and Pointlessness

There is a heck of a lot for me to catch up on. I haven't even begun to really examine all of the implications of the mini-massacre that took place in Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office last week, but there seems to be no end to the blog posts that are buried in that event. A fantastic sampling of the available topics so far can be found over at the Burgh Report, starting when the story first broke, and then continuing with some analysis of what might have led to these firings at the highest reaches of the mayoral administration. But the best developments have come about more recently, as problems with the now-dismissed workers' new positions became more clear. Herr Burgher finally reaches the disturbingly non-surprising conclusion that the interim mayor has, yet again, lied to the media about the entire situation.

It's pretty weak when you can't even fire someone without screwing it up.

Meanwhile, The Pittsburgh Comet has been going great guns during my extended absence, including (but in no way limited to) and excellent post yesterday about former mayoral candidate Bill Peduto's first post-pullout attempt to reform the city government from within by focusing on street paving. In a classically Pittsburgh moment of "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose", Mr. Peduto managed not only to have his idea stolen by Mr. Ravenstahl, but allowed the specifics of Mr. Ravenstahl plans -- in this case, to institute some kind undefined "pavement management system" -- to go unspoken.

Once again, Mr. Peduto has attempted to put forward a concrete (pardon the pun) suggestion to make city government run better. Once again, the incumbent interim mayor bested him by saying that he planned to do something similar. Once again, the details of the interim mayor's proposal amount to little more than a soundbite and press release. Once again, the specifics are promised at some undefined point in the future. And once again, the story will essentially die on its own, and these details will never see the light of day in our public media.

As Skip over at Three Rivers Fishing Report has noted, all of this strikes a familiar chord. It sounds a great deal like the "full details" of the interim mayor's property tax abatement plan, which were promised nearly two months ago, but which still can't be found in any local news source. The Post-Gazette is still paying some attention to the story. There are apparently some public hearing going on in City Council about it. But -- in a continuation of this recurring pattern -- the public is still largely out of the loop and has no access to the "full details" of this plan.

In fact, those who might have missed an obscure little graphic accessible from a link in a February Post-Gazette article [hat-tip to commenter Rich Lord], and who haven't read the comments that Matt Hogue left in response to an earlier post here at the People's Republic, still don't even know which specific neighborhoods are targeted by the interim mayor's abatement plan. Attentive Post-Gazette readers currently have more knowledge of how tax abatement works in Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia than they have about what is being proposed for our own city. Supporters of the interim mayor may wish to blame the local media for failing to report these details. I rather suspect, however, that these "full details" haven't been released for publication. Clearly, the press in hungry to report on property tax abatement, or they wouldn't be focusing on how its done in other cities.

But this recurring pattern of grandiose generalities accompanied by a lack of specific details is not what really caught my eye as I was digesting The Pittsburgh Comet early this morning. Instead, I was drawn to something found in one of the Post-Gazette items that The Comet linked to in his post.

Buried deep within a post on the Post-Gazette's Early Returns blog, under the heading, "Kicking asphalt", was the following quote from an email sent out by Mr. Peduto's not-a-campaign staff:

On Wednesday City Council will be voting to change the way streets are selected for resurfacing. In the 1990s, Pittsburgh spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct an engineering study of our streets. Several factors -- including composition, type of surface, amount of traffic, speed limit -- were analyzed, and a rating system, along with the needed software system, was created so that politics would be taken out of the process. Unfortunately, that system has been scrapped, and instead we are left with politicians deciding whose street gets paved and whose street does not get paved. Although this is a small part of a much larger problem, it is symbolic of the politics as usual that guides city hall.

If you are tired of the old way of doing things in Pittsburgh, then do something about it TODAY!

Email City Council and the Mayor, and tell them you demand that we reinstall the Paving Management System. Let them know that you support a government that is fair, equal, and transparent. Tell them that you will be watching on Wednesday and that you expect them to support legislation to reinstall this system.
Well, Mr. Peduto, let's take a closer look at what you are saying here. I certainly am "tired of the old way of doing things in Pittsburgh". I'm totally consumed with a desire to "do something about it TODAY". In fact, I really would love to do something about it, and not just today but also in a few weeks from now. My big plan for the current month, if you must know, was to try to do something about it on May 15th, when I was going to cast my vote in the mayoral primary. Hell, I was even willing to change my registration (temporarily) to Democrat just for the chance to vote for your sorry ass. But then you pulled out of the race and denied me and every other Pittsburgh voter that opportunity.

And so now you want me to get all up in arms, pick up my pitchfork and a flame-lit torch, and storm the barricades for real change here in Pittsburgh. You want me to make a meaningful difference to my city by demanding -- wait, what was that again? Oh yeah -- better data-driven pavement management! Hell, yeah, brother! Fight the oppressors! Nothing gets me fired up like the failure to properly utilize an objective evidence-based process for better determining the condition and needs of streets with respect to the application of new paving surfaces. That, my friends, is the kind of war cry that will shake even the most cynical Pittsburghers out of their stupor and have them take to the streets. Better pavement management systems now!

Don't misunderstand me. While I am certainly making fun of Mr. Peduto for choosing pavement management as the inaugural issue for his new "Progress for Pittsburgh" group (and having his idea stolen by Mr. Ravenstahl to boot), I do see his point. Political paving is clearly going on, and the needs of non-connected city residents are being overlooked. With such a limited paving budget, we would obviously be best served by prioritizing various projects based on some objective criteria. I certainly want to see city government become more data driven and less influenced by infantile Democratic-party politics.

But I'm old-fashioned. I wanted to see this kind of thing come about in the traditional manner. I wanted to throw the hacks out of the mayor's office and install somebody who would institute this kind of objective pavement management system as a matter of course. I do not, however, particularly care to expend large amounts of my focus and energy on just this one specific, rather tiny, little issue. I was looking for wholesale change, not incremental efforts that are destined to fail just as spectacularly as your now-defunct mayoral campaign.

In short, if you couldn't get Pittsburghers fired up over a big issue such as who should lead city government for the next few years, I'm frankly amazed that you expect to get them fired up over every last bit of bureaucratic minutiae that comes down the pike. You weren't all that willing to fight the big fight for us. So perhaps you shouldn't expect the rest of us to come out and fight these meaningless little battles for you.


Bram Reichbaum said...

While I'm all for making fun of Bill Peduto -- I just did, in fact -- I think he's just jumping on the same Rich Lord bandwagon that I jumped on. If I didn't know any better, I would guess that Rich strategically selected street paving as an easily palpable issue that could cast a cynical pall over all incumbents alike just before election day. That's if I didn't know better.

Rich Lord said...

Just to clarify, the Post-Gazette ran a list of the abatement neighborhoods Feb. 14, in a chart that can be accessed via the graphics link on this page:
Glad you're back, Admiral.
Bram, thanks, I think.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Thank you, Rich. I admit that while I had read that particular article several times, I never took the time to click on the link that went to this graphic. I imagine that the graphic was pretty prominent in the on-dead-trees version of the P-G that day, but in the on-line version it was pretty easy to miss.

In any event, I have ammended my text to reflect this information. The overall point still holds, at least in my mind: from reading the P-G, I still know far more about how tax abatement works in other cities than I do about how it is proposed to function here.

Note also that this isn't a slam on the P-G (or its intrepid writers). The P-G is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the local media on providing what little bit of information we do have on these abatement proposals. I certainly can't find anything else which approaches the P-G's level of detail. But even though the P-G provided the most detail, I still don't know very much about the mayor's proposal.

But I'm sure the full data will be available soon. Probably in two weeks time.

The Burgher said...

Nice to see Rich Lord engaging the Burghosphere.

Bram Reichbaum said...

yeah, tots, that's a you're welcome. :)

EdHeath said...

I emailed my councilman. Does that count as rallying to the cause?

At least every time one of Peduto's issues is stolen, it is noticed as stolen. I think.

Patrick said...

The premise of this whole argument, that decisions about which streets to pave are "political", and take care of the well connected at the expense of the not-well connected, seems to be taken at face value by the blogosphere (and Rich Lord).

Lord cited that 30 of the 40 streets to be paved are near committee-people's or city council members homes; 3 of the 9 council members live near a section of a street to be paved.

Well, some quick math tells me that would mean 6 of the 9 DON'T live near soon-to-be-repaved streets, right?

Plus, there are well over 800 Democratic committee people in the city, and if you used one of them new-fangled computers that Peduto and the other knowlege workers use to plot their homes on a data map, you would see that, no matter where you are in the city, it is close to impossible to NOT be within a block or two or three of a committepersons' home.

Give me a little more info before jumping to the conclusion that there is a huge problem here.

HAMMER said...

A computer program is NOT the answer. However this is a fine example of city council NOT seeing the big picture. The city should have a computer database with every asset the city owns. Streets, buildings, vehicles, computers, ALL ASSETS. All maintenance,and damage should be tracked. This is the only way you can forecast and schedule preventative repairs and replacement. Fix a leak in the roof of a public building before it leaks and causes more costly damages. Change the oil in a police care before losing an engine. THIS IS COMMON SENSE. But no. Peduto is more worried that the rest of council is getting political support from his constituents via street paving and HE IS NOT. I say they stop street cleaning in Shadyside and Redd Up Homewood! I hate cry babies. Fix the system for the right reasons. Not political ones. I live in Deasy's district and drive that road in question very often. It has needed paved for years. It is passable however dozens of school buses drive it daily. Fix it before someone gets hurt and sues us for 100 million dollars.

Matt H said...

Deasy's paving list is guaranteed to be right on without paying any political favors to anyone.

I have had discussions with him in the past year to get Lakewood Street here in Elliott looked at/paved because of complaints I have heard from folks and from my own experiences. I believe the street is now going to be on the list. Not because someone is in the know but because it makes common sense.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Loved Bill Green's full-throated, explicit defense on Off-Q of granting municipal services as political favors for the well-connected.