It Starts

To explain. No, there is too much. To sum up:

Pittsburgh city council: Aren't there more important things on the agenda than billboards? But we've come to expect so little here . . . .

Pirates: Nady - gone. Bay - gone. Another season gone, and probably one or two more -- at least -- gone as well. But with baseball, Pittsburgh is getting what it's come to expect.

Where we expected more, Pittsburgh is being crushed:

Don Barden and the Pittsburgh casino were going to save the city, but Barden's collapse and its fallout is a disaster epic worse than Airport '75. Will someone make the gambling equivalent of Airplane! and put this genre out of its misery? I searched the Carbolic Smoke Ball. Maybe the Judge has the flu.

Steelers: Sepulveda, the hardest hitting kicker in football, is out for the season. (I have two rebuilt ACLs, so I feel his pain.) The Rooneys, godparents of Pittsburgh, are being criticized locally for trying to do the right thing by the family and the NFL. Right now, the public reaction to the team seems to resemble Paramount's apocryphal critique of Fred Astaire: "Can't sing. Can't act. Balding. Can dance a little." The Steelers will be fine this year, but their status as urban saviors is in doubt.

Where, then, should Pittsburghers turn? This morning's mail brings an answer: Chelsa Wagner. Is she the next great progressive hope? The Draft Chelsa blog thinks so. Save Pittsburgh. Elect Chelsa?


5 Responses to "It Starts"

Schultz said... 8/01/2008 11:59 AM

Chelsa Wagner was my state representative before I moved to Mt Lebanon. I have gotten to know Chelsa over the years and I have to say she would be a huge upgrade over Luke Ravenstahl. One of her biggest issues as a State Rep has been fighting for better public transportation so that might give you an idea of what would be at the top of her priority list. Bill Toland recently interviewed her on his Post-Gazette show. At the end when asked if she was going to run she said she hasn't made up her mind yet.

I've heard a lot of her friends and constituents are telling her to go for it. If she can run against Ravenstahl head to head I think she can beat him.

Bram Reichbaum said... 8/02/2008 2:01 PM

I gotta say -- you would think billboards were a lot more important if an illegal and electronic one was assembled without notice outside of your home or down your street. Does being in debt and losing population mean we should turn a blind eye to flagrant illegality?

Council (and for that matter, the Mayor's office) deals with about 100 other important issues every day. It doesn't get reported, because it's boring as dirt. Trust me, I've watched. It's not like they're showing up to work everyday and arguing about billboards from 8:30 to 4:30.

However, they ARE spending what seems like an unnecessary amount of time exploring zoning and planning decisions that seem to violate various aspects of the code or the Sunshine Act. Whose fault is that? Should the folks who demanded that Council look in to the giveaway of public land on the North Shore be turned away because pensions are more important? Maybe we'd have more money for pensions if we were getting fair market value for the land, space, and services that some city leaders hand out freely for political benefit.

Beating up on "Council" for worrying about "billboards", it seems to me, is grossly misdirected.

Alright. Rant over. I know what you mean, but it's becoming a common enough trope I wanted to present the counterargument. Thanks for providing the opportunity.

Mike Madison said... 8/02/2008 2:38 PM

Point taken, but it's apples and oranges, I think, to relate "land giveaways" and "flagrant illegality" to addressing Pittsburgh's pension problems. The pension problem is based on Pittsburgh's systematic decades-long refusal to acknowledge structural problems in the regional economy. "Land giveaways" and "flagrant illegality" are short-term manifestations of the petty corruption that characterizes many urban governments. If larger dragons weren't breathing fire in Pittsburgh -- that is, if the population, economy, and baseball team were in better shape, then land-dealing and billboard-erecting wouldn't seem like such big issues; they would seem like the kind of discretionary local government decisionmaking that happens all the time in real estate development, in the service of both private and the greater good. There might be hearings and remedies, but it wouldn't be the central preoccupation of any but a few hearty souls.

Almost no one has the power to do anything individually about flat economy and pension dragons. We cry foul over billboards because we are angry and disappointed generally and want to do whatever we can to express that in public. I'm not criticizing the critics -- least of all those who have a lot of time personally invested in cleaning up the mess -- but instead pointing out that they are slaying the dragons that they can slay, rather than the dragons that really need to be slain.

Bram Reichbaum said... 8/02/2008 6:04 PM

"We cry foul over billboards because we are angry and disappointed generally and want to do whatever we can to express that in public."

Are you saying we are clinging to our guns, religion and billboards? I don't know about that...

... however, point taken that remedying political giveaways et cetera cannot possibly make up for the more gigantic issues of debt and stagnation. That was a little too slick on my part.

"Almost no one has the power to do anything individually about flat economy and pension dragons."

Sadly, I almost wonder if *council* has the power to do anything about these. The few times I've heard them speak directly about debt, they usually are making appeals to the State Legislature -- let us tax nonprofits, say, or commuters. And even if these things would help solve debt, they wouldn't do little to strengthen the economy. That would involve what -- improving schools? Public transit? Again, hard to see a connection to city government.

One thing I do know, however, is that Redding Up / Green Teaming / Patroling Hokey does even less for us. THOSE sounds like ways to pander to our frustrations, and I do question the effort (or at least attention) we are giving those efforts.

Now, to move the discussion forward:

Council some time ago passed legislation (sponsored by Councilman Dowd) to reapportion the Municipal Pensions Board such that Council itself and the city Controller appoint seats on that board; the theory was to get more eyes and ears involved, increase accountability, and just possibly stir the pot and improve performance. However, I've just been made aware that implementation is being -- um -- delayed? Ignored? Refused? Would that rise to the level of somewhere we should take action?

Mike Madison said... 8/02/2008 10:01 PM

Clinging? No, that's not what I meant. (Perhaps we share zis leetle joke?)

Focusing on the billboard mess or any other messy piece of local politics is legitimate and fair, especially for people (i) directly impacted by misbehavior by local government and/or (ii) affronted by direct challenges to transparent and democratic governance processes, and the rule of law. (That's the answer to your last question: If it affronts your sense of fairness and decency, then go after it. Just bear in mind what is tree and what is forest.)

Council (and as a non-native, I have always wondered why it gets called "council" rather than "the council) and the mayor have more tools at their disposal regarding big picture (forest) questions than taking hats-in-hand to Harrisburg. I've written about some in the past, and will write more about others in the future; burying the discussion in a comment isn't wise for anyone. Some are rhetorical; some are tangible; there is no assurance, of course, that any of them will make a difference.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

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