Tuesday, March 20, 2007

UPDATED: Mayor Ravenstahl Q-and-A On The New York Trip

"...Nothing is illegal that was done and the trip was appropriate."
-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

UPDATE: The Pittsburgh Channel now has raw video online of the Mayor's Q&A. Video of my Channel 4 Action News report is also now available with this Pittsburgh Channel story.

The world of new media brings new twists: the Trib has extensive video highlights on YouTube, showing the mayor face reporters' questions about his New York trip. Given that, I'll forgo my audio podcast and give you the details in digital ink. If you click on the "Read More.." link at the bottom of this post, you'll see my transcript of most of the Q&A session with Mayor Ravenstahl. The "Q"s come from a total of four reporters who took part in the eleven minute exchange. The reporters' initials follow the "Q" in lower-case.

Q-re: Mayor, did you lie to to the Tribune-Review reporter when he asked you if you went to New York City?

A: I had a discussion with the Tribune-Review reporter at which time he asked me if I went on business to New York City with the Penguins at which time I said no. Certainly I wish I would have clarified and continued to answer the question from there. But it was the only question asked, and we went our separate ways. But if I could have been more clear at that point it would have been, I think in everybody's best interest, mine included, at this point.

Q-jd: (Do you) regret going to New York and missing meeting with leaders in the Hill District?

A: I don't regret going to New York because it was an opportunity for me to further a relationship with Mr. Burkle. It's one that I was very grateful for, for the opportunity to do. It was my intention to be back in time for the meeting, but logistically, it didn't work out, and my chief of staff was there. That meeting was the beginning of a discussion with the Hill District. I've since reached out to those folks, and we were represented there, and we'll continue to have discussions with the Hill District. So, certainly that's a meeting I wish I would have been at, but logistically, it didn't work out.

Q-jd: So you thought you were going to be able to do both?

A: It was my intention to be back, yes. But unfortunately, the flight, I was on the flight back during the meeting and didn't get back in time.

( Editor's Note: the meeting took place at 8:30am the next morning at County Executive Dan Onorato's office.)

Q-bm: Did you accept this as mayor of Pittsburgh, or as a candidate, or in what capacity?

A: It was a political conversation between myself and Mr. Burkle. Understand that the two months previous, we had many opportunities to talk business, and talk about the Penguins' arena deal, and talk about specific numbers. And we both agreed at that point that there's nothing further to talk about in terms of the Penguins. And had the opportunity to speak politically with him about politics, my own mayoral race, some presidential politics. And really look to build a relationship with him, which is one that I'm grateful I've had the opportunity to begin.

Q-bm: Is it appropriate, after just striking a $290-Million dollar deal involving a public facility, that you hit him up for political advice and take a free jet ride?

A: It wasn't--everything will be documented on the political campaign contribution report, once it is filed with the elections department. So, it is appropriate. Nothing I did was illegal. Nothing that I did cost the city taxpayers a dime. And so, for that reason, I would simply say that nothing is illegal that was done, and the trip was appropriate.

Q-bm: Is it using your public office to leverage political support?

A: Understand that when you run for an office of mayor, as a candidate, i'm going to be going to Philadelphia to raise money, i'm going to be going to Washington DC, I'm going to be going to Harrisburg to raise money. So, it's not uncommon for candidates to travel to different cities to meet influential people, and to attempt to raise money and gain political support. And so, it was an opportunity that i'm grateful for, and ideally can continue to have a good relationship with Mr. Burkle.

Q-re: I don't care about where you go, but I'm more concerned about the fact that, with the Heinz Field incident, when we questioned you about that, you weren't truthful about that. You weren't truthful to ( Tribune-Review reporter ) Mr. Boren about your trip to New York. What about your integrity? What does this say about your integrity? What do you say to the people of Pittsburgh about your integrity in light of these two situations?

A: We can agree to disagree about our conversation, and myself and Mr. Boren can as well.

Q-re: That's twice, now.

A: I understand that you may feel that way. This is something that, when I'm asked a question, I've been honest with the media, from day one.

Q-re: You weren't honest with me...

A: I was honest with you...

Q-re: You weren't honest with Jeremy Boren.

A: I was honest with you: I told you I was never arrested at Heinz Field.

Q-re: Come on, you're splitting hairs.

A: That's fine. In your opinion, I'm splitting hairs.

Q-jd: But are you spitting hairs? Are you trying to draw distinctions in these words. He asks you whether you go to New York...

A: I regret, I told you here, I regret, I wish I would have just volunteered the information. But understand, you know, I have a job to do, you folks have a job to do. i have to protect, sometimes, private conversations which took place. Had this been city business, it's something that I would have volunteered when the question was asked. It wasn't asked that way. So, in hindsight, certainly I do wish I had the opportunity to just tell the story right then and there, but it didn't work out that way

Q-jd: So, what did you talk to Ron Burkle about?

A: That was a private conversation that will remain between myself and Mr. Burkle.

Q-jd: But it was political?

A: Correct.

Q-jd: No conversations at all about the Penguins?

A: No, not at that point we didn't. The commissioner was on the plane as well, so he and I had the opportunity to further our relationship. But there was no further discussion at all about the Penguins, whatsover.

Q-jd: You just cut a multi-million dollar deal with the owner of the Penguins, he's on a plane with you, his private plane, and you don't talk anything at all about the Penguins?

A: We honestly didn't, no.

Q-bm: Isn't that a bit too cozy, I mean, the taxpayer money in the deal, and you're--

A: It's not, it was not an official business trip. It was a trip for me and Mr. Burkle to talk politically. And that's what we did, and that's what will be documented. No city taxpayer dollars were used. It was not abuse of the office. And i stand behind the decision to go to New York. Now, had I wished I had presented it differently, i would have.

Q-jb: Where did you spend the night in New York?

A: At a friend's house.

...Later in the Q&A....

Q-jd: Luke, I want to be clear: in your view, you did not lie to the Tribune-Review?

A: Again, it was something I wish I had volunteered more information, but the question that was asked of me. You know, you understand, when you ask a question, I answer a question, and that's what I did. Could I have gone further and said , 'no it wasn't business, it was political'? Certainly I could have done that, and I wish I would have, because we wouldn't be standing here today.

Q-jd: But the question was specifically--

A: The question was specifically, did you go to New York City with the Penguins on business. And the answer to that question is no.

Q-jd: And what's the correct answer?

A: The correct answer is I went to New York City with Mr. Burkle on a political trip. And I just wish I would have said that at the end of the sentence. But I didnt' do it, and if anything was wrong it was just the fact that I didn't continue. But once again, it's something that you look back on now, and it is what it is.

Q-jd: Are you worried about your credibility?

A: I'm not. I know that I make decisions that are in the best interest of the residents of the city of Pittsburgh. I would argue that this has, other than the meeting of the Hill District, has no real effect on how city business operates, and nor did the Heinz Field incident. These are incidents that involve me and not city business. And I believe and I know, in fact, that when we make decisions in city hall, they're in the best interest of the residents. And they will have the opportunity to decide that and talk about the issues in the upcoming election.

Q-jd: Were there any violations of the city ethics code?

A: I don't believe so.

Q-bm: The city ethics handbook, which I printed out here, allows complementary travel for official purposes, but doesn't appear to allow gifts and favors of that sort for non-official purposes.

A: This was a political trip, and will be documented on the campaign finance report. Understand, if you look and pull any candidate's finance reports, it's very common for them to use individual's planes, for example, to go to other cities to raise money. And that's simply what I did in this case. And so it's not uncommon at all for a candidate to do that. I was acting in the capacity of a candidate for the office of mayor of city of pittsburgh.

Q-re: Will you reimburse Mr. Burkle, then?

A: Whatever's appropriate, whether it's to document it as an in-kind contribution or to reimburse Mr. Burkle. That's a question that my campaign will have answered and do whatever is appropriate.

Q-re: And the return trip back that Kevin Kinross paid for, you'll pay--

A: I already did.

Q-jd: Luke, can you explain how this whole thing came about? Was it spur of the moment?

A: Somewhat. We'd had a discussion Tuesday, and he offered to get to know me better, and thought it was an opportunity for me to go to New York and have a discussion and talk about the future of the city, my political future, and some presidential politics. And so it was an opportunity when you look at Mr. Burkle, and how influential he is on a national level in the Democratic Party, it was an opportunity that I'm very grateful for.

Q-jd: Did this occur before the press conference or during the hockey game? When did it come about?

A: Well, the offer was first given to me at some point Tuesday afternoon, at which time, so--

Q-jd: ---before the press conference?

A: Correct. It was before the press conference. But I---

Q-jd: --was it after you had concluded your deal with the Penguins?

A: Absolutely. Our deal with the Penguins was concluded Thursday evening in Philadelphia. So the deal had been done for four or five days at that point. I didn't even accept the offer, to be quite honest with you, until sometime during the game. It's something that was offered earlier, and then made the decision later on to accept it.

Q-jd: So you get to New York around midnight, because you were at the hockey game.

A: That's right. That's about right.

Q-jd: You get to New York around midnight, you go out and have dinner.

A: Correct.

Q-jd: What time did you get to bed?

A: We probably, sometime after 2 a.m. Between 2 and 3 a.m. I would guess.

Q-jd: And you were planning to be back in time for this meeting with the Hill District folks?

A: Yeah, I was at the airport bright and early, and hoped to get a flight before the 8:51 that we were able to get on. But unfortunately, logistically, it didn't work out that morning.

Q-jb: Who did you have dinner with?

A: Mr. Burkle and some of his friends.

Q-jb: Were there any celebrities there?

A: No. Other than me. (chuckles.)

Q-re: Sienna Miller wasn't there?

A: No, Sienna wasn't there.

Q-jb: With whom did you stay? Kevin's friend, who was that?

A: It's Kevin's friend.

Q-jb: I was wondering what his name was.

A: I'm not really sure, to be honest with you.

Q-jd: In Queens...?

A: I'm not really sure where it was at, to be honest with you.

Q-re: So, you didn't stay in a hotel?

A: No.

Q-jb: Did Mr. Burkle supply limousines from the airport to...?

A: We were not in limousines. There was transportation.

Q: Okay. It was cars?

A: Yes.

Q-jd: So, if you had it to do all over again, would you go on this trip?

A; If I had to do it all over again I would, because it was an opportunity for me to meet Mr. Burkle. If I could have answered the question better yesterday, I certainly wish would have done that as well. It was an opportunity for me to go there. I've stood here for the last 15 minutes and answered any questions you've had. And it was one that I think, in the long term, in terms of my political future, it's something that I'm very fortunate to have an opportunity to have a relationship with Mr. Burkle and thankful for it.

Q-jb: Would you take a contribution from Ron Burkle?

A: No, I will not.

Q-jb: What did you have for dinner at the hotel?

A: Laughs. I'm not---

Q-jd: You had a couple drinks?

A: I had a couple drinks.

Q: Are you going to pay for the dinner, too?

A: We'll take care of it. We'll take care of everything that's appropriate.