Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Three Pillars of DeSantis

I'm posting some quote highlights from Mark DeSantis, culled from my interview with the Republican candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh. You'll find them further down in this entry. I may put up a podcast of the Q&A session later this week. Watch here for an update.

The name of this post, "The Three Pillars of DeSantis", kept coming to me after the interview. DeSantis used the "Three Pillars" metaphor to describe issues on which he'll focus. It reminds me of a phrase or legend from ancient mythology. Last night, I started googling the phrase "three pillars of" to see what I could find.

There are these images, among many:

If you add the pillars DeSantis mentions (efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency) to the google search, you'll get this, which includes a number of U.N. and other international links. Your comments and insights are welcome.

Quotes from Mark DeSantis:

• "I just think it's time for change. And the people I've spoken to over the last several months or so when I was considering this have said they want change and they want it now."

• "With my public sector background from Washington, and now my most recent experience as an entrepreneur combined, I think I can make a difference for this city."

• "I was hoping Bill Peduto would stay in the race. I think he's a reformer. When I saw that we're not really going to have a dialog about this city the way I had hoped, I thought maybe we should think about jumping into this race."

• "There are really three pillars: efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency. You can't have one without the others. We don't have any right now. And I think it's important that we focus on making this the best government we possibly can have."

• "We have almost 2-and-a-half billion dollars in debt and liabilities, which is unprecedented on a per capita basis in the country; some profound, profound issues that we have to deal with."

• "So, before we can think about being great, we just have to get to the start line. We have to get to what would be average performance for other cities. That's an essential first step."

• "Our focus is on the reform agenda, and what I would even call profound reform. That's what's desperately needed here. And that's going to be the focus of our policies going forward."

• "We have issues like crime, which is a big issue here. Economic development: there have been no new jobs in this city, no new private sector jobs--net new private sector jobs--in five, six years. We've had continuing population decline. It's declined consistency over 6 or 7 years, this is unacceptable."

• "That vision isn't a function of which political party you're from, what part of town you live in, or your background. That vision is all about common sense, efficient effective, and transparent government."

• "It won't matter, necessarily what you're party affiliation is, or any other aspect of your background. If you believe in change and you believe in profound reform, you're with us."


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Luke 2 Doug Text Message: The Mayor Explains

he burghosphere is buzzing about the biting e-mail from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to Council President Doug Shields.

There are comparisons to everything from "The Matrix" to "The Office". PittGirl and The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat are among the many others joining in. (NOTE: These blogs are not affiliated with WTAE-TV. Some of them may contain rough language.)

Credit The Burgh Report with being the first to publish the contents, a mere two hours after the mayor clicked "send" on his computer.

As chance would have it, I read the e-mail on The Burgh Report minutes before I interviewed the mayor about his plans for a surveillance camera program (Video link here).

Ravenstahl gave no sign of being upset that his message had been quickly and widely circulated. He had sent copies of his message to a dozen people, including all members of city council. In fact the mayor was smiling and asked "do you want me to tell you what it says?" when I began searching through my BlackBerry for the quotes.

You can hear the 2 1/2 minute interview with the mayor about the e-mail by clicking this link. This will play in iTunes or QuickTime Media Player. Let me know if you have any problems.

Councilman Shields didn't return my call for comment, but he told the PG's Rich Lord "I sent the mayor a nice note back...I said thank you for the welcome back, but I've been here".

Here's the e-mail, courtesy of The Burgher:

From: Ravenstahl, Luke
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 9:59 AM
To: Shields, Doug
Cc: Harris, Darlene; Deasy, Dan; Koch, Jeffrey; Motznik, Jim; Payne, Tonya; Bodack, Len; Peduto, Bill; Carlisle, Twanda; Urbanic, Bill; Zober, Yarone; Zober, Yarone; Mazefsky, Gabe; Stettner, Melissa

Welcome Back Mr. President! "I wish to remind you" that despite the fact that maybe you haven't been here the past three months, we have. Our door is always open. In fact, your respective Council members have individually, because of your seeming absence regarding legislative issues, come over to discuss things one on one with me. Once again, let this e-mail serve as an invitation to you, and any member, to contact Missy to schedule an appointment. And as always, any issue not requiring me but only staff can be handled through Gabe Mazefsky. Thank you.

Mayor, City of Pittsburgh


Monday, May 21, 2007

UPDATED: Catching Up On A Few Things


The Patrick Dowd campaign issued a statement this afternoon that claims a widening lead over Councilman Len Bodack. The news release says:

-"It was reported on Friday that six manually counted absentee ballots that had been incapable of being processed by optical scanning equipment resulted in an increased margin for Mr. Dowd of three additional votes. Of those absentee ballots, four votes were cast for Patrick Dowd, one vote cast was for Len Bodack, Jr., and one Republican ballot was cast that did not affect the Democratic primary result".

-"Today, it was announced that eight emergency ballots cast manually in voting district 11-10 due to an early morning machine malfunction had been counted this morning. All eight votes went to Patrick Dowd. Patrick Dowd's vote margin is currently calculated at 92 votes."

-"Dowd attorneys... remain confident that it is not mathematically possible for Councilman Bodack to change the course of the election by overcoming this deficit".

-"...the Dowd campaign sees Councilman Bodack's concession as inevitable."

The PG has more here.

(Below you'll find my original post, which includes an audio link to Bodack's refusal to concede.)

Councilmen Len Bodack and Jeff Koch spoke with us briefly about the election results. These condensed sound clips are from interviews done after last Thursday's council meeting. The audio on the shortened questions are boosted for clarity.

The Bodack sound file runs under a minute.

The Koch sound file lasts just over two minutes.

I wouldn't call these podcasts, given their length. Dennis Roddy's latest Audio Journal does offer a podcast on his election day adventures.

Bram of The Pittsburgh Comet and I crossed paths last Friday on Grant Street. He asked why I hadn't blogged about the city ethics board's first meeting.

Since I had to cover President Bush's visit on the day the board met, I didn't feel I had anything to add to the Trib and PG coverage.

The ethics board members are planning to use City Council Chambers for their meetings on the second Friday of every month. I do hope to be there for the June 8th meeting. The monthly sessions are scheduled for at 10 a.m. (We can watch their city web page for updates.)


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Thank You

At the Quills with WTAE photographers John McKee (L) and John Hoffman (R)

These were my remarks when I received the Press Club's Service To Journalism Award at the Golden Quill Awards Monday night.

"Thank you very much. I'm very honored to receive this award."

"I want to thank the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, and the Golden Quill Awards Committee."

"I also want to thank WTAE management and my co-workers for giving me the opportunity to do a job I love and pleasure of working with them. Thanks also to my wife, Yvonne for her support and her understanding of what this job demands. I want to thank Ginny Frizzi of Point Park University. It was Ginny who encouraged my involvement in SPJ and the Press Club years ago. Her dedication and service to these organizations over the years is phenomenal."

"Time goes quickly. I started out as the young guy in his twenties, covering Grant Street; now I'm covering the guy in his twenties on Grant Street."

"One thing that has meant a lot me over the years is taking part in organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists and the Press Club."

"They give us the chance, outside of the the pressure of daily deadlines, to examine at what we do, learn more, and try to do a better job as journalists. To the extent I've been able to be a part of that work over the years--in service to journalism--is an honor in itself."



Friday, May 11, 2007

Dear PittGirl...

Here's my e-mail to PittGirl of The Burgh Blog fame,
in answer to her post this morning.

Dear PittGirl,

I appreciate your concern for the crime victim who I spoke with Thursday, but I promise you I didn't violate any understanding she and I had about doing that story. I care very much about how I treat the people I interview, and I assure you I'm not thoughtless--or worse--, as your post would suggest.

Some background: when I first spoke with her, it was without my photographer, who waited at the news truck. She discussed the entire incident with me in detail. While she was willing to let us record her voice, she did not want her face to appear on camera. I also asked specifically if she objected to our taking video of her car or or the sidewalk outside her home. She did not. To be clear, she did not ask me to withhold the name of her street, or to avoid showing it on camera. In fact, she even mentioned other details about the location during the taping which I didn't include in the story.

Take a look at the Pittsburgh Police news release below. You'll see that the police released further details about the block number in which she lives-- and that investigators also make the cross streets public. Why? Because they are seeking the public's cooperation to solve the crime. The street, block, and a cross street also appear in this PG article. (The police news release mistakenly says her baby is a girl; he's a boy.)

What about the words you quote from my report? "The woman says she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in this case, the wrong place happened to be right in front of her home." That was a direct quote from what she chose to say while we videotaped the interview. Check out the audio clip at this link. Her words in this clip were broadcast in a later newscast.

People can choose not to be seen on camera for a variety of reasons, not all of them having to do with "witness protection". This was an composed, collected, 30-year-old woman who agreed to do the interview on terms which she chose and which I fully respected. Neither she nor the police were keeping the location secret. It was no mystery to the shooter. The car riddled with bullet holes was sitting there in plain view.

When the interview was over, I thanked the woman and complemented her for her bravery, both in how she handled the incident at the time and for discussing the details with me. I always treat crime and accident victims with the utmost respect. I often tell them "I'm asking you to talk with me, but you don't have to". It's true. They are not elected officials or public employees. They don't owe us one word. I've been doing this for 30 years, and I would never have violated that respect by betraying the conditions we agreed to in our interview.

(Click image to enlarge.)


Fired For Talking With The Media?

Update from Post-Gazette:
"Whistleblower fired"

You may recall Jason Phillips, who I interviewed for the Councilman Jeff Koch t-shirt/phone call story. He says he's been fired by Judge Debra Todd's campaign for speaking with Channel 4 Action News. We reported on Phillips' allegation that a staffer of Councilman Koch made a Koch campaign call to him from the councilman's government office. Pittsburgh's charter says city workers "are prohibited from engaging in political activity during working hours and at all times in city offices".

I just got the call from Phillips this afternoon. He says he's in Ohio right now, dealing with a family member's injury. Phillips says the Todd campaign fired him by cell phone... and that it was for speaking with us. He says he was told that "ward leaders were unhappy" that he had done the interview.

I called Judge Todd's campaign manager, Alison Rudolph Hall. She confirms that Phillips is "no longer on staff" "for various reasons". When pressed, she refused to confirm or deny it was for speaking out about Koch staffer Eileen Conroy.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ethics Board Meets Friday

(H/T to Maria of 2 Political Junkies for use of the above photo.)

UPDATE: It turns out that I won't personally get to cover the first ethics board meeting; I'm part of our team coverage of the visit by President Bush to St. Vincent College. I'm told they're hoping for regularly scheduled meetings from now on. I was looking forward to covering the first, but other duties call.

The controversy over some Redd Up Crew workers wearing the above pictured t-shirts will land in the laps of Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board members. Mayor Ravenstahl has referred the issue to them.

That panel plans to hold its first official meeting with all five members present this Friday morning. It's set for 11:00 on May 11th in Pittsburgh City Council Chamber.

My Channel 4 Action News report on the controversy includes a new allegation: that a member Councilman Koch's staff made a campaign call from Koch's government office. That claim also appears to be headed for the ethics board. (I've added a video link here to a story on The Pittsburgh Channel.)

Regular readers of Pittsburgh's burgosphere have noticed lapses in posts by a variety of bloggers-about-town lately. (Was there a vacation package offered at that Boot Camp Pittsburgh seminar? Now I really wish I'd attended. ) Now, just as others have reappeared, I find myself temporarily going longer between offering blog posts. My apologies. I hope to pick up the pace again in a couple of weeks, but I won't be absent entirely in the meantime. For now, I'm a bit sleep-deprived from making sure that one of our beloved cats stays in his e-collar while recovering from a medical procedure.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

UPDATED Skrinjar Post: No One In The Wings?

UPDATE: At 10:35am, the mayor's office e-mailed a news release announcing that the Press Secretary position is being publicly posted for applicants today.

(Snapshot from job description on city website. Despite the listed physical demands,
that's not to suggest the job does not involve "heavy lifting".)

It may take as long as a full month to fill the sudden vacancy created by Dick Skrinjar's removal from his post as Mayor Ravenstahl's Director of Communications.

Speaking briefly with reporters following an unrelated event, the Mayor said "the next four weeks, there will be a decision made".

While it's not unusual for a mayor to bring in his own team, it is unusual to vacate a key position without a new player waiting immediately in the wings. Skrinjar was one of three people affected by a shakeup in the mayor's office last Friday.

The Director of Communications job is not currently posted on the city Personnel Department's Online Employment Center website, nor are the other vacated positions. (See update above; the job was added the day after this blog post first appeared.)

In contrast, the names of Dick Skrinjar, Marlene Cassidy, and Anna Dobkin were removed from the mayor's office website the same day that they were removed from the mayor's staff.

Compare Google's snapshot of the mayor's office staff web page...

(Click to Enlarge)

...with the way the that page looked by Saturday morning.

(Click to Enlarge)