Saturday, August 30, 2008

Q&A Transcript -- Mayor on Ford: "Outrageous, Very Malicious"

[UPDATE: This is the final version of my Q&A notes from Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference on the Pat Ford resignation letter controversy. The questions come from a variety of local reporters, myself included. A separate post will include reporters' Q&A with Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher.]

Here are links to coverage by the Trib and the PG , as well as to one of my Channel 4 Action News reports.

Mayor Ravenstahl's opening statement: ...Certainly, as I mentioned on Wednesday morning when I had the opportunity to speak to some radio stations, I was blindsided by Mr. Ford's attack and resignation letter. It was, in my opinion, outrageous, very malicious. On a personal level, I am very hurt, and I'm also very angry and sad on a professional level, for the residents of the City of Pittsburgh. And with that, I will answer any questions you guys have.

[Question redacted]

A: I would just say that there are a lot of rumors and things being said right now. and if I were members of the media, I'd be very careful in what I reported and make sure that they're factual and not simply rumors.

[Question redacted]

A: Nobody in my office nor myself has ever been contacted by any investigatory agency. So, no.

Q: What did Mr. Ford mean in his letter of resignation... "a culture of deception and corruption", "where there is no vision, people perish", "I have no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh" -- what did he mean by all of that?

A: You'd have to ask Mr. Ford that question.

Q: Is there a culture of corruption and deception in the mayor's office?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Do you have any idea what he means when he says that he's being made a scapegoat for "inappropriate affairs and activities of others"?

A: Not at all.

Q: (inaudible)...that your administration can take in regards to campaign finance, in regards to bidding procedures for professional services contracts that might remove any suspicions that linger our there?

A: Well, I think you're always going to have those questions. And Don Kortland's here to answer your specific questions after this press conference. I know there's been a lot made about a couple of specific contracts. For example, a McTish contract that was mentioned. And again, I'll let Don answer the specifics. And I understand how it's sexy and something that looks good in a newspaper or on a TV report. But the reality is, for example, if you're going to buy a car, Rich. You're going to consider Dealer A and Dealer B. If Dealer A's bid's lower but doesn't have tires on the car, you're going to go to Dealer B. Because that's the lowest responsible bidder for the purchase that you want to make. So, it's not always as cut and dry as a newspaper article can make it seem to be. And I'll let Don answer that question more specifically afterwards. But I'm comfortable and confident that every decision that was made, that all these suggestions of corruption and deception are false. They're malicious. They're designed to attempt to attack me and this administration. And I stand here confident that that decision and all other decisions that were made were made appropriately.

Q: Mr. Ford's attorney, Mr. Fisher... talked in terms of contracts being awarded to people who were political contributors. His broad brush statement about that: what is your response?

A: Again, we've awarded contracts to contributors, W've awarded contracts to non-contributors. The reality of the situation is that we make decisions based on who we think is the best and responsible person. We've opened up the contract process at the URA. In fact, more so than has ever been done previously. Don can allude to that after the press conference to give you some more specifics on what that means. But we went through competitive processes in all these cases and we feel comfortable that the decisions that were made were appropriate. I can understand how some can suggest or may have the perception. The reality is that the decisions that were made were the best interest of the taxpayers of the taxpayers of the City of Pittsburgh. I believe that. I stand by that. Others may suggest otherwise, but I believe we made the right decisions.

Q: Have any investigators from any agency -- whether federal or state -- contacted your administration concerning Mr. Ford or any other activities of anyone within city government?

A: We have never -- not once -- been contacted, let me be very clear, by any federal investigator, by any investigator of any kind, whether it's me or any member of my administration. We have yet to be asked one question. I know there's been rumors. I've been made aware of the rumors that are out there, but I can only state the facts that that has not taken place. We have not been questioned, nobody has been approached. When and if that happens, we'll certainly make you aware of it, but at this point, absolutely, unequivocally nothing to that degree has happened.

Q: Mayor, why was Mr. Ford's attorney asked to leave and not be allowed to listen to this press conference?

A: He wasn't invited. I don't know that I appreciate the comments that he's made about me and my administration and I didn't want him in the room.

Q: Is this an open public forum. I mean, the fact is that you are speaking to the people of Pittsburgh through the news media. Isn't everything you're saying in here goes to the public?

A: This is a press conference and I've invited members of the press that have credentials and Mr. Fisher is not one of those members.

[Question redacted]

A: I think Joanna addressed that to you yesterday.

Q: No truth to that?

A: No truth to that at all. I think you need to get on with it.

Q: Mayor, why was it necessary to cut short your stay at the convention and when did you leave and why?

A: When I left -- what's today? Friday -- Wednesday afternoon, to come home to deal with this issue.

Q: Why was it necessary to cut it short and deal with it? What was the pressing matter that...?

A: I don't know that there was any pressing matter, other than, of course, it was surprising to me and I wanted to make sure that I was here to deal with the issue. And I felt it was more important for me to be here to be prepared to deal with this issue or any other than it was to me to be in Denver for the convention. So, it was a personal decision.

Q: When you say "deal with the issue", what have you been doing to deal with...? I mean you came home Wednesday afternoon and went all through yesterday.

A: Yeah, I left there Wednesday afternoon and got into town Wednesday evening. So, I didn't really have much to do Wednesday evening, other than to go to bed. But yesterday was just gathering facts. You know, considering what the resignation meant. Of course, talking with members of my staff about different issues that you all have questioned me on here today. I just wanted to make sure that I had all of the information before I made any public statement in a forum like this.

Q: Mr. Ford's attorney has said in a letter that Mr. Ford planned to work or at least get paid through the end of the year. Is that still going to happen?

A: That's a question that the URA board will ultimately consider. And I believe that they'll do so in executive session. I respect their ability to do so. I certainly will communicate with them in that regard. Haven't had the opportunity to do so yet. I don't want to tell you the answer before I tell them.

Q: What officials and members of staff had you been meeting with through the day and did you meet with any private attorneys in addition to..?

A: No.

Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Ford?

A: What's that?

Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Ford?

A: No.

Q: After you vetoed campaign finance reform earlier this year, you mentioned that your administration might promptly put out something that would in your view would be more (inaudible) and effective. Given all these questions, is that on an expedited timeline now?

A: We're considering it. I don't know that anything's changed since I've originally made that statement to you a little while back. But, so I don't know that it's expedited. We're trying to deal with this issue in the short term. And we'll take a look at it.

Q: How do you respond to the criticisms about your chief of staff from Pat Ford (on) Zober?

A: It doesn't surprise me.

Q: Did Yarone Zober make threats against people who had spoken out and tried to contact you on behalf of Pat Ford?

A: No. It's ridiculous. First of all, nobody contacted me on behalf of Pat Ford.

Q: No letters, no phone calls?

A: I didn't see them. Apparently one or two may have come through, but I didn't see them. And nobody threatened anybody.

Q: What was your opinion of Pat Ford prior to receipt of that letter and what are your thoughts about Pat Ford now?

A: Certainly, you know, I'm saddened by the whole turn of events and I think it's unfortunate. It's something I couldn't predict would have happened. And let me also be clear that never once -- ever -- did Pat approach me, approach the chairman of his board, approach anybody at the URA to suggest that there was any type of corruption or decisions being made that were not in the best interest of the residents. :Never once during his employment did that take place. And so for him now to suggest that there was a culture of it, I think is certainly contrived and very unfortunate. So you have to consider the turn of events that has taken place with this individual.

Q: So, you had no fault found with Pat Ford prior to this letter of resignation and the accusations contained in it?

A: I think you all have been asking me these questions for two years now about Pat Ford. I've been supportive of him. I've always stood behind him. I remained behind him as recently as last week. Of course, now I realize that was a mistake. I take responsibility for it. And we'll move on.

Q: Do you have any idea what prompted Mr. Ford's letter? I mean, everything seemed to be on track?

A: I don't. I mean, I was simply waiting for the state Ethics Commission's recommendations, and I was very clear and consistent with that. And was willing and ready to make a decision once that recommendation came back. And he decided to do what he did. I don't know why.

Q: (Inaudible)..that recommendation will ever come from the state Ethics Commission?

A: I haven't given that much thought. Yeah, I was expecting it to come at some point.

Q: Nor have they said that it's coming next week or anything like that?

A: Nothing.

Q: If one does eventually come this month, say following the next meeting, will that have any influence on whether he's paid through the end of the year or not?

A: I don't think so, no.

Q: Given his public statements in that letter, will that form the basis of denying him any payments? Does that constitute anything that would be considered a break of his responsibilities under the contract?

A: You should probably direct that to Don afterwards, because he could -- I mean those are issues that the URA board and the URA themselves are considering. I mean employment law, contracts, et cetera. So, that's above my pay grade.

Q: Mayor, you said you've always supported him up until last week, and now the word you just used, you realized it was a mistake. Have you learned something since last week that raises a question in your mind about Pat Ford's tenure in the city with the URA and the way he was conducting himself in office?

A: Well, I think clearly he has decided to attack others to potentially benefit himself. I think that's unfortunate. I've done nothing over the past two years other than stand behind him. I gave him the authority and the ability to get his name cleared at the state Ethics Commission. I remained silent and open to their recommendations. So, I've done nothing over the past two years to not support Pat. I've been there to support him. And so, needless to say, I was blindsided and surprised by the course of action that he chose to take on Wednesday. And you know, I'm still surprised by it, but we'll move on. I think it's unfortunate and we have important business that we have to take care of and we're going to do that.

[The following portion of the transcript was added to the blog at 5 PM Saturday.]

Q: [Inaudible] any way what is happening at the URA..?

A: No, in fact, I'm very pleased with the way things at the URA have been going. I think if you were to talk to people, whether it's neighborhood advocates, developers, employees at the URA, we have not missed a beat whatsoever and in fact have perhaps become more efficient in some ways. And so I think the URA has continued to function in a very good way and they'll continue to do so, despite some of the activities that have potentially been a distraction over the past couple of days.

Q: Your thoughts and feelings about being put in the position where you felt it was necessary to miss the Obama acceptance speech, Biden's acceptance speech, Biden's visit to the Pennsylvania delegation, President Clinton's speech, and fulfill(ing) your role as a delegate?

A: I think my responsibility to residents of the City of Pittsburgh are what's always been my number one priority. And I felt in this case it was more appropriate for me to be here in Pittsburgh to deal with this issue and the questions surrounding it than it was be in Denver having a good old time at a convention party.

Q: In addition to preparing to respond publicly today, dealing with the media, are there any specific additional actions that you're taking or steps that you're taking that come out of that daylong meeting with staff?

A: No. And it wasn't necessarily a daylong meeting It was just -- certainly I was in dialog with certain folks about it. But, you know, it was just a day for me to get back and get settled and prepare for today. But I mean I don't want to suggest that from 8 AM until 8 PM yesterday I was entrenched in meetings because I wasn't -- so...

Q: Did you learn anything in those talks yesterday that you didn't know your staff was doing beforehand or that they had had with Pat Ford? Were you kept in the dark on any of it?

A: No, I don't kn-- nothing that was revealed yesterday was new to me. No.
Last one. If that's okay.

Q: What does the future hold now for this position? (Inaudible).

A: That will be a question that the URA board will answer. Of course we will put some sort of transition in place. You know, whether that's the current acting executive director or otherwise, we'll decide what that means in the future. But at this point they have not met, nor have they even decided to do what -- necessarily what to do Mr. Ford's request. So until they do that, I guess we're speculating. But we anticipate a smooth transition that will take place rather expeditiously.
Okay? Thanks, guys.

[Moments later, reporters interviewed Pat Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, who had attempted to attend Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference. Fisher had entered the mayor's conference room by following reporters and photographers in when the media was admitted. At some point Gigi Saladna of the Mayor's Office learned his identity and the mayor's bodyguard, Pittsburgh Police Detective Domenick Sciulli, escorted Fisher out of the room. After several minutes, Mayor Ravenstahl entered the room and the news conference began. Fisher spoke with reporters near the entrance of the empty City Council Chamber, located down the hall from the Mayor's Office. A transcript of that Q&A will appear as a separate post.]


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