Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Curious Case of the Solicitor's Phone Calls

City Solicitor George Specter

It was an unusual footnote to Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference on Friday, which he held to respond to the attacks in Pat Ford's resignation letter. The evening before, City Solicitor George Specter made a series of phone calls to top media company executives around town, expressing concern about potential news coverage of rumors about the Ravenstahl administration.

My source confirming Thursday's unprecedented series of afternoon and early evening calls is Solicitor Specter himself.

Many of the calls went not to news division executives, but to top executives outside and above the news divisions, Specter confirmed.

Friday, when I returned Specter's call to WTAE, I reached him on a golf course; he was vacationing out of town. I asked him if he had anything to add to Mayor Ravenstahl's remarks. He responded that he hadn't known about the mayor's news conference and he declined to do a phone interview. Specter said he had made the calls Thursday because he was concerned that there were rumors the Ravenstahl administration was under investigation. The city solicitor had wanted to make it known that he was not aware of any investigation.

I first learned details of Specter's calls from a reporter for another local news organization after the news conference. In reviewing my transcript, it's apparent that Specter's calls actually inspired the first two questions of the news conference, which came from yet another reporter:

Q: Mr. Mayor, your --the city's attorney called the newspaper yesterday and said you guys were aware of a rumor going around that [rumor redacted] but you didn't know anything about it. Can you address that; what is that about?

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.

Q: But are [rumor redacted] ?

A: Nobody in my office nor myself has ever been contacted by any investigatory agency. So, no.
It appears one immediate effect of the solicitor's calls was to prompt heightened attention and blunt questions from reporters about the rumors the solicitor's calls spotlighted.

Many months ago, I questioned the mayor's office about a different unsubstantiated rumor concerning Ravenstahl. At that time, Acting Press Secretary Joanna Doven told me that City Solicitor Specter believed the previous rumor amounted to slander. I was puzzled at the time by the solicitor being invoked in that case in a role beyond his usual city governmental duties.


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