Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Will Specter Face a Challenger in Lamb?

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb has been thinking about running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Arlen Specter. Now, with Specter leaving the Republican Party to join the Dems, Lamb suddenly faces the prospect of challenging an incumbent in the Democratic primary.

I did this Q&A with Lamb around 12:45 Tuesday afternoon, not long after the Specter story broke. (I'm posting this via BlackBerry for now, to get it online. I'll clean up the formatting when I have PowerBook wifi access.)

Q: Your first reaction on hearing Arlen Specter's intention to become a Democrat?

A: "Well, you know, it's something that has been speculated about for such a long time that it's not a shock. The timing of it is interesting, with it coming right now. But, you know, I think it's an interesting move on his part and it will be interesting to see how the people of Pennsylvania react to it."

Q: Well, it's been reported that you were thinking about running for the U.S. Senate. As a Democrat, does this change your plans?

A: " Well, like I said, I have been in the very preliminary stages of considering this race and this will one of the issues that I look at as I make my decision. It doesn't -- it hasn't made my decision for me yet, but I will still continue to look at this race and determine whether or not something is really viable for me to do."

Q: Do you welcome him becoming a Democrat? Should your fellow Democrats welcome Arlen Specter becoming a Democrat?

A: "I welcome everybody becoming a Democrat. I believe very significantly and strongly in the Democratic Party and I'm glad to have as many members in the Democratic Party as we can have. I think our party has been the big tent party in the United States for a long time and having Senator Specter in there, I think, further affirms that position."

Q: But even though you welcome him as a Democrat that doesn't mean you might not be a competitor for the Democratic nomination to the Senate?

A: "I still think that working families here in Western Pennsylvania need a voice in Washington. And, you know, it's going to take some time to see whether Senator Specter's going to provide that voice for working families here in western Pennsylvania. I've always believed that a western Pennsylvania Democrat was a strong candidate in a statewide race and I continue to believe that."

Q: When will you decide if you're going to run?

A: " I'll probably make the decision in the very near term. I mean, as you know, it's a very big proposition. There' a lot that goes into that effort, including the fundraising and other things. So it will be in the very near term."


Sent from my mobile device


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(AUDIO) -- Ravenstahl: "I did a pretty good job of not answering it, didn't I?"

Click to play

Q: "Mayor, the question I asked last night about --"

Mayor Ravenstahl: "Yeah, I did a pretty good job of not answering it, didn't I?" (Laughter)

That exchange between Mayor Ravenstahl and me Tuesday afternoon followed these unanswered e-mails I sent to both his campaign manager Paul McKrell and his government press secretary Joanna Doven:

From: Bob Mayo
Subject: Mayor's Daily Schedule
Date: April 21, 2009 9:28:41 AM EDT

This e-mail is to followup on my question during last night's debate.
Will the mayor make his daily schedule through election day public? If he will, how soon will that happen and how frequently will it be updated?


Bob Mayo

You can hear the rest of the exchange by clicking on the image above.

The mayor shifted attention from his daily schedule when he revealed he did two things: announced that he is now agreeing to restore a third televised debate with his opponents, and launched an attack on KDKA-TV for its handling of its postponement of the station's debate. The above audio clip includes those remarks, as well as his criticisms of his opponents and the rest of the news media on the topic.

Some key quotes from Mayor Ravenstahl, who says he learned of KDKA's cancellation from the Dowd campaign and then the PG website:

• "As far as I'm concerned, that was extremely unprofessional. It was an attempt to distort my position on debates and I was frustrated by that. Never have I not wanted to debate. I enjoyed last night's event."

• "While I was extremely unhappy with the way KDKA handled it, I guess I was more unhappy with my opponents and the media's distortion of my willingness to participate in debates. I have, I will, I want to, and so we will appear. I had discussions with KDKA, it looks like next Thursday will be an appropriate time for the debate. I don't think it's been finalized yet, but I did make room on my schedule next Thursday for that."

I crossed paths with Councilman Patrick Dowd minutes after the mayor's news conference. His reaction to Mayor Ravenstahl's decision:

• "I'm glad that he's caved in to the pressure here. I mean it's obvious that the public deserves to see candidates before them to answer questions. "

• "I think that obviously the mayor could spare the time and and he didn't want to do it. And so I'm glad to see that he's caved in to the pressure. There's been a lot of pressure, I know, and I'm glad he's caved."

Carmen Robinson responds via e-mail:

• "I am encouraged by his response and of course I will rearrange my schedule but again it is always on his terms. Since it is more important for the people of Pittsburgh to see more debates, I am more than willing to comply to his terms."

KDKA-TV acting news director Anne Linaberger told WTAE her station postponed its April 15 debate because of the deaths of three city police officers on April 4th. The newly arranged debate will be recorded on April 30th and broadcast on May 2nd.

(A closing note in answer to TRM: I did try to press Mayor Ravenstahl again during the debate to answer the question. As Dowd and Robinson were starting to respond, I spoke out, asking again "...releasing your schedule...?" I'm not sure if my microphone was turned down or if the shift to the other candidates drowned me out -- I was on the opposite side of the studio. As the candidates were speaking on camera, Andrew turned toward me and whispered "follow-up?" At that point, the debate was now running long: Jill and Sheldon's final questions were being cut; the candidate answers to my final question were being limited to 30 seconds. Closing statements were about to begin so that the broadcast would end on time. Given those constraints, I chose instead to take up the question again in the morning.)



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ravenstahl Debate Update

Right now, at an unrelated news conference:

In answer to my repeating my debate request for his public schedule, Mayor Ravenstahl blasted KDKA-TV for the way it called off its debate. He says he called the station today to complain.

Ravenstahl says he's also told the station that he's available for a TV debate next Thursday.

Sent from my mobile device (and later edited for clarity). Check back for new details Tuesday.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

1st Mayor's Race Debate -- Your Ideas & Questions?

Next Monday night from 7 to 8 PM, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Councilman Patrick Dowd, and attorney Carmen Robinson meet in their first debate. I'll be on the panel of reporters asking questions of the three candidates in Pittsburgh's Democratic primary for mayor.

I want to hear what issues you think the candidates should address. You can e-mail me directly at bobmayo4 at I know many readers and bloggers here in the Burghosphere -- Pittsburgh's blogosphere -- follow Pittsburgh politics and government with a passion. Now's your chance to help shape the debate -- tell me what topics we should take on. You can even send along links or background, if you'd like.

WTAE-TV's also inviting viewers to submit your own questions via video or e-mail.

For a taste of what's ahead, here's a link to our Ravenstahl-DeSantis mayoral debate from the fall of 2007.



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blogging in Court -- The Poplawski Case Gag Order Hearing

Judge Manning and Richard Poplawski (file photos)

[Here's my blog post from the court hearing on
the motion for a gag order in the Richard Poplawski case.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009.

I'm writing this in the courtroom of Judge Jeffrey Manning, who granted permission via his staff for me to use my laptop computer for notetaking during the proceeding. These are my raw notes on the hearing, not a comprehensive transcript. They'll help form the basis for my reporting later in the day. Not all quotes here are verbatim -- some are a paraphrasing or a summary of keywords.

10:10 AM

Poplawski not present in court for this hearing.

Common Pleas Administrative Judge Jeffrey Manning: notes for news media that use of laptops to take notes is permissible -- but not to transmit from the courtroom.

Assistant Public Defender Lisa Middleman: says she covered most of what she had to say in her written pleading. Notes that information from police reports and statements or confessions by defendants are among those things she seeks to have covered by a court order. Says her and the DA's office's desire is "to try this case once, in the cleanest way possible". Asks that the judge sign an order preventing further statements from police and prosecutors. Not asking that order cover anyone else. Says families in this case have been extraordinarily dignified.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Tranquilli: notes that he and District Attorney Zappala contacted members of Pittsburgh Police command staff, emphasized to them the importance of curtailing statements and dissemination of evidence to the media. He says he was assured would do so -- but it remains to be seen what effect those efforts have had. Says since dissemination has not abated -- the DA's office joins in asking for court order. Asks that it also cover court staff who have access to filings, pleadings, and to those responsible for housing defendant at the jail. Asks that order also cover agencies that have reports, audio, transcripts, to prevent release of those items to members of the media. Says the DA's office wants the evidence to be heard by twelve citizens, not tried in media. Says they are confident they can give the public the only accurate account of what happened on that terrible day, rather than have the account be the subject of unabated speculation in the media.

Middleman: doesn't think court can preclude release of public filings by attorneys.

Judge Manning: thinks that correct -- they are public record. Judge says any order does not prevent, for example, a police officer who is directing traffic from making a statement, or anyone else not involved in the case.

Middleman: their comments may ultimately reflect on ability to impanel jury, ability to get people who haven't been exposed to coverage of the case and formed an opinion.

Tranquilli: says the records he was referring to are sealed search warrants.

Judge Manning: they're sealed by order of court and will remain so. Notes that under Rule 110 of rules of civil procedure, he may issue an order on extra-judicial statements. Also says that under Rule 111, all court personnel are prohibited from releasing information that is not part of public record.

Judge Manning says that leading case on this issue is 43 years old -- cites case of Sam Sheppard in Cleveland, Ohio, in which the Supreme Court says the court should have acted to deal with this issue. Judge Manning says he will issue order restricting extra judicial statements that applies to all police officers directly or indirectly involved in the investigation, as well as all persons likely to be called as witnesses by the prosecution and the defense. He will prohibit the release any reports and any an all evidence without the authority of the court. Says he will issue his order within the next hour. Also will add to it the persons housing the defendant (at the jail).


Tom McGough, Attorney for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: cites a Nebraska case regarding gag orders. Addresses one: who does it apply to, and two: what does it restrict.

Judge Manning: will craft his order so as to not abridge free speech.

McGough: concerned that an order restricting all extra-judicial statements about the case is too broad. Says this is a case of high public concern. Matters that come up every day -- 911 system, Poplawski's confinement, the defendant's grandmother chaining herself to the house -- will beg comment from pubic officials. He suggests they look for state-of-the-art language as to what statements should be covered by the order. Notes Rules 3.6 and 3.8 of professional conduct. Says court tried to strike balance (between first amendment rights and right to a fair trial). Says the public has right to know about public safety, the conduct of judicial proceedings. Says there is often direct significant debate on public policy. Says the standard is whether particular communications will have substantial likelihood of prejudicing a judicial proceeding. Cites example of the Wecht case.

Ron Barber, Attorney for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: to expand -- in addition to case-specific matters in which public has interest, there may be other important examples in this case where public interest cries out. Cites hypothetical examples in which a witness feels pressure, or there is no minority representative in the jury pool. he says discussion of those could be covered by the court order if not carefully crafted.

Judge Manning: invites them to submit drafts for him to review. Says he will not issue his order until early this afternoon.

Middleman: Any interest the public may have is separate and distinct from the defendant. Says the defendant waives his right to have information regarding his housing be public, and waives any and all rights to a public proceeding at this point.

McGough: we'll have to wait for a public proceeding to see if that waiving is relevant.

Judge Manning: indicates that he will issue his court order this afternoon. At some point he notes that the news media likes to call it a gag order, but it is actually an order precluding extra-judicial statements by those involved in the investigation and in the court case. He concludes the hearing.

As Judge Manning was leaving the courtroom, I asked him if I could pose a quick hypothetical question: would any court order prevent an elected official from discussing the public safety aspects of the case in, say, a candidates debate?

Judge Manning indicated that it would not. He said it would obviously be better for such an official to discuss the broader public safety issues rather than the particulars of the case -- but that, no, the order would not restrict any elected officials or candidates from such discussions.



The Busman's Holiday is Back

Coming tonight: the Busman's Holiday returns. Two posts ahead on the gag order in Poplawski case.

Sent from my mobile device