Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
M(e)andering toward 2010
There are also some signs of activity in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. At least one Democrat has announced a challenge to incumbent Tim Murphy. It's a particularly tough row for a Democrat in PA18. After the post-2000 Census redistricting, the Pennsylvania redistricting was described as 'aggressive' and sponsored a supreme court case before all was said and done. There was little secret made in the desire to create a district that would swap one traditionally Democratic congressional district for a Republican one in Southwestern Pennsylvania. With the help of those darn computers a district was tailor made for then State Senator Tim Murphy who would win the seat. Jeff Toobin discussed the Pennsylvania redistricting history in this article in the New Yorker. In the end the effort may have backfired and according to no less of a conservative source than the Wall Street Journal the process didn't work out too well for Republicans in the long run.
All you need to do is take a look at what PA18 looks like to tell there must have been some ulterior logic behind the shape that results. The Rorschach test makers could not have done a better job, which is just a bit ironic since incumbent Congressman Murphy is a psychologist. This is what it looks like today:
This shape is often used by the League of Women Voters when they describe Pennsylvania legislative districts as 'deformed'. But last year there was a race between Tim Murphy and Chad Kluko for this district. Those results look like this:
Which looks pretty much like a blowout. Murphy won 58-42 over Kluko which was just under a16 point margin. Could a challenger win this seat? For perspective, that margin in 2006 is roughly half the margin in the mayor's race earlier in the month. That and there was no expectation of this being a close race so you didnt get much money or interest from either local or national Democrat fundraisers in this race. Their efforts were clearly focused elsewhere, like PA4 which was expected to be the close race that it was. In the end Kluko was outspent over 18 to one and literally ran out of money near the end (when money is the most important). At one point there had been talk that Stan Savran was thinking of running. You have to wonder if sheer name recognition would have earned him a few points over what the fairly unknown Kluko got... though it would have been tough to cover that margin completely.
Redistricting is not going to affect this coming election (or even the next), but we are getting closer to 2010 and a challenger in this race may just be laying the groundwork for a future run when the odds are a little better. One of the biggest impacts on future Pennsylvania politics could be the difference in who controls state government in a few years compared to the situation in 2001-2002 when redistricting last took place. Even the switch in the PA supreme court could be significant because there are provisions for redistricting to default to the Supreme Court if all else fails. Could the advantage of a Republican in this district be undrawn? One way or there other, SW PA congressional districts are going to look different after 2010 because other parts of the state have been growing faster and Pennsylvania is projected to lose a congressional seat. Taken together, most local districts could look awfully different in just a few years.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
and you think I obsess I numbers
and something even more important. Via the swivel blog I see a note on a debate over public data access in the UK and this story in the Guardian: Public sector information 'worth billions'. The Guardian seems to even have a "Free Our Data" column or beat... they actually label it a 'campaign'. Does any paper in the US do anything remotely like that?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Why cities grow and shrink
Speaking of the Steelers though. I really am curious: does anyone know how long the Steelers season ticket waiting list is and what date they are up to? 1975? 1985? 1995?
Monday, November 26, 2007
$1?0 per barrel oil?
Weekly analysis of the nation's oil markets is put out the Department of Energy. I really think the author(s?) of this should get some award. Nowhere else in the vast labyrinth of federal government statistics will you find anyone who has a sense of humor, except here. The archive of their weekly commentary is online here. That old commentary is worth a read if you are interested in gas prices. A couple weeks ago they explained oil prices all in terms of the college football Bowl Championship Series (BCS).... and it was just a few months ago in July that they asked "Will Crude Oil Prices Reach $80"? On Friday oil hit $99.16 per barrel.
But humor can't make the price go lower. The current version of their This Week in Petroleum points out that it takes "3 to 6 weeks for price changes in the crude oil market to completely filter through to prices at the retail pump". The last few weeks have seen some of the bigger increases in crude oil prices. Sooo...
So maybe I should have put the question mark in the first digit of the title. No way you say, oil prices can't double... it's just not possible. Well, when you consider that between November of 1998 and last week oil prices hav increase from $10.86 to $99+, a 900+% increase... what's a marginal 100% thrown in there? I didn't say next week.
a Pittsburgh angle: for some useful crowdsourcing before the term was even invented see: http://www.pittsburghgasprices.com/
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Leftover pot luck
Maybe over Christmas we will see a new wave of tourists. From the Kansas City Star is yet another travel piece on visiting Pittsburgh.
The folks at Marginal Revolution point out a study from a couple years ago that ranked the most liberal and conservative cities in the US. See the full report by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research. Pittsburgh is ranked 34th out of 236 cities they rank in terms of 'most liberal'. Also on that site you can see that their center is listed on EBAY, so you too can own a piece of a think tank... sort of a Think Tank IPO. Who buys think tanks? Maybe Null Space could be sold virtually on Second Life for some virtual money?
and amid all the Thanksgiving cheer, little notice was paid to the anniversary of JFK's assassination the same day. A moment that impacted the nation and the world, but had a particular impact on local politics. The next 4 decades of our politics would be impacted by two of the players in the post-assassination investigation: Arlen Specter who came up with the silver bullet theory is now the longest serving Pennsylvania Senator ever. Over that time he has beaten a lot of other candidates. and Cyril Wecht of course, who has both a web site and occasional journal/blog, the recent entry is scintillating: A Note to Funeral Home Directors. His profile would forever be elevated and would dominate local politics for years. People forget, CW was an Allegheny County commissioner at one point long before he lost to Jim Roddey for the new post of County Chief Executive.and everyone is talking about Pittsburgh's history these day, but even the articles I see today do not mention that it was literally today, November 25th, that in 1758 the British captured Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War. My own cent and a half, but I just don't get why all the history compilations leading up to the 250 celebrations rarely mention Pittsburgh's history in World War II.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Confessions of a Reactionary Yunzer
The divisions have always been there. Yet you like to think things are getting better. Last week’s election does not give any evidence that we are even moving away from our uber-divisiveness. In some ways the results last week were as polarized as any election in the past. For all the talk and analysis, you could have predicted nearly every vote in the city (young or old, Black or White, partisan or moderate) based on nothing other than income level. And because we divide where we live along the same lines, the political machinations follow suit. The minor punditry is already sizing up the next election and measuring how candidates X or Y could do in one part of the city and how it will balance candidates Z or ZZ who will do better in other areas. The cycle looks to repeat itself again pretty quickly.
I am not so much surprised by the divisions as the complete refusal to acknowledge there were people our there who do not think like they do. Read the commentary all around, you get a sense of complete disbelief among group X and there exist people who voted for candidate Y. I understand people will disagree with the votes of others, but the complete inability to comprehend that the other side exists is what I am talking about. One side of that may be more prevalent online, but when you take into account what is actually being said on the street, the disbelief works both ways, and in many other ways beyond those that manifest themselves in election returns.
How polarized is the city? You don’t need to look at a map of how we live in separate communities to know how divided we are. It is quite common for there to be residential segregation by race and income in cities. That is true here just as it is true elsewhere. What is extreme here is how sharp the lines are between those communities. In most parts of the city you can draw a very precise line that will perfectly predict perfectly whether you expect a particular household to be a Black or White. I know I can walk out my door and walk a half block one direction and hit 95%+ black households and if I go a half block in another direction you hit 95%+ white households. I will be the first to propound a lot of the positive change going on in the city and region, but one thing that shows virtually no sign of change are these patterns of residential segregation. Where there is some nominal diversity it is actually the mass gentrification that displaces one group for another. The diversity that results is just a short-term transition effect, not a sustainable long-term trend.
I have an odd story that highlights how badly we are divided and how much denial goes along with that. I hate to ping on my good friends in the media, they are pressed to produce new content at a rate I could not replicate. But when the last census numbers came out few years ago, I literally got a bunch of calls from a couple different places asking this question: Can I explain why there are some local communities showing big changes in Black population? That was followed up by something like: What is making certain suburban and rural communities more attractive to Black families all of a sudden? My literal reaction was ‘huh?’ and it took some questioning on my part to even get to how they came to their implied premise. It turns out that there were indeed a few nearby communities in Pennsylvania that had shown some remarkable increases in minority populations in 2000 compared to just minimal numbers a decade earlier. Why? It turns out that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania had opened a new prison, and moved another, and all the demographics some journalists (or their editors I figure) saw were the numbers in those communities with the new prisons. Not exactly what I call organic change. They really wanted to see a trend that just didn't exist. That we at least want so much to see change like this, even when it isn’t there, may be a good thing. The fact that there is so little actual change is the reality.
But this all goes way beyond race. A personal confession might explain that best. For the most part I was born and raised in Bloomfield. When people from elsewhere ask me where in Pittsburgh I am from and I like to say that if you threw a dart and hit the center of the region, you could easily land on my house. To be more specific I grew up a few houses away from where these pictures were taken for a DNJ story in the PG earlier in the year. Like many others I was away for years for school, work and other things. One time when I moved back I rented an apartment in Shadyside. I recall running into someone I grew up with, but had not seen in years. Upon explaining where I had rented a place, which was literally a quarter mile from a place I lived in as a child, the verbatim and quite visceral reaction was “Why would you live with those people?”. And here is the bigger point: I wasn’t surprised in the least. I understood the reaction. For a brief moment I actually felt a need to explain myself. If nothing else it highlights a misconception that a lot of the divisions we see are something about ‘new’ Pittsbughers vs ‘old’ Pittsburghers. That is just a bogeyman. The divisions amongst multi-generational Pittsburghers are worse than anything between new residents and long time denizens. As a commenter reminded me recently ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, and contempt we have in abundance all around.
I started out by pointing out that the pattern of election returns within the city couldn’t have been more polarized. In elections past there were at least some success at coalition building. Even if attempted, there was little sign of that this time. Do the results reflect a more polarizing set of candidates? Certainly not in the election we just endured. If only measured in sheer flamboyancy, neither candidate compared to the colorful figures of the past. Purely speculation of course, but I really think because the election was so bland, the messages so generic, and the deliveries so dull that most voters people reverted to a more innate set of beliefs in deciding how to cast their vote.
Can this change? Not easily I am sure. I lived in New York City for several years. It would be naïve to think these divisions did not exist there just as they do here. The divisions there are probably 5 fold worse than ours, yet at the same time the scale of diversity within NYC and the problems they face everyday just to keep the city functioning starts out 10 times worse than here. Given how 'tight knit' we claim to be as a community, I am not sure we have an excuse to be such strangers from each other.
Even though I was pretty busy when living in NYC, I did my best to try and see some new part of the city every week, or at worst every month. You could live in New York a lifetime and never see every ‘neighborhood’. Maybe we could do that here. A lot of people work Downtown? It’s not that far a walk to get into the heart of the Hill District. I wonder what percentage of the 100K or so people who work Downtown have ever ventured a single yard past the Melody Tent site (that would be the parking lot above the Civic Arena). I’d suggest lunch at the Crawford Grill, but because visitors to the Hill have dwindled so much in recent decades, that isn’t an option any more. As you walk past the Civic Arena itself, imagine if it had replaced your childhood home. Imagine if your whole neighborhood had been eliminated and you yourself were forced to move away from friends and family as a child to make way for it. Does that memory stick with you for a lifetime and even get passed on to your children? Then think about the distrust, cynicism and angst that exists today as we fight over the impact of things like the casino or the arena. So many people looking at today's issues ignore almost all the relevant history. In many cases the factions fighting today's battles are being lead by the children, and in some cases the grandchildren, of those who were fighting similar battles decades ago.
That is just one neighborhood. There happen to be a few others in the city, each with a unique history that its residents remember to their core. I honestly wished I could have done one of those quizzes reporters sometimes spring on candidates without warning. I would have asked if any of the candidates could tell where Westwood or Chicken Hill is located without the help of a map (or Google). I don’t want to give away the specific place, but a friend from one of the smaller neighborhoods in the city was explaining to me how even within that one neighborhood there were clear zones of disparate groups, and even a ‘border’ zone between then. That is probably true in each and every other neighborhood in the city.
So forget the mythical 88 or so neighborhoods ‘officially’ named, there are several hundred actual neighborhoods that define us. If you try you might find a few of them. It may take going across a river, or (egads) over two rivers. Or how about a trip on one those buses you see Downtown, but secretly have to admit not knowing where they really go. That or go beyond talking about the famous Pittsburgh steps, and actually walk some of the steps. Just think, the next time you brag about the quaint Pittsburgh neighborhoods to someone out in the netherworld, you can speak from experience and not just live vicariously via some quirky travel guide.
Sophie Masloff once said “Pittsburgh works because we cooperate”. Is that true today?
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
This gets to a lot of difficult accounting in the public sector. The school district has a real issue and it's cost benefit analysis may lead it to one obvious solution: close the building. Yet if there is going to be a big cost on community to leaving that huge building in place to deteriorate, where do those costs get accounted for. Is the plan to raze the building? Asbestos is asbestos and I bet the costs just to remediate enough to bring down the building are non-trivial. Again, its a cost that needs to be accounted for. It's a bit hard to imagine an alternate use for the building and the potential costs that would incur somebody.
Just questions. I don't have any answers, but am surprised this is not a part of the public debate as I have heard it. Without doubt, its a tough problem.
If nothing else, there is some progress in government transparency in all of this. the Pittsburgh BOE has at least put up some of the documents relating to all of this via this web link. I will take some issue that it says the "file is too big" to put one report online completely, but needs to be viewed in person. Not that hard to break a file into pieces, or scan at lower resolutions... but what do I know? It's also a little odd that a report labeled 'early history' goes back to 2005. I bet the asbestos has been there a lot longer than that.
Monday, November 19, 2007
That is mostly an excuse to point out one of the more important, if really esoteric, things going on in the world of municipal bonds (bonds? we've got bonds). The US Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next few months in a case that could disallow some state tax exemptions of interest paid on certain municipal bonds. The issue is that bond interest could be bumped up a small bit. For Pennsylvania it may be a smaller impact than most other states because for high income taxpayers (bond buyers presumably) our tax rates are relatively low. So it may be a very small impact, but when you are a billion or so in the hole... every mil counts. Related trivia: Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that has a flat personal income tax, i.e. no progressivity at all.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
and the Trib talks about the region's chocolatiers. Did you know you live in the industry's chocolate belt? But again, it all goes back to East liberty. The article lists Bolan's chocolates as part of the mix. At least as a retail establishment their storefront sure looks closed to me, but their web page (listing that address) is again up and running again. A commenter in the past mentioned they are still in business for corporate business. Don't you think that Eastside must need a chocolate store?
Saturday, November 17, 2007
the wonkish sports column
For another Steelers mention in a larger context see this story from earlier in the week on Slate: The NFL Outsmarts Itself.
Even a comment on former Burgher Barry Bonds: something I mentioned a while ago. Editor and Publisher no longer has the column online. But author Michael Witte recently wrote a detailed piece on how Barry Bonds' quite advanced elbow armor device could be providing him a far greater advantage when it comes to hitting bags of leather encased string long distances. Sports Illustrated discussed the advantages of the elbow armor in years past, see: Roboplayers: Body armor brings new meaning to 'taking one for the team'. As I recall, the thing that struck me is that his device is not permitted for players these days, but he is allowed to use said device only because of a grandfather clause that applies to him and others who started wearing these long ago. He does seem to be allowed to upgrade the device even. Can anyone say 'advanced materials'.
Friday, November 16, 2007
The November issue of Site Selection Magazine writes about the Nuclear Industry in Western Pennsylvania: Western Pennsylvania Reaps Rewards of Nuclear Power Renaissance.
Also in that same issue is a ranking of state business climates and Pennsylvania ranks 16th. Granted it's not #1, nor even in the top 10, but you often hear people argue that the business climate here is near last. Why the difference with what Site Selection comes up with?
For the urban planner in you: Metropolis Magazine reviews a new book on Jane Jacobs: What Would Jane Do? The actual book reviewed is Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York. As an aside: While I hope we would not have any entries, I do not want to stick my head in the sand either.... The folks at Digital Urban are trying to write a book on the world's worst urban places and you can contribute. They even have their own blog. http://worsturban.blogspot.com/index.html
and former Pitt professor Al Roth is engaged in an online banter at the Wall Street Journal on the topic of organ donation markets, or lack thereof.
but literally speaking of knitting, i.e. yarn and those pointed stick things... knitting and blogging (and urban planning and economics for that matter) all come together in a new Knit Shop opening today in the East Liberty Plaza*: Natural Stitches. which for knit-challenged me is interesting because it has been chronicling the entrepreneurial travails it takes for a small business in the City to get to this point. So congratulations!
*OK.. OK. the actual location is called The Village of East Side these days, but the reactionary yinzer in me refuses to use that moniker. The Steel Building isn't 600 Grant Street either. and why for the life of me there was a Staples in East Liberty before there was one Downtown I just don't understand.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Crowdsourcing the election analysis
but for completeness. I have added in the recent results to the file I had put online before. These are online here:
Pittsburgh Voting Data (excel)
Pittsburgh Voting Data (html)
these files have some historical election returns and some demographic and geographic information for city of Pittsburgh voting districts.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
One factoid is this comparison of current foreclosure metrics:
Pittsburgh 1 foreclosure in 432 households
Cleveland 1 foreclosure in 57 households
And the trend? Change in foreclosures rate over the most recent year in Pittsburgh: minus 28%.
So yes. Lots of reasons that explain the relatively low rate here. But that is such an extreme difference between two relatively similar regions that you have to wonder. A commenter suggested it comes from different regulatory regimes which I would agree has to be a big part of this.
Update: CNN has a story on Cleveland: Foreclosure's Ground Zero.
TIFs in Chicago... and the connection to last weeks mayoral race.
Think TIFs are only debated here? A study released earlier in the week by the Chicago Civic Federation says that Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) remains a powerful tool for Illinois municipalities to spur economic development, but better public reporting is needed on how governments use the revenues. You can read the full report here.
There are lots of fundamental debates on the uses of TIFs. No time to get into most of that. The current issue with TIFs at least in the city of Pittsburgh is with a proposal to actually reduce the size of certain TIF districts in the city. That may seem strange but as the article points out there is a fundamental reason for this. The city is limited by state law to only give TIF's on 10% of the city's property base. and it is over 8% right now. Seems like we have some leeway before hitting that 10%, but really not. Not mentioned in that article is the problem that one of the TIF's in place is for the PNC tower going up downtown and once it is completed... guess what, the value of the property goes up and the percentage of the city's property tax base that is TIF'd goes up as well. So the city is effectively at its limit now and needs to decrease TIF districts if it intends to do any more.
I have made my case against the broad use of tax incentives as they exist these days, so I won't repeat myself. But all of these debates over TIF's, tax abatements, or the myriad of other tax policies that are designed to promote investments could be simplified, strengthened and made a whole lot fairer in one fell swoop. How? I have a long post percolating in my head over the past, and possible future, use of the land tax here in Pittsburgh. and lest I incur the wrath of the many homeowners who pushed to have the tiered tax eliminated after the 2001 property reassessment in Allegheny County, I really believe there could be ways to implement it without unduly impacting the taxes on existing residential parcels.
Which leads me to a curious point that ties all of this to the mayoral race. If you compare the election results to past races in the city, there is some clear analogy to between last weeks results and the 1999 race for Allegheny County executive. At least within the city the % Roddey sure looks similar to the % Desantis. That Roddey-Wecht race was amazingly close overall even though Roddey lost in the city by a large margin. Nonetheless he lost by a lot smaller margin that was typical of Republicans running in the 1990's. You can make the case that the smaller city margin, though still a loss, was the margin that gave Roddey the victory over Cyril Wecht.
But what does that have to do with TIFs and property taxes? Well, the difference between 1999 when Roddey beat Wecht and 2003 when he lost to DO was impacted a lot by the clear loss of voters in the City's East End, specifically Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. He won the majority of those votes in 1999, but lost those same exact voters a mere 4 years later. Why?
The answer seems to be the mass reassessment of property values across the county and how that was handled. I have commented on that in the past (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_14515.html) about some of the problems managing the initial reassessment. While all sorts of people were mad at how the assessment was conducted, the city had this compounded problem of having a two-tiered tax that essentially exaggerated the impact of the assessment on certain communities. That anger was concentrated in specific East End neighborhoods. So Shadyside and Squirrel Hill property owners were the ones angriest about the assessment and split tax and having a fair amount of sway, the city's split tax was promptly eliminated. The reassessment and new property values would stay, and the overall anger over the whole process translated directly into a big flip in votes away from Roddey. He would lose and move out of the city rather promptly after leaving office after a single term.
So, if that stream of conscience has not lost you, it may have lost me... I am still pondering what the election results last week really mean. All this talk of polarization in the city is troubling and I really wonder if it is true. It's clear that there are groups in the city that voted for LR and others who didn't. The group that didn't correlates directly with the group of voters that first put Roddey into office and then kicked him out after one term. So it's clearly a mass of very independent minded voters that have some similar interests to produce such cohesive voting. I am just struck by the fact that the reasons for that cohesiveness are far more dynamic than all the pontificating today would lead you to believe. Republican or Democrat, reform minded or not, liberal, conservative or progressive, pork rinds or pierogies? Is that really the debate going on? That same block that voted against LR last week was just as motivated by very different reasons to vote cohesively in 1999 and 2003. Maybe something else altogether is going on? I really don't know what it means.....
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
and there is the article today in the PG on the lack of support being set up for problem gamblers in the state. That made me want to go see if there is a new issue out of the Journal of Gambling Issues. There isn't, but the last issue does have a relevant article: Mapping the prevalence of problem gambling and its association with treatment accessibility and proximity to gambling venues. Some interesting maps in that, I wonder if there will be someone making maps like that for us someday.
Monday, November 12, 2007
inner historian: origins of the Allegheny Conference
The Allegheny Conference for Community Development for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
by John David Weidlein. May 1950.
It's a large file because it had to be scanned from paper. It's a Princeton Univeristy undergraduate senior thesis. Unsurprisingly given it's date, it's a bit hagiographic, that and I think the author was the son of one of the early board members. nonetheless it has some interesting history documented. If you read it, note how much of the focus was on Downtown parking... and people think history does not impact our current dilemmas.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Underway with no way on
Anyway, the real news is that construction of the casino will begin within the month. I suspect that bodes ill for the local weather forecast. It would be Don Barden's luck if there was a blizzard around then. The magical timeline is now that the casino will open in 16 months. Just a bit longer, but still on the short side compared to the 14 month projection originally thrown out there. 14 months from early in the spring I think it was. Call it a mobile target.
Another number thrown out there was that delays have supposedly cost $300 million dollars. $300 million to Don Barden? $300 million to government at all levels? It's all a little squishy. How long have the delays really been? if they really thought they were going to start construction within a month after winning the license, then the delay has been what? 11 months? Assuming that at least internally they factored in a few months to get started, the delay is more like 6 months I would say. and I bet that 300 million is more of a gross number than net to the taxpayer, but who really knows?
The most objective study I have seen on this (scanned here) esimates that the Pittsburgh city casino will bring in $317 million in it's first year, ramping up to $407mil annually in year 5. So I figure Barden is using a slighly higher rate of earnings, and the longer range of what the 'delay' has been to come up with his $300 million "cost of delay" number. But at least the number of zeros is in line.
The calculation of the $317 mil. number is interesting. It starts from an estimated 20 million total "gamer visits" to all regional gambling venues over the course of a year. With an average cost (i.e. amount you lose) of $61. That produces $1.2 billion per year in total regional revenue split among all local venues which include some of the WV and new PA casino/racino operations. So the 300-400 million here is our 'market share of that pie as it were. The details are in that report if you are interested.
But if nothing else, the Isle of Capri hasn't had a local media mention in months and Mario has recently received all his back pay... . That is kind of progress in itself. When does the arena construction ramp up?
Friday, November 09, 2007
Veteran's Day is coming. The parade is tomorrow, but it really is about the people. The video below is of a local veteran and provided by http://pittsburgheldersguild.blogspot.com/
Thursday, November 08, 2007
the thousand words....
First off. Give Delano credit where due. He pointed out early on that the media would feel obliged to report this election as a horse race despite no evidence that there really was one. I wonder how I got so cynical? It is important to note why Delano made that pseudo-prediction. It wasn’t that the Democrat always wins, it was that he sensed out on the street a general satisfaction with how things were going in the city. It’s an important point to understanding the results and the gap between the LR and MD supporters out there.
With MD getting 35% of the vote, the debates have already begun over what those results mean. Did Desantis do well or poorly. Is 35% high, low, and how does it reflect on LR who won with 63% of the vote. People want to say that MD did quite well compared to Weinroth’s showing just two years ago, but what does that mean. When all is said and done there is this little factor of a half million dollars that might have helped out a wee bit. If you are going to make comparisons you have to account for the huge disparity in $$ available to the two (and most previous) candidates. For a half $million or so in cash MD was able to generate 7 percentage points more support than Joe Weinroth did with virtually no cash, no support from within his party or otherwise, and just a few limited endorsements. Along with in-kind contributions, the marginal votes cost over a $hundred each. That’s not cheap as these things go.
A question that has to be asked: what would the result have been if Weinroth had half the cash Desantis spent for this election? How about if he had a quarter of that cash? Weinroth was barely able to keep the doors open due to a lack of funds and spent nothing on mass media. Even a token mailing or any radio/tv presence would have introduced him to enough voters and generate a few more percentage points in the election returns. You can be sure that there were people out there willing to vote for the Republican candidate, but had no idea there was anyone else on the ballot other than Bob O. going into the 2005 general election. Those people didn’t bother to show up as a result. Unlike this race, there was no message hitting the public about there being a contested race for mayor. In 2005 everyone was quite clear that Weinroth would lose, and lose big. Even Weinroth supporters who knew there was an election had no reason to show up at the polls and many probably didn’t. I would argue that if the media had portrayed the 2005 race as contested as they did this time around, or portrayed that this race would be a blowout as they did in 2005, the two results would have been a lot closer to each other. Even if only partially true, I could call that a Heisenberg effect.
Which leads to the question some don’t want to hear, but did Desantis do worse than Weinroth as a candidate? To borrow a phrase, the level of cognitive dissonance in this race was astronomical. It’s one thing to know you are an underdog, but so many people completely misunderstood the actual public sentiment out there that you have to believe that translated into misallocation of resources. What I noticed was that even the people who acknowledged MD would probably lose still really thought he would come in between 40-45% based on mostly “personal” polling. Those who really thought he was going to win are another case altogether. Consider that just half the straight ticket pullers from last year showed up this time compared to last year. And then imagine for the sake of argument that everything was the same, but that LR had provided just a bit less chalkboard material over the last few months. What would the results have been? Does MD personally get credit for any of those ABL votes people say were out there?
I’m sure there will be all sorts of other explanations on how this all happened… The mythical Democratic machine will be the number one reason suggested by all local pundits. It’s just too simplistic an explanation to explain anything. but it sure does sound good. To borrow another phrase, it comes under the category of contagious popular nonsense. If the Democratic machine could deliver votes in a mayoral race, Pete Flaherty would be just a footnote to history and Tom Flaherty could be in his 4th term as mayor. Pete Flaherty first ran against Judge Harry Kramer, who had the unanimous endorsement of the ACDC, yet still won the nomination. 4 years later, Richard Caliguiri actually won the ACDC endorsement over then incumbent mayor Flaherty, an amazing feat. Yet again Flaherty won over the party’s appointed candidate. As an independent himself, Caliguiri would win election as mayor against the Democratic party nominee (and political machine unto himself) Tom Foerster. In 1989, Tom Flaherty would be the ACDC endorsed candidate for mayor and would come in last, or near last, in the mayoral primary. Even the party-endorsed and incumbent Tom Murphy would barely hold off challenger Bob O. in 2001. Party imprimatur just didn’t guarantee much of anything. I would only pose one question for all those who will be convinced of this “machine” explanation. In this case, did the electorate follow where ACDC leadership pointed, or was it the other way around? Never confuse correlation with causality… or worse yet get the causality backwards.
So all of that begs the question of explaining the results. My own take is that you can explain the results as follows:
1) Nobody wins on their resume… ever. For everyone who trotted out MD’s resume as a reason to vote for him missed this point altogether and only hurt their cause with much of the public. People are looking for whether you will represent them and their ideals. I am reminded of a classic race in 1988 where New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg was running against a challenger hand picked from central casting to run against him. Pete Dawkins had about as picture perfect resume as you could create: polio survivor, West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar, General in the Army, Veteran of course, war hero with a slew of medals to boot, successful business person and so on. He also just looked the part with all the charisma you would want. Frank Lautenberg might have come close to matching some of the business credentials but that was about it. There was pre-election polling that indicated a well positioned Republican could take the seat even. It was the national focus campaign of the cycle with lots of money thrown in on both sides. Dawkins the challenger had all the cash he needed to get before the public. In the end it just didn’t matter and Lautenberg won by a decent margin, would later retire but come back out of retirement.
2) Trust takes time to build. I really believe that the odd write-in way Desantis got on the ballot was someone’s bright idea of how to make it appear as if Desantis was ‘drafted’ by the people to run. Call me cynical, but I don’t believe that it was all as ad-hoc’ish as it appeared. All it really did was just shorten the time people had to get to know the candidate and build some basic trust over who he was. Few voters are willing to trust someone who appears to have come out of the blue. Forgoing the entire spring and all the free media that would have gone along with the regular primary nomination process hurt a lot.. and then it was not helped by the fairly slow start that some thought extended into the summer.
3) Be prepared. I really think the Desantis campaign was doomed when the City Paper asked MD if he wanted to explain his contribution to the Santorum campaign. The problem was not the contribution itself, but the complete lack of preparation for how to respond. It was a question that was obviously going to be asked. Given the things that politicians have been able to overcome, this could have been nothing if he had just had an answer. As CP tells it all MD did was “shake his head” when asked about that particular donation. Either the preparation for that interview was non-existent or what I suspect, there was this deep denial that the media would bother to ask anything other than softball questions. The CP gave MD the perfect early opportunity to inoculate his campaign from the potential negative spin that would inevitably come, but he chose to say… nothing?
4) Don’t insult the voters. Seems simple enough advice, yet I’ve never seen it so thoroughly ignored. Someone has to say this and I honestly don’t believe it came from the top, but MD supporters typically tried to argue with people that only “dumb yinzers” would not be voting for their candidate. It’s just a silly tactic that in the end alienates the people you are trying to convince to support you. Like I said, I really don’t think it came from Mark or his top advisors, but they certainly didn’t do much to rein it in either. It was obvious not only online, but in what I am told were typical doorknocking conversations. One person told me of their experience with a MD doorknocker. They were actually open to the prospect of voting for MD at one point… but the argument they heard was that MD needed support to balance all the “dumb yinzers” from elsewhere in the city who would be voting for LR because they “don’t think”. That doorknocker probably walked away thinking they had convinced a voter to support MD, when they had really lost a household of voters. When I first heard stories like this cynical me was convinced that there were LR supporters out there trying to poison the well, but it was such a consistent theme that I doubt any extra help at that type of self-destruction was needed.
What does it all mean? I take MD at his word that he wanted to impact the future of the city and region. I am quite sure he did. The one clear result of all of this is that LR comes out of this race a much stronger candidate than he went into it. He gains a legitimacy of having won a contested election which he could not have generated on his own. Why did LR not do TV? As Bill Green has been explaining, he could have pushed the results above the 63%. But they needed this to appear to be a contested race. If this was even more of a blowout (and yes, in a general election a 27 point margin counts as a blowout no matter the history) it would be that much easier to discount. Compared to where he would be if this race had not happened, I think most would agree is in a much stronger position looking to the 2009 election season. Remember when people wanted there to be a off-year election despite the opinion from the city solicitor that the interim term should last until 2010. People got the election they demanded, though I still suspect that a legal challenge could have blocked this race from ever happening in the first place. Then remember when Bill P. argued for a primary race that had just him head to head with LR so as to not have his support diluted among other east end candidates. He also got exactly what he wished for.
Be careful what you wish for.
break. check fire. incoming.
more factoids from Tuesday
Total ballots cast: 70,594
Total votes for all mayoral candidates including write-in: 68,453
Which means that 2,141 showed up but just didn't make a choice among the mayoral candidates. Sort of makes it the "none of the above" choice. I don't know what is typical, but that does not sound like that big a number.
Total straight Democratic ticket votes: 21,781
Total straight Republican ticket votes: 2,685
Total number of registered voters: 227,641
I think others have compiled the election returns by ward, but what about by city council district. That looks like this:
Or how about by race. If you categorize each voting district by its demographics you get this scatterplot:
I think the last chart is pretty important. Its hard to explain how many people told me over the last couple months that the Black community was going to come out for MD. Lots and lots of people said this to me and it was supposed to be one of the defining strengths of the campaign. Yet all the people saying that to me were white. Every single Black person I know or talked to in recent months may not have been huge LR fans but they were generally pretty supportive of LR at least to the degree that they really thought he was doing a pretty good job considering the circumstances. Whether you agree or not with that judgement is not the point (or at least not my point at the moment), but why did one group of people so badly mispercieve the actual voting intentions of the other. It really was just so odd watching the news, reading blog comments or talking with friends who all painted a different picture from what I heard myself and what the voting results showed on Tuesday. It's a rhetorical question unfortunately, but do we communicate that badly. If there is a story in this election, it's tied up in how badly two groups understood each other. There were similar incongruities in what I heard about other groups, but it was just so extreme in the case of African Americans. I could work to put a slightly more precise number on it, but Black voting for LR was clearly over 90%, possibly near 95% on average across the city.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
worth a thousand words
update 2: for those googling in, I have a follow up: the thousand words.
more to follow. over.
update. Man, people like maps. Just fyi, I put this up before but historical data by voting district in the City is merged in this file:
and I have other historical maps here:
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
was there an election today?
but the factoid of the day: unless I am mistaken I do believe tonight Mark R. received more votes than he ever has in an election... and he has been in a few. For controller he looks to have come in with over 6K votes, far more than when he ran in the Republican primary for mayor or when he ran in the special election for state senate which were previously his best showings.
earn yours today
Only a few election day notes. According to various reports County Elections czar Mark W. is predicting a 40% turnout county-wide. I really have to believe he mis-spoke. My only specific prediction today is that actual turnout will be closer to 14% than to 40. In fact, it will be interesting and insightful to compare turnout within the city of Pittsburgh with what happens elsewhere in the county. We should be able to at least come up with a good guess after the fact as to how turnout was impacted by the mayors race.
I keep getting asked for predictions. I think I have put enough data out there for everyone to form their own prognostications. On the specific question of turnout and its impacts. There are several factors for how high or low turnout could impact the two candidates.. but looking at the core question: low turnout is to the advantage of Desantis. Why? Only if you get to a low vote count can you get a Desantis victory into the realm of possibility. When turnout is higher you will inevitably get straight Democratic party ticket pullers. Anyone who thinks that the coverage of this election rises to the level that would blunt that pattern is projecting... which is a nicer way of saying delusional. In the 2006 general I counted over 40K straight ticket pullers in the city alone. If those people don't stay home, nothing else matters.
Which gets to a curious point. I really almost never watch local TV news. but yesterday I caught some mostly to see what the election coverage was leading up to election day. The thing is, there was almost no election coverage, at least compared to what I expected. On one evening news broadcast I watched, the lead stories were in order Steelers, Steelers again, weather, weather as it impacts the steelers, some other local stuff I think on potential for a school strike, news about when steelers will be on the news next week... and even then I didn't see anything on the election which was then the next day. I figure there must have been some election coverage buried in there somewhere, but you really didn't get any sense of urgency and you would not be surprised if people didn't know the election was the next day.. even if they had a vague idea an election was coming up.
That lack of media coverage is the only way I make sense of a couple things. Another story I saw said that the LR campaign ramped up efforts near the end because "people didn't know there was an election". I swear one person I myself recently asked who they were supporting in the upcoming election answered "Hillary". So I believe that was a real issue for them and is probably why there were so many mailers near the end. The goal was not to sway voters away from Desantis, but to generate enough interest among core voters so that they actually bother to pay attention to when election day would be.
One curious point is that the MD campaign claims it did not do any polling. Others have made that point to me. But read that Desantis campaign quote carefully. It says they didn't spend any money on polls, which is a very different thing from saying they did not have polling data. I assure you that was not an answer to the question they were asked. Reporters don't ask how much money you spend on polls, they ask what your polls show. You can rest assured there was R polling being done.... either paid for by state of county party or wrapped up in in-kind contributions.. but they had it, just as there was D polling. Consider the possibility that they didn't do polling. To run a half million dollar campaign without any polling would be some form of malpractice, it's not that expensive to run a 500 person sample frame which would be more than enough for this kind of race. Trust me, they knew where there strengths and weaknesses were in detail and that info only comes from what we call polling, even if they choose to call it something else.
those old college ties
MNF had a pre-game scenelet titled 'smash mouth football' to play up the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. It had a trailing image of a road sign for 'Pittsburgh' with a less than subtle tag line 'Mayor Luke Ravenstahl 2007'. I'm not sure I've ever seen such an explicit mayoral reference like that in an NFL pre-game show. All I can say is that if one could design the perfect product placement for a Pittsburgh audience, that may have been it. Was it fair? That's a question, but the symbolism of where this appeared is just amazing. The skit's theme of "Smash mouth football" is a pretty good analogy for politics at any level and this is clearly one of those things that an incumbent can generate to the consternation of a challenger. In this case, the last image, and in particular the mayoral reference, seemed a bit out of place. I doubt we will ever know, but it would be interesting to know if it was added in after that piece was produced.
well, here we go.
Monday, November 05, 2007
The mythical dead voter
Surprises eh? According to this web article they poured over records to find 9 thousand or so voters already deceased. Is that a lot? Comes out to about 1% of all registered voters and less than the number of deaths in the county each year. They found "16" of them who actually voted. 16 out of just shy of 900K registered voters in the county. Thats an amazingly good record if WPXI claims their research was thorough. The surprise in the headline is how few dead voters there are, not how many. Yet I bet many who don't read past the headline think this is some huge problem now proven by the story title. 16 voters spread throughout the city can affect virtually no election out there even if they are fraudulent. and even the WPXI story suggests the possible explanation of similar names and sheer clerical error. Not that votes were created, but just misreported.
Here is the deal... if people really are not removed from the voter rolls soon after they are deceased, it would be a fairly hard thing to hide. I am sure there are some limited examples of people who are missed. Remember, people die all the time. If even a small fraction of deceased voters were routinely left on the rolls, it would be a very short time before the voter rolls showed a severe imbalance in the number of older registered voters and what you would expect by looking at the population.I have pointed out this simple graph to people in the past and they still swear every person deceased in the last decade are still on the rolls. Here is a graph of the age distribution of all registered voters in Allegheny County compared to the age distribution of the population. Both are for 2006.
What do I see? At the older age ranges there is a slight difference between the proportion of registered voters compared to the population. Its pretty slight and I tried to quantify how many.. Mostly a guess, but the discrepancy would be consistent with an average delay in getting voters off the rolls of less than 6 months. It really just does not show up.
What is more interesting is the higher registration proportion for the younger voters which may seem counterintuitive, but really isn't. That results because it is a lot harder to purge the local voter rolls of people who just pick up and move away. Thus the apparent discrepancy between the two sets of numbers. Those are the voters who are most likely to be moving in and out all the time, which leads to there being more registered than actually living here. Maybe every time a poll workers sees a rare voter under 40 they should be asked to certify if they still live in their voting district, that is certainly easier than asking people to certify they are still alive.
That problem exists not only for the number of people who move in or out of the county, but for those moving within the county as well. The graph above suggests a far larger problem is not the number of deceased voters on the voter rolls, but people who are still alive but no longer live where they are registered, yet still voting there. Especially in general elections when people want to vote for the top race, things like Prez, Gov of Senator, people who have not had time to re-register will go back to where they used to live to vote. I doubt it is as big an issue for municipal elections, but I have no doubt it happens to some degree. When you add in the fragmentation of the county, you have to believe there are many people voting for municipal officers that are not their own. Given that there is a fairly steady flow of people moving out of the city yet still living in the region, I bet there will be more than a few people voting for mayor tomorrow who do not live in the city and I think it's just as illegal as those mythical dead people voting and as I explain with the graph above, far more likely to actually be happening than votes from the grave.
Why the discrepancy between popular perception and the data. Like I said, I am sure it happens sometimes when someone dies yet does not get removed from the rolls.. that or there is some normal delay for mortality records to make it over to the elections division. So when you go and vote and are looking over the shoulder of the clerk and see some name you know is deceased I bet you over-interpret what you see.. especially given the persistent stories like what was just on WPXI. Its a fun story, but the data just isn't there, as WPXI seems to confirm despite the headline. I bet many of those who are deceased, yet remain on the rolls are people who moved out either seasonally or in recent years and who passed away in some other jurisdiction which makes reconciliation with local voter rolls at least slightly more difficult or delayed.
cloud tags of the mayoral debate
Make sure you try activating the actual tool that page provides, its a lot more interesting than just the could tag illustration itself.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
tis the season......
but I don't think too many readers are left undecided so its safe to comment on what we will be watching. Note I don't mean there are no undecided voters out there, I'm sure there are a lot. But most undecided voters will likely remain so until they walk into the booth at this point. I bet few of those uber-undecided voters will be looking to the internet for insight into whom to vote for. Anyone who has been looking that closely has their mind made up at this point. So I don't think there are any readers here about to be influenced, directly or indirectly, by anything written here. That has probably been true for some time. Barring anything really surprising, even the flurry of political messages in the next few hours are not going to sway many more. The issue now is how have both candidates done at identifying their core voters and made preparations to get them to the polls.
I am mostly amazed how there is just so little interest in any other political race. You would think the void left by the lack of a big race would have the media digging up at least a few interesting local races in some of the other localities, but I have only minimal coverage of other local races at the county level or otherwise. There are in fact come Allegheny County Council races going on. Given the past media attention for the county council at-large seat I am surprised that race is mostly off the radar as well with only the pro forma coverage at best since the spring. At least on the R side the presence of Charles McCullough on the ballot is one of the more interesting stories of the political season. Last May in this old post, I discussed the legal/political issues over the at large seat. I can't find a web site for either Charles McCullough, the Republican nominee for that seat, or DeFazio, the Democratic at-large candidate/incumbent, but Dave Tessitor has at least half a heartbeat of a campaign in the form of a web site: http://elect-tessitor.com/. If someone knows of a web site for the other two, let me know and I will edit then in.
But back to the mayoral race. Last June I discussed the general problem facing a republican challenger in the city in this old post. Some numbers to contemplate as we take in the election returns. If you look just within the city of Pittsburgh, how have all major Republican candidates fared in recent years. Here are those numbers, both the total vote count for the R in various races and their percentage. Note that these are just the percentages among the 2 major candidates (D&R) and so will be a bit higher than percentages you may seen elsewhere, including here. and of course, the total vote counts really are not comparable because of the big variation in voter participation in presidential years.... but still worth a look:
Santorum 2006: 19,063 (19.5%)
Swann 2006: 22,679 (23.3%)
Weinroth 2005: 16,321 (28.9% )
Bush 2004: 37,546 (25.1%)
Roddey 2003: 21,773 (28.8%)
Carmine 2001: 12,175 (23.7%)
Bush 2000: 30,801 (24.1%)
Roddey 1999: 28,653 (37.5%)
Graphically the two extreme cases are the Senate race in 2006 and the Allegheny County Chief Executive race in 1999. Again with the percentages representing the % among the two major candidates, those maps are below. Note that I couldn't really do a regular blue-red split because the percentages were so overwhelmingly D that they would have been mostly blue and someone would accuse me of being biased.. so just be aware that these maps are just looking at the R percentage and ramp up from the light red's representing R support starting at 20% (not the 50% for reds in most maps you see):
1999 Allegheny County Chief Executive
The only comment I have on the 1999 race is that those results were clearly impacted by the Wecht-Caliguiri feuding within the local Democratic party in the past. Caliguiri was once an independent mayoral candidate, but he really had his strongest support from within the party as well having received the ACDC endorsement over incumbent Mayor Pete Flaherty once. Also 8 years of migration have affected who lives in the city and I would bet migration is pretty selective by party. Take for example Jim Roddey himself who moved out of the city almost immediately after his political career likely came to an end with his defeat in 2003. An anecdotal point of course, but does anyone doubt Republicans are more likely to move out of the city than Democrats.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Follow that story: Cleveland Blog Freedom
Weekend OT: for urbanophiles only: the ideal city... and notes from Ypsilanti
and something completely off topic and just plain strange. Seems that out in Michigan the authorities have broken up a smuggling ring based in Ypsilanti among other places where recycled cans were being smuggled from Ohio for redemption in Michigan. Read: Suspects Arraigned In Pop Can Smuggling Ring. How big a deal can this possibly be? The article says that in Michigan the recycling system is 'defrauded' of $13 million annually and it looks like the alleged perpetrators are up on some serious felony counts that could put them away for some time. If that recycling fee were set near the actual market value of the material being recycled, you would think that Michigan would be happy to get all that 'imported' aluminum. Alas, it's not that simple... but it is a pretty good example of garbage arbitrage.
Friday, November 02, 2007
remembering the Regional Renaissance Initiative (RRI)
For those who do not remember, the RRI was an effort to impose a 0.5% additional sales tax across a number of counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. How many counties is a funny story unto itself which I will get into below. The funds would have been used for a variety of projects in the region. Each county had a referendum to see if it supported the program. Those that approved would have been included in the program. In the end, every county defeated the proposal, even Allegheny County. Given that the stadia part of the deal would have represented a net inflow of money into the city and county, that vote must have reflected something other than a purely economic cost and benefit analysis.
The more interesting aspects of the RRI have been lost to history because it never happened. If a multi-county sales tax had been imposed, just from a simple administrative point of view there would have had to have been created a multi-county government organization to receive and distribute those taxes. A megaRAD?... actually its name was already designated to be the Regional Renaissance Authority. Such a sub-state multi-county government entity would have been unprecedented for Pennsylvania and remains extremely rare within the United States*. I personally suspect that at some level, the creation of this multi-county government entity was a bigger goal than the tax or projects it would fund. Though the tax had a sunset clause, I'm sure the idea was that in time, such an entity could have evolved to deal with other issues that require multi-county policy coordination. In other forms, we still debate whether such an entity is needed to this day.
Which counties were to be included in the RRI? That question brings up one of the funnier aspect of the whole RRI imbroglio. From the earliest discussions, the intent of the RRI was to have a referendum across 10 counties in Southwestern PA. The referenda in each county were required by enabling legislation from Harrisburg. There is this little problem in that laws are made up of words and you can't really use a map in Pennsylvania statutes because of the uniformity clause in the PA constitution. All laws must theoretically treat all entities, such as counties in this case, the same. Thus you can't specify any county to receive any special treatment which would preclude designating specific counties in any state law. Theoretically a map would never be needed. Thus the enabling legislation for the RRI was written so as to capture all 2nd class counties (of which Allegheny is the only one) along with other counties according to this verbiage:
(1) has a boundary that touches, even at a single point, a county of the second class; (2) is a county of the fourth, fifth or sixth class and shares common boundaries at more than a single point with two counties described in paragraph (1); or (3) is a county of the sixth class and is located to the south and west of a county described in paragraph (2).Go try and figure that out with a map. If you can't don't feel bad, the statute writers couldn't either. Actually it was that "single point" that got them in trouble. The problem is that when this edict was interpreted by the PA secretary of state, it was deemed to apply not to 10 counties, but 11. So Clarion County, which had not been a part of the discussion at all, was deemed to have a sufficient boundary with Butler county to be included and was told at the last minute to have a referendum for a proposal it new little about and cared about even less. It failed there too.
Why bring this up? Just my opinion, but I think the RRI remains a watershed event for the region in a lot of ways. Even if the referendum had failed in a close vote the impact would have been different. The irony is that in its uniform failure by large margins, the RRI created more agreement across the region than had been exhibited ever before or since. Around that time, a number of other proposals had been passed by referendum. Things like the RAD itself was created, and of course the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter would be passed the following spring. Just my historical opinion, but the RRI's failure kept those other initiatives as isolated successes without the longer term impacts they could have had. In the end, even most of the groups that its supporters would join the bandwagon in support of the RRI came out against it. How and why that happened remains understudied.
* and yes... MPO's are multi-county and could be considered government entities in a broad sense. Most, however, are 501C3's in the end I do believe. Multi-county entities with both taxing authority and public governance are pretty rare in the US.