Saturday, October 31, 2009

The most important political race in a decade (or more)

The AP is running an account of the big money in the supreme court race in Pennsylvania. Surprised?  While there has been some coverage of the race, few have focused on how the race really matters. I’ll be direct…… a decade of Pennsylvania politics will depend on who wins the race for the open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Why? The court is now divided evenly by party and the election Panella as a Democrat or Melvin as a Republican will be the deciding ‘middle vote’ on decisions that split along partisan lines. .

But still why? Some news accounts have mentioned in passing that the supreme court may be of import to the redistricting process that will soon reshapePennsylvania politics. The assumption seems to be that the supreme court involvement will be limited to the inevitable litigation that will start once the redistricting plans are completed.  The stories are missing the bigger issue. 

In reality, the state supreme court’s involvement will likely begin before the process itself starts. Consider how the redistricting process will be conducted. Pennsylvania places the redistricting of the state's general assembly (house and senate) in the hands of an ad hoc reapportionment commission made up of 5 members. Article II, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constituion spells out the membership of the commission explicitly:

The commission shall consist of five members: four of whom shall be the majority and minority leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, or deputies appointed by each of them, and a chairman selected as hereinafter provided……… The four members within 45 days after their certification shall select the fifth member, who shall serve as chairman of the commission, and shall immediately certify his name to such elections officer. ……. If the four members fail to select the fifth member within the time prescribed, a majority of the entire membership of the Supreme Court within thirty days thereafter shall appoint the chairman as aforesaid and certify his appointment to such elections officer
Given that the Pennsylvania house and senate are currently majority Democratic and Republican respective, it seems inevitable that the (5 minus 1) member commission will be at loggerheads to choose a 5th deciding vote. That vote will devolve to the supreme court the chairperson thus chosen could be the single most important person shaping Pennsylvania poltiical geography for a decade.

Think this is not how it will evolve?  Maybe not, but it is the likely route. It is exactly what has happened in the past. In 1990 the PA house and senate were split and indeed the PA supreme court decided on the chairman who exercised much of the power in how the process evolved. The 5th member was Robert Cindrich who many know was a long-time Federal Judge in town and now counsel for UPMC. It’s a small world but that is the beginning. Cindrich made a deputy of his law partner Ken Gormley many now know at Duquesne and as past mayor Forest Hills, and as recent ACBA president among other reasons. Much of the above comes Gormley’s book on the 1991 redistricting process*.

But the names involved are amazingly familiar today. Cindrich was named chairman only after some committee infighting over the first nominee: some unknown fellow named Nordenberg** who was Dean of a law school here.
In 1970 the Pennsylvania legislature was split as well and the committee was unable to name a 5th member thus forcing it to the supreme court. The statutory members of the committee back then included State Senator Thomas Lamb, father of a current city official some may have heard of and also one Robert Fleming which might be familiar to those who go over the 62nd st. Bridge.

The results of the 1991 redistricting will have similarities to what will have to happen post 2010 because once again there will be shifts in districts from the population challenged West to growing Northeast and South-central parts of the state. The results from 1991 impact the region's politics to this day.  In 1991 they moved an entire Senate district from Allegheny County to outside of Philadelphia. The Republican incumbent of that distict, one Frank Pecora, would switch his parties and actually fight to say in office in a district 300 miles from where it was when he was first elected. His chief of staff... a fellow named Doyle who would also switch his party affiliation to become a Democrat and follow his boss into elected office back in Western Pennsylvania.  Not only that, but acrimony over the Pecora/Doyle party switch is widely held to be the rationale for the reshaping of congressional districts in Pittsburgh.  The combining of the City of Pittsburgh with the Mon Valley is widely held as a strategy to eliminate one of two traditional Democratic held districts which had been held by Bill Coyne and Mike Doyle.  Coyne having a lot more seniority the assumption by Republicans may have been he would prevail and displace Doyle... but Coyne decided to retire instead and leave the seat to Doyle. 

The congressional reapportionment that will happen at the same time is handled by state statute.. thus the state legislature is going to decide how that happens as well except more directly.  Again, after 2000 the state house and senate were both in the hands of the Republicans. This time around it is going to be a bit more messy and you wonder how the ever more  fractious Harrisburg will complete the required redistricting.   It all ties together.  The state legislature defined by this cycle will shape who in power 10 years from now when the state and federal seats are rejiggered again.  So potentially 20 years of Pennsylvania political life depends on that one marginal vote in the state supreme court and how it sways over the next couple of years.

and on the Supreme Court again... if the legislature fails to do a redistrictring in some fairly tight timelines... guess what?  It gets foisted on the Supreme Court directly.  Not an inconceivable option this time around given recent history of how well they all work together in Harrisburg.  We will see. 

What's it all mean?  The more names change, the more they stay the same. 

* Gormley, Ken.  The Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment of 1991.  Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of General Service.

**  Yes, as disclosure that would be my boss' boss' boss' boss.  Or something like that.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

election resources

Nothing new for readers here... but some past election stuff::

People seem to use my City of Pittsburgh voting districts in a google maps overlay.  Same for the remainder of Allegheny County.  But then you probably want to use the Allegheny County Polling Place locator to figure out where to vote assuming it's up to date. 

Some past election maps are here...   also here on our PNCIS site to zoom around interactively for things like the last presidential race.

Also I see Mattt's Demograph tool is still online allowing you to figure out what voting districts are relevant for your address.

And I have compiled historical City of Pittsburgh election data. (excel file... I tried to put into a google doc but it won't let me.. I think it has too many columns?)

I'm probably forgetting a lot, but 3 days and change.   Vote em if you got em.

update:  and I forgot this...but I had my own interactive map of the results from the 2007 Ravenstahl-Desantis Mayoral race which still seems to be working online here. So we will benchmark what happens on Tuesday versus that maybe.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Liquidity finally at the Water Authortity

Don't say I am always negative.  For the Burghowonkerati at least I infer from the following filings that at least some of the problematic PWSA debt is taken care of for the moment.  Looks like they have a short term liquidity facility until 2011, but someone ought to look into that. Our poor local beat friends are just swamped these days. 

They seem to be paying pretty low interest rates (0.2% as of yesteday... down even  from 0.23% when re?-issued last week I take) on some of it....  on par with the recession impacts in fixed income markets these days...  actually should be pretty cheap debt for them at the moment... cheaper than when first issued even.

Anyway... see: 

http://emma.msrb.org/IssueView/IssueDetails.aspx?id=EP330855

http://emma.msrb.org/IssueView/IssueDetails.aspx?id=EP331027

also see: http://trades.municipalbonds.com/bonds/issue/725304RD3

Who needs a Bloomberg box any more.  :-)

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

immigrant less Altoona again.... and more

I have not dug into it, but a new data dump from the census has a line in passing that says Altoona has the lowest foreign-born percentage in the US at 0.9%. Not that Pittsburgh is going to show a high number, but that is amazingly low; compares to a slightly larger 36.9% for Miami at the other extreme   Altoona is noteworthy because of the past stories on anti-immigrant public policy there which I have discussed in the past. The NYT article I was looking at back then was this one:  Altoona with no immigrant problem, decides to solve it.

0.9%!  

I suspect most Altoona immigrants are made up of folks who settled there long ago.  So the recent immigrants that concern their city council must be virtually nonexistant.  I guess you could say their efforts have been successful at keeping immigrants away.

******

Speaking of foreigners.... How about this.  For some reason it's on the local evening news that Iceland is closing it's McDonalds.  The real story there is all about the collapse of the Icelandic currency because of their financial crisis. Why it's news here I don't know, but I really do have a file for everything and below is a picture I took myself a decade ago of the Reykjavic McDonalds.  Now closed I guess.



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BB

Bram's note that he is looking to retire from the Blogosphere  had me pondering some history that is relevant in an odd way.  Before Bram... before the Burgher... before almost any of the characters now associated with the Pittsburgh burghosphere which is too long a list to go through, so don't be put off if I don't go through the list...    before RSS feeds actually there was another.   Folks forget about then anonymously authored website GrantStreet99.  

The history of GrantStreet99 is important in itself, had a precedent setting place in the history of anonymous internet commenting, but is now connected to the state supreme court race between Jack Pinella and Joan Orie Melvin .  It was Judge Melvin who sought to unmask the anonymous author of the web site going so far as to file suit learn who the anonymous web commenter was...  He* couldn't have been called a blogger since the term had yet to be invented, nor were RSS type feeds in use generally.  Who initially blocked Judge Melvin's attempts to discover the identity of the web site author?   Judge R. Stanton Wettick who would spend much of the next decade hearing arguments over assessment equity.  Small Pittsburgh world it is.

The Citizen's Media Law Project has a far better synopsis of the whole Melvin vs. Doe litigation than anything I could compile. Worth taking a look at again.

* Just recently Mr. Grantstreet99 is said to have identified himself as past County employee John Chapman in some other litigation.  If true, it sure seems to me he would be an interesting person to come talk at PodCamp or some other venue.  It was a novel use of the internet at the time... at least for around here and my non-lawyer thought is that Judge Wettick's rulings in this have provided a swath of cover for those who came later.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Week out

It's only human that our local news organizations amplify the apparent interest in local politics.  Ramit hasn't been around long enough yet to be as completely inured as the rest of us. She authors an AP piece running now that pretty much nails it: Pittsburgh mayor race grabbing little interest

So less than 7 days from now this will all be over....   or do I mean it was 7 days ago?

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Dots, as in connecting the

I just connect dots....   I don't understand why this wasn't bigger news already.  But the latest casino revenues are not exactly trending upward.  Last week was the worst since opening other than for G20 week. That's even including the partial week's data when it opened.

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Money and Politics II

There in Manyeyes I have put a visualization of campaign cash in the accounts of the Pennsylvania General Assembly incumbents.  It goes along with the similar graphic I put up last week with similar data for current Pennsylvania Senate members.

By my estimation, the cumulative total  of all state house incumbents comes to about $6.8 million currently. That is obviously a very dynamic number, but is it a lot?  I note the story yesterday that Dan O. himself is holding almost $6 million in campaign cash.  With another month or so of fundraising, I bet Dan O. will make it to $7 million.  He certainly will be there before 2010 begins.  I'm not quite sure what it means that just one  gubernatorial candidate has more campaign cash than all the members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly combined.

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River Politics

I just caught this snippet that a couple folks in congress are forming an "Ohio River Caucus".

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Displacement and Dice

Something that is only really sinking in for me.   How bad are the casino revenues here?  Or how bad will they be once Ohio really ramps up gaming activity? 

Ohio has defeated referenda on gaming more than once I believe.  Yet if the polls are to be believed they are on the verge of soon following Pennsylvania into the gaming void. Given how dismal casino revenues are here as it stands, is there further downside if our neighbor to the east plunges into the market.  Not just the casino here, but the Meadows and even up north in Erie where I have to imagine a lot of their market is from Ohio could be impacted.

I was curious so I made a time series chart of the revenues per machine at all of the PA casinos since opening.  It is now in a google doc

As much as I have ranted on the PA process that is escalating gaming here (did someone say 'slippy slope').  Ohio's process has been even more convoluted in the past.   Their previous referendum, the PRO-gaming factions were centered on web with a branding of   ohiolearnandearn.com.  That's not a joke. Take a look at the content on that old site and see if you can tell if is about a gambling referendum in the least. The header graphic merely says "A lot of good will come of this".  You will be hard pressed to find more packed political obfuscation anywhere. 

One funny thing is that the opponents to gaming back then got smart and realized ohiolearnandearn.org had not been registered and used that to distribute the counterargument. Strangely enough... the pro-gaming folks in Ohio seem to be having a lot more success this time around with a more direct appeal. Is it another ubiquitous consequence of the recession?

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

No reason... Google humor

Via Digital Urban is this:



Something a bit more profound is this which was on the Daily Show a few weeks ago.. you need to watch to the last few seconds to get at the full meaning... (oh nevermind, I see they have the final quite embedded in the introductory frame)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
William Kamkwamba
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

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More respectable version of Steelers Nation

This is a little more respectable.  Again from the506.com:


Maybe just a small number of folks out there are watching because of Minnesota?  What is up with the Missouri-centered markets? Check out how much of Texas can't watch the Texans?

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

The week that was

It’s all just too much to try and sort out the political machinations in the mayoral race last week. Beyond the obvious issues involved in (need name for all of this). I think there are some way bigger political fights coming to a head underneath the surface. It’s all just too convoluted to make sense of with one theory of everything. You just sense there are several big trains heading down the same track.

So just a hodgepodge of sidebar things on the week's machinations:

John V. has had his own Wikipedia page since well before the week began.  I thought that a bit odd given how so many others were saying John who?  I wondered about the author of most of it.. one Blargh29, but it seems that he/she is quite a prolific author of all things political in Pennsylvania.  JV’s page is just one of many. Just another obsessed newsie?

How has Bram become the nexus of both billboard-gate and now this. Just a few days before this all broke he has a full and exclusive expose on the current doings of Pat Ford no less, the presumptive catalyst for all of this week's events, although that is unconfirmed by anyone. Man, if I ever see Bram show up to video me for any reason I am going to immediately retain a lawyer even if there is no reason to think I should ever need one

Speaking of lawyers… you ever notice how some just don’t like email. I bet there is a new anti-email paradigm about to pass through local government and legal circles as the result of all of this.

The day after the debate the Acklin campaign folks put out some stuff to amplify what transpired at the debate and labeled it an “October Surprise”. If folks knew their history I am not sure I would use that phrase if the goal is to win the support of Democratic party loyalists. But it does not matter since nobody remembers their history much anymore.

Funniest comment of the week again goes to the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat.. But as always, reality trumps fiction as Pittgirl lives her own version of close encounters.

If I had to sum up the situation as of the moment… If LR held out hard feelings against pDowdy for the awfully vague accusations made in the spring, can you imagine what he must think of Acklin and his campaign folks right now. Seems to me the advice most apt is: if you’re going to try and kill the king, you better succeed. Potter says it isn’t over and he is probably right.


The ultimate political scoring on this all is hard to tell as yet. Counterintuitively there are some less than obvious costs to the Acklin campaign. For example, if not for all the fuss I would have said one of the bigger pieces of news would have been about former mayoral candidate Hop Kendrick’s endorsement of Acklin in the Pittsburgh Courier… but that seems to have been completely lost in the political noise. And when it comes to political ground truth, the biggest news of the week may have been the least noticed coming in late on a Friday evening. Remember 2 years ago Desantis had the endorsement of the city police and 4 years ago Joe Weinroth had the endorsement had the Fire union. This time?

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Money and Politics

OK... I feel guilty with that title. No, this does not have anything to do with the current local news. Got your attention though.

There used to be a site on Pennsylvania's web site that you could ftp down the entire campaign finance database.  I can't find it anymore. If anyone still thinks it exists let us know.  To test my ever atrophying programming skills I scraped most of it via the interactive search the state has left online.  From that I pulled the campaign finance reports for the state legislature.  I have taken the last reported cash on hand to make the illustration below which shows the campaign cash on hand for the incumbents in the state senate.

They are not all from the same date since some candidates last reported the state of their campaign accounts with their annual report for 2008.  Not all have needed to file reports in 2009.  I took whatever report is the last files and then made this visualization via the IBM's Manyeyes site.

The image below .  There is also an interactive version online that is useful as well.  The data and references to which reports the individual data points come from is there as well. Maybe over the weekend I will do the same for the state house which is just a mess because there are so many more of them.



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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Real Estate and Brain Drain

Yeah, Mr. PG+ saw this, but I would have gotten to it. 

Another compilation shows Pittsburgh's real estate market powers on despite astronomical losses most everywhere else.  Yet the CNN blurb highlighting that positive fact starts out with
 Pittsburgh's main problem has been a brain drain. The metro area has been losing residents for years: Its population shrank 3% since the 2000 census, and the core city of Pittsburgh has lost almost half its population over the past 50 years
Ugh.  Brain drain.  No, I won't waste any time repeating myself with the errors in that oft-repeated logic.  Thus the worst thing the article says about us is mostly a misunderstanding.  Later on it brings up the Detroit comparison again
diversification has enabled the area to muddle through the recession with less angst than many other places. "It's where we would like to see Detroit go through over the next decade,"

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

existential politics in existential Pittsburgh

Did the afternoon kerfuffle generate any interest in this debate?  I dunno.  I'd try and parse what has made it into the news, but it's like inside baseball vs. inside baseball.  It's more like buried baseball in terms of how far I think some of it is from the public's consciousness, or will be within the next couple of weeks.  Like NORAD-deep buried.  I and the dozen other folks in town who have even a partial concept of what is being talked about will be interested to see if it persists more than a news cycle. 

I was thinking about geography.  One reason why the city race doesn't gain much traction is that the city is really just a small fraction of the local media market.  Not that people realize it.  Many get so confused between city/county and region that issues get confused daily.  I swear I once heard a city secretary take a call from someone who was insistent they could help with some potholes in Bellevue.   When it comes to politics I have heard folks from more than a couple suburbs think at various times they were going to be able to vote in past mayors' races.

Wait~  All stop! Speaking of geography.  I swear I am typing this with the tape of the debate playing almost as background...  Did Wendy Bell just ask the candidates what to do about Braddock and Rankin... or at least used them as examples of places that have not been able to reinvent themselves as has East Liberty.  Skip my long ago comments on Eastside, but Braddock? Rankin?  Maybe Fetterman will get some write in votes.  Sigh. And people are debating who John V. is?  Let's start with debating what Pittsburgh is? I want to cry.

Some other news today is another kerfuffle over comments by state rep Metcalf. It's all too strange to comment on, but again on geography.  If folks don't understand whether they are city residents are not.... far fewer have any concept who their state rep is.  I looked around and didn't see any terriby useful maps to help the public figure it out.. some small scale maps from the state are out there is all if you look hard enough.  I'd be curious if anyone is surprised to learn from this map that they are residents of Pennsylvania's 12th legislative district currently represented by Rep. Metcalf. 



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Creeping up

Updated Casino Watch... also there on the right.   So revenues per machine are creeping up, but still far below expectations.  It's still early and I am sure the casino will be here in some form decades from now, but I really wonder what it's long term breakeven point is?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

PA Supreme court race and more

John Baer of the Philly Inquirer reminds us there is a race for a PA supreme court seat, and why it matters. The impacts locally of the supreme court race may not be so obvious.  Potter has already hypothesized that the GOP might want there to NOT be an active race in the city so as to decrease Democratic turnout that could impact the statewide judicial races.  And I worry I'm cynical before my time?   On the other side I saw somewhere that the D canvasing efforts in the city are being labeled in the city as Ravenstahl/Panella efforts.  I think I actually have seen more Panella yardsigns than for any mayoral candidate.

Baer also quotes some source that says Pennsylvania is the 2nd most gerrymandered state in the nation.  Not sure the source of that, but certainly not surprising.  Go back to what I said some time ago that Pennsylvania was M(e)andering toward 2010.  I am still looking for creative thoughts on what PA-18 looks like??

*****

Suprised...  most aren't although I saw no quotes from anyone telling us to expect it that Delta is decreasing its Pittsburgh to Paris flights from 5  per week to 4.   Let's hope there is no causality or else Ken should pay me to not take the flight because  I literally booked one of those flights yesterday. I was going to comment the prices were not the highest, but not the fire sale prices over the summer. I'll tell you something odder.. Pure specuation from the ether,but the blog here gets more and more regular hits here from a search in some form of "delta mini hub Pittsburgh".  I wouldn't expect it.  I still want to know an update on what is going on in Cinci.

*****

See also the annual news snippet on school enrollment decline in Pittsburgh.  If you want, in the past I have posted the officially reported longer term trend.  I equivocate because if you look at that flatline trend until the late 1990's it really does raise questions and I have been told it was not exactly a solid number reported every year. It just comes to mind because the piece today is so unequivocable that "In fall 1997, the district had 40,181 students".   I really wonder, but now +10 years nobody is going to go back to parse.  When you consider how much Pittsburgh population was dropping consistently through all those years, especially family populations, you really have to wonder about that. If it was correct then there was a fairly amazing, and mostly unreported story on how resilient school district enrollment was through some tough times.  If the trend was not so flat then the implications cut a lot of ways which I have no time for. If that number was trending downward even slightly in the 1990's and before, then you have to interpret the recent aparent declines a bit differently.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Paper on the News

So I admit it... I just paid $3.99 for the PG+ site...  my initital thought is that I don't quite get it, but I will poke through it some more for some nugget that would keep me hooked.  Honestly, if the NYT had continued its TimesSelect service I might have had to pay for that, but they gave up that concept.  Seems to me a tough harbinger of the difficulty of the pay model for traditional newspapers... but that was a couple years ago and maybe the media landscape has changed. 

Just something for general reading of particular interest to our fourth estate friends... another viewpointout there on the future of journalism. Worth a scan:  The Decline of News, The Rise of Connection and the Battle for Your Mind.... by Tom Paper. 

a)  that really is his name. and

b)  I just realized something that may be obvious to others already.. But are 'news' and 'journalism' synonyms.. I just mean, is the 'future of news' addressng the same issues as the 'future of journalism'.  Just something for the reporter-philosophers out there among us.

Also....  Governing has a post on the media "taking on local bloggers" as in the development of hyperlocal media.  If my thoughts are worthy anything, the hyperlocal news is the future of news as we know it.  How it all works remains to be seen.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Braddock mythos redux

News all around is that Braddock hospital is closing.  The timing is interesting in that operating losses there just can't have been unanticipated. What else might have spurred the decision to close the facility?  For a place that has already suffered immeasurably, this latest bit if news may be the worst.  Per the PG which tracked down longtime Braddock denizen/observer/sage Tony Buba:
Tony Buba, a filmmaker who has been documenting Braddock since 1972, said his 88-year-old mother still makes daily visits to the hospital coffee shop.
"This is really a surprise," Mr. Buba said of the hospital closure. "This could be the most devastating of all the losses."
I had my say on the mythos of Braddock last year.  I could just repeat that verbatim which included a cite of continued rapid real estate depreciation there.  The point was that the popular vision of Braddock rebounding is not really matched by the facts on the ground.  If anything things are worse than they were even last year which was worse than most any time in the past.  In few cases is the popular perception so incongruous with what we can measure.

I know the New York Times had a slighly more optimistic take early in the year (also check out the NYTimes video on Braddock as well) but how far can we push that vision.  This isn't a knock on those living and working there and trying against the tide to improve the situation. Mayor Fetterman is ironically on the cover the The Atlantic's November edition even.  What nobody really wants to talk about as we continue to try to 'save' Braddock... is there a Braddock to save at this point.  After 2000 I literally calculated that Braddock had a higher year-round property vacancy rate than anywhere else in the state other than Centralia, which was purposely evacuated due to underground mine fires. That has not gotten any better since then.  This is the population trend for Braddock which is an image that is bad even by the worst of rust belt standards.  The current population estimate of 2,600 or so is probably overestimated as we will learn when the 2010 census is completed. 



Another irony is that you would think Braddock epitomized the post-industrial mill town surviving after it's defining 'mill' shut down..Except that it alone among many retains its mill and Braddock's ET plant has been churning away even through the recent recession.  Here is what the employment picture looked like in 2000 as well:


I suspect each of the industry sectors have declined since 2000 and now with the hospital closure I have to believe the entire "health and education services" sector will be gone...  Again leaving mostly employment in the mill as the major generator of income from beyond the area.. except that I doubt any of the mill employees live in Braddock at all, certainly fewer live there now than at most anytime in the past.  

It's a painful scene and again I am not knocking all those I know working on improving the situation with what resources they have.. but I do believe that all the media attention on Braddock of late gives an illusion of progress that just isn't based on much that is positive for the actual residents of Braddock or environs.  If that is true then it all gives a false impression to the rest of us of progress... that the status quo is on a vector to recovery. Some probably think we should go so far as to pat ourselves on the back for all the work focused there over the last several decades.  Go back and read what I wrote just last December.  We have collectively failed Braddock and continue to do so on a scale that is not replicated elsewhere in the western world.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Seeking Bayes

There is a rumor of a mayoral debate on TV this afternoon I do believe..  The highly self-selected NS readership knows that of course.  But I am wondering what the ratio is of NS readers to those who will be impacted by the debate.   Consider:
  • Pa: Probability someone knows there is an election in 2 weeks
  • Pb: Probability someone knows there is a debate airing today at noon on a Saturday
  • Pc: Probability they were around to watch tv at noon on a Saturday at noon*
  • Pd: Probability they didn't find something else better to watch at that time
  • Pe: Probability they didn’t move on after watching the first 10 minutes or less
  • Pf: Probability that anything they saw changed their support among the candidates presented
  • Pg: Probability they are registered to vote in the city
  • Ph: Probability that viewer actually makes it to vote on November 3

* Yes, I am ignoring the TIVO factor and those who saw the clip on the Internet.

Once you assign probabilities to each of those calculate the probability that the debating airing today mattered from: Pa x Pb x Pc x Pd x Pe x Pf x Pg x Ph
I would argue each factor in itself is bracketed by 0-20%.  Some factors may not be that low, but some are certainly on the low end of even that range. I am guessing Pf itself may be near zero. and yes I know it certainly isn't the case they are each independent of each other… but still for fun:   (0.2)^8*310K people in the city rounds up to one vote.    Compare that to the dozen or so folks who must have been in the studio itself between the candidates, Delano, Rice, camera people, producers and the candidates handlers. 

Too much math?… let’s skip that. Anyone know the ratings in themselves to see who was watching. Any more than the 20 political junkies (meant generically) in town.
and of course... none of that was the point.   The goal for the challengers at least was to score a soundbite or possibly a gaff that would be replayed in the news or elsewhere. No early indications of anything like that as best I can tell.

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Cleveburgh except on Sunday

Yeah yeah.....  Cleveburgh and all.  Just not on Sunday.

Via Uncle Crappy is an image


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Friday, October 16, 2009

deep hmmm

I have seen more and more news about companies vying for drilling rights closer and closer to the city proper...  it even makes the news when nearby Baldwin agrees to drilling...Even that amazes me given how urban Baldwin is really.   What I am not sure people realize is that it would appear these companies want to drill in the middle of the city!!

According to the article there on Baldwin, homeowners will get payments based on their acreage.   No secret I live in the East End and you need to break into significant digits to measure my owned acreage.  Thus I don't fully understand the legalities or the economics that would prompt me to be getting similar solicitations or why I would want to participate.  Below is a postcard I myself received a couple months ago ... and it was not the first one.  I meant to save, but lost, a similar solicitation from a different company that came a few months before that.  The idea of a derrick in say the heart of Lawrenceville is quite an image to think of. Is that what they are really planning?! I think I need Vannevar's photoshop help to imagine what that would look like. But I would be curious what other city residents have received anything like this in recent months and what they were offered if they followed up:


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Thursday, October 15, 2009

WW

Wettick Watch... there on the right as well.

I always wondered what folks in big castles felt like watching sappers inch forward day by day. 

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Competing headlines

National headline just out is:  Foreclosures: 'Worst three months of all time'



Local headline from yesterday is: Foreclosures down 19 percent in Pittsburgh region

and as the PBT piece puts it... the more important thing about the Pittsburgh stat is:  "If the current trend continues, 2009 will be the third consecutive year the region sees a decline in the number of foreclosures."

Which I thought was all curious to consider next to the latest benchmarking the Trib caught that someone out there says: Pittsburgh listed as second-best city to 'get back on your feet after foreclosure'

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

seeking a steady state

Casino Watch update... there on the right.

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50 years since what?

I was amazed to see coverage of the steel industry in the PG.  Then I realized it was just a wire service piece. But here is another AP story running that is actually kind of stunning:

AP has a headline: US steel exports exceeded imports in August

Title line explains: "A steel industry trade group said the United States exported more steel than it imported in August for the first time in more than 50 years."...  even though there seems some dispute over the data.. it's still remarkable that we could even be suggesting the idea that the US is a net exporter of steel.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ready, Fire, Aim

I had to cogitate on this one a few hours.


Most readers here probably saw Mike’s piece on the PG’s Next Page summarizing some of his thoughts on Pittsburgh’s revitalization. It was just a part of his 10 part series he has been producing over the last couple months.

Today’s PG had a ‘rebuttal’ of sorts from an unlikely vector. What was it rebutting? It seems former Republican county commissioner Bob Cranmer took issue with Mike’s passing mention of former mayor of Tom Murphy in a less than enthusiastic light. I'm not even going to touch the subtitle: "Pittsburgh's Debt to Tom Murphy". Mike himself has already responded to Bob's piece.

Where to start parsing all of that? The better part of valor may be to just let it all go. Give Bob a moment to vent and we can all forget it. But I figure he won’t be reading this since he must never have noticed Mike’s 10 part series until parts 1 and 2 were reprinted in the Post Gazette months after they were online. Poor Mike had to go to Amsterdam to redeliver his thoughts only to have them make it to print here at home… and then incurring the Bob Cranmer’s wrath along the way. Mike came to town in the mid 1990’s I believe. Mike might not have recognized who Bob was before today?

First off you have to believe Bob has had most of that pent up in him for some time. He just needed something to set it off. The strangest thing about it all is is that Mikes very very glancing (by Bob's own admission) mention of Tom Murphy was lukewarm at best in describing the former mayor's legacy… it nonetheless represents the only thing not entirely critical of Murphy’s tenure in office that has made it to ink in years. Granted I have suggested the renaming of the Hot Metal pedestrian bridge for the former mayor, but those thoughts have remained in the ether. Tom M. has few public friends these days and aiming all of that at Mike of all people was just a tad reactionary... it was certainly counterproductive. Kind of explains why Tom remains in the public's proverbial dog-house:  with friends like these......

Must be hard being a former pol.

Cranmer is of course a former county commissioner. Possibly more important to local history than most anyone can really believe. It was Bob’s upset election as the third county commissioner in 1995 that lead to the historic change in party control of Allegheny County. With him there was a majority of 2 Republicans to 1 Democrat and thus Republicans took control of the county apparachniki for the first time in decades. It appeared to be the godsend for all those who hoped and prayed for an end to ‘one party’ rule by Democrats of local government.

Didn’t quite turn out that way. Cranmer’s election really put the top Republican, Larry Dunn, into power and the results were quite dramatic. Taxes were slashed with no plan for cutting expenditures and the county's budget quickly became a shambles. Bond ratings went down and even the grass in county parks went unmowed (seriously, look it up).  Then to top things off he fired all of the county property assessors. Didn’t need them of course since he suspended property assessments. I quote the pair in the Guiness commercials. The result was almost predictable and the inevitable lawsuit came before Judge Wettick who ruled that the county not only must commence assessments, but must conduct the first in decades ( or ‘ever’ one could argue) mass assessment of properties in Allegheny County.

Cranmer would soon see how bad things were going and flipped his allegiances and supported Democrat Mike Dawida midway through their term. That coalition would be in charge of the county for a couple years, but the damage was done to the careers of all three. Dunn's was clearly self inflicted.  Cranmer can't escape association with Dunn and poor Dawida can be blamed for letting the other two get elected.  Disatisfaction with county governance resulting from the brief circus was enough to push the nearly 50-50 referendum on a county Home Rule charter and the elimination of the 3 commissioner system altogether. Dunn and Cranmer would barely be seen in the political space ever again. Dawida would lose in the primary to Cyril Wecht for the new office of County Chief Executive which would be won by Jim Roddy.

Roll that all back by induction and what do you get?? If Cranmer had not eeked out an upset in the normally quiescent election for county commissioner…. No Dunn… no assessment lawsuit… no mass reassessment, no Sabre system… no assessment lawsuit today and there would likely have been no new home rule charter and no position of county chief executive created. The butterfly says Dan O. would likely not be running for governor and who knows what would be happening with the city.

So… going back to Mike’s piece… if you read all of Mikes postings, or even the summary the summary in the PG you really have to wonder what set off Bob Cranmer so. Why was all that was aimed at Mike and how the brief and incidental line on Murphy (which Mike could have eliminated without impacting his message an iota) is kind of a mystery. I take he feels some kindred spirit with Murphy as another passed over pol not getting his proper due. If I knew Tom, which I don’t for the record, I’d rephrase the Bentsen quote. 

Make no mistake… Cranmer makes some good points and I myself have argued that the unhistory writing Murphy out of all history is at best odd. But Cranmer's piece was sort of like the entire Murphy legacy: even the messages that made sense were delivered so obnoxiously that you just don’t have any sympathy for them in the end. Thus when all is said and done, Cranmer did far more harm than good than for any case at rehabilitating Murphy’s place in history. But the 'rebuttal' reminded us of his.

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Pgh's Sally Field moment continues

This is really true. I swear I saw the headline about Fortune Magazine having a ranking out of the best places to start a business.  It didn't occur to me to even read it since of course Pittsburgh would not be mentioned.  Low and behold the Trib points out that Pittsburgh is ranked the 2nd best place to start a business
I .... uh.. don't quite know what to say.  Maybe I should not have poked fun at the fellow who said Pittsburgh was one of the 5 best places to develop real estate.

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Library return on investment

Here is all I will say on the library imbroglio for now:

Taxpayer Return-on-Investment (ROI) in Pennsylvania Public Libraries

and one might want to listen to the state's own public service announcements (audio-MP3 file) on the value of libraries.

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follow those stories

Today at 10am should be oral arguments over the latest attempt by the county to delay an assessment. Mentioned earlier is their 91 page appeal for a stay on Judge Wettick's assessment ruling.  After today, I think the hearing for next Monday the 19th is still on track and may be the defining moment in the now decade+ saga.  Saga would be a good word for it all at this point don't you think?

I pointed out the Las Vegas Sun article looking at Pittsburgh along with Cleveland, Boston and Las Vegas.  that article now has over 70 comments.  Some your normal ranting, but some are worth a read.

Sunday's PG had an 'enough said' infographic (which at the moment does not have an online link I can find for some reason) from this report: the National Compensation Survey report for Pittsburgh.   I didn't catch that the Trib looked at the report last week and saw that the wage increase in Pittsburgh  last year was +4.4%. That's really big news!   When you consider that inflation is nearly nonexistent it's even bigger news. Actually as the article points out, there was deflation over the time period that the wages were compiled for that report.... so the real wage increase was larger than the nominal change.  I have not gone back to compile the time series, but that may be the biggest inflation-adjusted wage jump here in a long long time.  There have been a lot of recent years where the nominal wage increases here were barely greater than inflation... some years I think there was real wages actually decreased slightly.  Over 4% after adjusting for inflation is pretty big by any standard. Strange that it did not make more news all around??

Mentioned yesterday, both PG and Trib cover the story on the Pew report about preparations for the census in Pittsburgh and some other large cities. Both were kind and neither mention the bruhaha over how the city wanted to appeal the census numbers to try and get more people... a move which would have opened up the possibility that the census folks would have lowered their numbers for Pittsburgh (the city) if the Pew sponsored analysis is correct. 

and to follow up the Steelers game in Detroit.  How bad is it when the opposing team isn't even bothered by all the Pittsburgh fans that show up in their home stadium?  From the Detroit Free Press:  No shame in Steelers fans overtaking Ford Field.

The state of the Monongahela River is in the New York Times today:  Cleansing the Air at the Expense of Waterways

and the powers that be here I am sure are happy with the news that Pitt and CMU have been ranked near the top for community impact.  PG version is a bit stingy with what we think is big news, but that is obviously a bit biased a perspective.  Trib version has a mention of our Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System.... you can play with parts of it yourself if you like. Philly Inquirer has a bit more on their local story where Penn just beat out Pitt overall in the ranking. So Pennsylvania schools come in 1 and 2 respectively.  A story there?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Visions of Pittsburgh

Vannevar might need to have his photoshop license taken away.  It's a long way from some of these 'photos', but maybe some day?

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counting matters

Just out....  Pew has a report looking at census preparations in Pittsburgh along with a few other cities. 

Preparing for the 2010 Census: How Philadelphia and Other Cities Are Struggling and Why It Matters

Funny thing about it is that the City of Pittsburgh they estimate as being OVERcounted by the census. the only city they look at with a potential OVERCount... most urban cities are UNDERcounted by the census most believe. There is a lot of evidence of similar undercounting here. The thing about the city is that is has both a concentration of minorities which are almost always undercounted, but also students and some others who are overcounted.   I am not surprised and why I cautioned against the city appealing the census count as they wanted to do (but missed the deadline for..... luckily it would appear) earlier in the year.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dan Fouts?

First I said... is that really Dan Fouts?

Then I said, why am I watching Dan Fouts?

So I looked up the television coverage of the game. It's almost embarassing.  Via the506.com is the picture of today's.game. That has to be the least coverage of a Steelers game in a long time.  I guess nobody expects the Lions to make it much of a game. That's a dangerous attitude.



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Rust Belt Watch.... Las Vegas???

Actually this isn't just another blast of Pittsburgh hagiography.  Good graphics and benchmarking of Pittsburgh vis a vis some other regions in the Las Vegas Sun today. See: 

Lessons Las Vegas can learn from the Rust Belt

What I am remembering is a economic development conference I was at a long long time ago.  There were folks from both Boston and Las Vegas there and there was a fun exchange.  It was something like the folks in Boston saying they had not built a new school since 1950 or something like that whereas the folks in Las Vegas they had no school older than 1950.  Makes for 2 very different sets of problems.  I'm sure those types of factoids on Boston could come to describing us as well. Probably a lot more extreme here in terms of any metric comparing infrastructure investment in Pittsburgh since 1950 compared to almost anywhere else in the nation.

But I also retains this little bit of info from the same conference.. in Las Vegas their metrics of growth were all keyed to hotel rooms.  They knew to to a decimal place how much each new hotel room translated into in terms of local economic activity and income.  Nothing else really mattered to them for a long time and maybe that is beginning to change.  But the issues there are much like they were here:  what happens when you rely on a single industry and what happens when that industry is no longer an engine for growth.

So no... I don't think Las Vegas is anywhere near the situation Pittsburgh was in, but the very fact that they are thinking this way is probably a good thing.  It also is pretty amazing in itself when you get a Las Vegas paper comparing Las Vegas to 3 'rust belt' regions plus Boston thrown in for good measure.

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Sigh

Some days..    Trib and PG cover developments in the PWSA bond miasma that still has no clear end. You can't say this about all problems, but this one at least had some pretty clear warning signs from at least  August 2008

What I hate to point out is....  The issue at hand is that the PWSA made some decisions resulting in "Lack of guarantees forces weekly costs up by $230,000" per the article. Weekly costs of $230,000 and that is just the additonal costs of that debt as the result of all of this.    How much is the annual marginal cost of keeping open each of the library branches slated to be closed.  I'd look it up, but I really don't want to know.  I suspect the two numbers side by side would be depressing.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bike-Burgh... or not?

Bike Pittburgh is getting lots of notice for putting together a neat list of transit/bike usage for the largest American cities. It certainly is worth checking out and is some good info.

I say this sadly.. , but is the metric saying something good about the city?  I say this with just a smidge of bike cred (I hope), but the answer is maybe not.  With the population within the city continuing to decline, there is a real question who is choosing to continue to live in the city.  Those who are moving out I suspect are those who can and do commute by car more than those you travel by other means. Thus what you are seeing is a city left with a greater and greater concentration of students in all forms and elderly... two groups that are most likely to either not have a car or who are likely to travel by bike or walking. In that light the high showing of bike/ped users in the city has a more ambiguous interpretation. When you look for the region as a whole, the decline in transit usage has been one of the steepest declines as there has been among metro regions in recent decades.  Not much evidence any that trend has changed over the last few years. Even within the city, with the demand for car parking near satiation...  ditto. 

The census data the bikePgh folks pulled was for commuting compiled by residents.  If you want to see some similar data (if dated back to 2000) of commuting patterns by place of work for individual city neighborhoods and municipalities in Allegheny.  I also once made a map posted here of public transit usage in the county fwiw.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

echos of Pittsburgh past

This just goes with the post earlier in the week on the Marketplace pieces talking to former steel workers in Pittsburgh.  Cleveland PD has a story:  Former auto workers face bleak future

and nothing much to do with Cleveland, but they did have an AP story on developments in the natural gas industry... no, not stuff goingon with Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, but developments on the other side of the globe. It's a datapoint to keep some of the exuberance over natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania in check.  Lots going on in the global natural gas industry, some of which could be considered disruptive.  Thus one of the reasons natural gas prices are plumeting which has to dampen some of the development potential.  Some Pennsylvania developments are already being turned off at least for now.

Which leads to another thought I had.  It's a minor mystery to me why the talk about all the development activity in Marcellus Shale does not jump out at you when you look at employment stats in impacted industries for the state. I don't doubt the activity you can't help but hear about, and I myself long ago noticed the Schlumberger trucks tooling through the Pennsylvania outback, well before the frenzy was so obvious all around....  So I have a theory.  A lot of this initial wave of development has to be generating employment, but for folks who are coming here for that work, it may not be folks showing up in our employment stats (at least yet).  That Schlumberger truck was likely for a firm and for workers residing elsewhere. At some point that development moves from from early stage exploration and settles in. At that point you will expect to see the migration of 'oil men' and more show folks in those industries will begin to show up in local employment stats. 

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

those who leave by force

Already covered all around is the Sporting News' ranking of Pittsburgh as the #1 sports town in the US. What is remarkable is that they rank 399 regions! There is some obsessive benchmarking.  We are the anti-Auburn, NY which came in last. How do you come in last in something like that? And Williamsport, PA is #382.  Doesn't the Little League World Series count for anything?

More interesting to me at least:  Sporting News has a brief look at making of the the nearly iconic cover photo of Ben and Sid which turns out was taken in Duane Rieder's studio in the Rosetta Stone that is Lawrenceville

I should probably leave this for Jim to comment on better than I... but yet another diasporan-journalist is the Sporting News' Pete DeCoursy who explains the the greater meaning of it all.  The title of the post comes from his piece.  More evidence it's all a conspiracy.  Jim R. may really have nailed it.  The vast diaspora coming to rescue us one way or another.

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Casino Watch

Looks like the legal tiff over payments from the casino to the SEA to pay for the arena bonds has escalated to a new level. Not a great sign.  I thought everyone was happy that Neil Bluhm had deep enough pockets to make up for the cash poor Barden. Not to imply any of this reflects anything on Bluhm's own finances, the casino is its own legal entitiy of course and you don't get to be a billionaire I figure without being a bit stingy.... So I am guessing the casino really does believe it has a case to not make the payments the SEA is expecting.  But how serious an issue are the finances over there in Chateau?  Probably poke at the cash issues at the SEA some other time. 

Dave started this tracking, I thought I would play with it a bit.  The question that may impact nearly everything in town is how profitable the casino will be in the long run. The SEA is depending on payments from the casino, the city and county need the tax revenues.

The current issue is that revenues for the slots machines at the casino during the week of the G20 were abysmal, barely $132/machine per day  Clearly that was anomalous due to the circumstances.  The immediate question is whether revenues would rebound.  The first datapoint is a) yes they did, but b) not by much.  Gross terminal revenues per slots machine averaged $162 for the week following the G20.  Up from $132 for sure, but still far far below the $351 once projected by the casino itself and $306 projected by the state. The poor efficiency of the machines is already responsible for a ratings downgrade of the casino's debt

So here is just an experiment: a Casino Watch interactive graphic.   I will try and make this an independent page at some point.  But here is the trend thus far.  I need to add to the labeling, the graph is measuring the average daily gross terminal revenues (think gross profit) per machine.





(this is working for me, but I am not sure it will work for others... Does not seem to like coming up the first call. Try 'refresh' if it is not coming up. Alternatively you could try this:  http://www.briem.com/casinowatch.htm). 

So even if you ignore the G20 week altogether, there is a trend there.

What's it all mean?  Just some neurons making random associations among things that may or may not make sense to associate.  First I wonder if the characteristics that made Pittsburgh a less than hospitable place to support anarchist protesters are also keeping locals from fully embracing a flashy new casino?   Just a thought I will leave for the sociologists but maybe folks here might like gambling in its more traditional forms... the lottery, bingo, and whatever is going on at fundraisers (or the back room).  It certainly is worth more consideration than the only answer given by the casino itself for the poor showing thus far... some nonsense about "(Pittsburghers)  not liking to cross bridges".  

But there is something else out there.  Given that there is no real comparables for the casino property, it is likely going to be assessed for property tax purposes using metrics on the revenues and profitability of its best use... which would be the casino I imagine.  It just seems to me that given that the assessment for the parcel has not been set, the casino folks have a very clear vested interest to keep their revenues down until that assessment has been fixed.  Especially if the base year system were to set in place a valuation for a long time.  Then take into account the debate the casino is having over the timing of its payments to the Sports and Exhibition Authority.  Ditto.

So it all comes together: assessments, city and county budgets, the SEA, even the state budget now, plus arena funding and the mythos of the gephyrophobic sociology of Yinzers...  Maybe the casino = 42?

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More Swaps Gone Bad

For Fester and maybe a few others...  nah... just Fester.

A story from Sunday is about yet another swaps gone bad story impacting a local government agency.  This one is from State College Area School Board, but it reads an awful lot like the PWSA issue.  What may be a bit interesting though is that local story from the Centre Daily Times has more than a dozen comments to it...   stuff like that here elicits yawns at best here.  PFM mentioned in there as well, though I don't know all the details of what their involvement was.

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We were wondering what comes after G20?

With the governor's race now entrained, and next year's senate race percolating...  the state of politics in Pennsylvania is going to be at the center of some key elections for those offices and even for some of the higher profile congressional seats that will be in the news..

(update btw....   Allentown Morning Call's John Micek looks at Dan O's campaign kickoff from a slightly different angle than most.. )

Thus Capital Hill's newspaper The Hill, has a piece out on the view from 20K feet looking down on us. There will be more to follow. It may not reach the same crescendo as last year's primary when the national and international folks were parachuting in as they would again for the G20; it will be more of a mild boil for a longer period of time.  Think about it....  This is all really for 2010 races and last I checked it was still 2009.

For the statewide races that have both contested pimaries and generals Pennsylvania must feel like purgatory.  They just are not similar races.  How different is the spring from the fall?  Here are the current voter registration stats by county shown separately for Democratic and Republican party registrations.   Do I need to label which is which? 






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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

WW Oct 5

Just scanning the Wettick Watch there on the right.  Several filings of note in the assessments case.  Per an expert report filed yesterday and just put online, it looks like the proposed remedy for getting updated assessments going in Allegheny County is a combination of using the 2005 assessment numbers and trending them to get something close to where we might be today.  Just guessing that this solution is there to obviate any argument that the county does not have the time or money to get any new type of assessment in place anytime soon.  The method seems like it would use the 2005 assessments in place and other techniques that would not need any effort on the part of the county.

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redistricting cometh

All this budget miasma in Harrisburg portends an even more painful political redistricting process coming soon.  If they can't decide on an annual budget (shouldn't the next budget season be starting soon?) then the redistrictring that must happen every decade is going to be a very very painful process

That all comes to mind because the Swing State project has come out with a ranking of congressional districts which have grown or shrunk the most since 2000.  Not surprisingly PA-14 which is the Mike Doyle's district covering the city of Pittsburgh and some environs shows up as the district with the 4th largest decline. They estimate the district has gone from 645,809 people in 2000 to  574,861 in 2008.  A loss of  70,948.   Federal law will require congressional districts to be equalized within a very narrow band of variance once 2010 census data is released.   So PA-14 is going to have to grow geographically no matter what.  That in turn will impact all other local districts even if they were not shrinking themselves... which they are anyway for the most part. 

I do suspect the lengthening recession has shifted a lot of commuting patterns across the nation, but since it started so late in the decade I don't see it changing much for Pennsylvania.  The commonwealth is well within a range to lose 1 congressional district as a result of 2010 reapportionment at the federal level.Some could argue it could be 2 or zero, but both of those would be low probability events IMHO.

The redistricting process is controlled in Harrisburg and compared to 2001 the status quo in Harrisburg is obviously a lot more muddled than ever.  Backthen the Republicans controlled both house and senate and the governorship.  This time the house and senate may be split, we don't know who will be the governor and even the state supreme court has a close split politically.  It all bodes for a similar dysfunction. The stakes in the annual budget pale when compared to the impact of federal redistricting . The stakes are large because redistricting can impact what party gains or loses seats in congress for a decade or more. Read up on the history of Pennsylvania's post 2000 redistricting, or what happened in Texas, to see how much people care.  The power to control the lines can tip the balance in many a congressional election. 

The Federal redistricting is going to be a difficult one just based on sheer geography.  Getting rid of one congressional district means major shifts across the state.  After the 2000 census Pennylvania lost 2 districts which was painful in itself of course, but it meant that some balance in losing districts within the state if you think about the topology of it. 

I have commented in the past on the politics of that process in the past  In particular the extreme geography of PA-18 mostly in Allegheny County's southern suburbs along with parts of Washington and Westmoreland,  which was carved out of that process.  It may be one of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation both in shape and intent.  It isn't going to survive the upcoming redistricting looking anything like what it does is a safe bet no matter who controls the process. 

Within the state it gets even tricker. I have written about what the trends look like for the region when it comes to redistricting within the state. Those trends could be updated but are not going to change too much. Population losses for all the reasons discussed coupled with general population increases in certain other parts of the state portend a loss of legislative power in SW Pennsylvania. Basically Allegheny County is on track to lose 2 house seats in the state general assembly.  That would translate to a half of a senate seat.  Since you can't chop those folks in two, it means that the city or county based districts are going to have to consolidate or stretch further into suburbran areas. 

It's mostly a fools game to predict how this all will work out. But if you want to see a district that does not seem likely to survive in a recognizable shape... take a look at senate district 38 currently held by Jim Ferlo.  I have to believe the shape of that district was stretched (tortured?) for decades even as population was shrinking to help keep Len Bodcack (sr. that is) in office.  The result is a current district stretching from the most urban of Lawrenceville out into nearly rural parts of Armstrong County.  Something has to give is just my guess, but you just never know.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

The costs of success

NPR had a couple other pieces on Pittsburgh that ran right during the tsunami of G20 coverage last week.  If there is a 'transformation' story worth telling about Pittsburgh we really can't foget those who paid the most for that success:

Workers transform after loss of steel

and

The former lives of Steelworkers

also a piece ran on foreclosures in Cleveland with references to what has happened in Pennsylvania. See:

Clues to Cleveland's foreclosure crisis.

These were all done by Rico G. who did the piece on the Pittsburgh diaspora that did air here of course.  Rico is actually Pitt '89... Who knew?   Just another datapoint in the vast diaspora's vast influence on the global media.   All of this positive press of late is a conspiracy I tell you.

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what if they are not leaving?

Already mentioned here, but the PG on Sunday picked up the main point on the balanced migration picture for the region these days.  Again, the full report is online as well. 

Truth is there is nothing new, or at least nothing unexpected in that trend.  Sadly, a few years ago it took Rotstein to explain my thoughts more clearly than I typically do.

For the moment at least, can we declare a moratorium on everyone still here bemoaning the idea that everyone else is fleeing the region.  Long before the inflows and outflows converged as much as they have recently I explained that the population trends do not show that young people are fleeing Pittsburgh as most everyone believes in one form or another.  If I made that argument 7 years ago??

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Desperately Seeking Steely

Is 'newscaching' a word? Points for whoever finds Steely McBeam in Sunday's PG. The symbolism is exquisite.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Casino watch addendum

From Atlantic City is this article today:  Off-season worries workers in Atlantic City casinos

It's interesting for several reasons.  One is the obvious economic story about how bad it is in Atlantic City for the casino workforce.  Part of that story is the impact of newer casinos in Pennsylvania.  Wait until the Philly casinos finally open.  It's also a migration story, read and see.

But the paper there looks to have created a neat database showing where the Atlantic City casino employees actually live.  Anyone want to do something like that here?

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population obsession

One loyal NS reader asked me if I really had to keep telling all the visiting media that Pittsburgh was experiencing natural population decline. I guess it came across as a depressing factoid. What I point out as being an important part of understanding local trends, not just the demographics, but also lots of employment trends are impacted becasue we are experiencing natural population decline... i.e. more deaths than births.  What I point out is that Pittsburgh is the only large metropolitan region where that is true and reflects for the most part the exodus of younger folks decades ago. The migration induced by the job destruction at the time was as we say very age-selective.   The folks who left in the early 80's and before were mostly younger workers who took with them their families and future families. The result as the population has aged out is a natural population decline currently. 

If you are still reading....  Richard Morrill digs into the natural decrease phenomenon in a detailed post at Newgeography.com: When Thanatos Beat Erps, Mapping Natural Population Decreases yesterday. Neat maps to look at as well since he is looking nation-wide.  He explains this all more and better if you want to get into it. 

So to be clear, I typically said lots of things to the journalists, and would rarely get to the natural population factoid until well into a conversation.  But it always jumps out at reporters because it just is atypical or at least something they don't hear otherwise. I've learned well enough that journalists are not interested in hearing yet another person say what 10 others have ("Pittsburgh has been transformed"... yadda, yadda)  and perk up when you teach them something even if its esoteric.

While Professor Morrill captures a lot of places where a similar trend is going on, a lot of those counties are rural areas.  I try to be precise in my words and will usually say the Pittsburgh is the only large metro region with natural population decline going on right now.  You will see from the map why I have to qualify that it stands out only among large metro areas.  Even if you eliminate the truly rural counties there are a few other places that jump out and even within Pennsylvania the demographics of Scranton/Wilkes Barre jump out at you as being equally extreme.  

But looking into the future.  It's not like the natural population decline started immediately during the 80's exodus.  Folks need to age out. In fact it would not be until the latter part of the 90's that natural population in the region would edge negative.  Our natural population decline peaked early in this decade and has been declining (declining decline that is again) since. When and if natural population edges positive keeps changing in our forecasts.  It might never get positive per se, but may not be as negative as it was a few years ago for a long time.  Whereas there will be a bunch of places elsewhere in the US that will more and more look like we did over the last decade or two as they age out.

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95 minutes vs. 95 days

I caught an audio version of this the other day, but didn't quite think about it until I saw the latest blurb on the state budget miasma here in Pennsylvania.  In Michigan they went without a state budget for a few hours in the early morning of October 1.  From Midnight until around 2am the state was without a budget and technically shut down.  Read the story from Michigan Public Radio.  There is a great line from the Michigan speaker of the house over the couple of hours the state went without a budget:

It never should have taken this long and I apologize to the state.
Then I read the PG's version of the latest development on the state budget here in Pennsylvania.  Barnes' and Mauriello's last line there is:

Pennsylvania is entering its 95th day without a spending plan in place.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Profitable Pittsburgh Real Estate?

File under things that make you go hmm...

I'm just passing this one on... someone out there lists Pittsburgh among the 5 most profitable cities for real estate developers.  Is that really conceivable?

Yeah, I know it's an odd source.  But at the very least the dude must not expect to be laughed at.  Says something in itself.

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See no election, hear no election

I was going to title this "Desperately Seeking Sneath", but only Potter and O'Toole would have gotten it.  The other half of the Null Space readership may have just skipped over it.  Just some minor notes on the mayoral election coming up that borders on existential at this point.  

Disagree?  Consider that the headline political news next week is going to be for an election that will not take place until next year. Specter/Sestak or Senate?  Also a vote next year.  People's political neurons are already focused on next spring and this coming news cycle is only going to solidify that even more.  For most folks the fact that there is an election in a few weeks is a curiosity at most.  Those that even know that is.

There is a brief spasm all around over F. Dok Harris' in absentia showing during the G20.  Not the greatest of moves for someone who at least tried to make the G20 a campaign issue. What I find a bit more curious is why someone even went to the effort of making this video.  Potter says the video is likely a production of the Ravenstahl campaign. I'll trust his judgment on that, but I was just wondering what the motivation would be. Why do anything that only potentially raises the awareness of an opponent. At this point I figure the only stategy the LR campaign is working on is to keep anyone from realizing there are challengers out there at all.  We are literally 5 weeks from the election.  Strike that, 4 weeks and 4 days!!. I am guessing a majority of the voting age population in the city would literally be a bit surprised if they were told there is an election coming up. 

How soon is the election?   Monday is the last day to register to vote. That is this coming Monday. Merely hours from now as I type.  I have not sensed much in the way of new voter registration campaigns going on.  If that is correct then the electorate who will be voting is not much different from who it has been here in the past. Barring these last few hours, the registration phase is over.

Then there is Acklin who really must feel a sinking feeling all around post G20.  Acklin is in a tough bind I figure.  A sure sign of Acklin's lack of traction is the Trib's headline which described some de rigueur  posturing as "Mayoral candidate adds to tall stack of campaign promises".   Curious that Trib headline writing gnomes (which are rarely the reporters themselves I am told) took such a negative spin for that story. Acklin has put himself into a box.  With a strategy that hinged on garnering support among the base of police and firefighters then what can he do post G20?  Criticizing the mayor can't really be separated from attacking the police with regard to anything involving the protests and aftermath.  Focusing on Downtown business just does buy you much when it comes to votes. I've pointed out not only how old the city's electorate is, but when you take into account students and other factors, only a small faction of city voters are in the labor force which means they really are not paying much attention to the lack of business Downtown for all of a few days in September.  A similar argument goes with how the whole pension tempest played out. Acklin couldn't attack the mayor too much in that LR was on the same side as Joe King and all the municipal unions and especially all their retirees, a much larger voting block in and of themselves, then add in their families.  Well financed and professionally managed as it is (or maybe it's because it is so well funded and managed?), the Acklin campaign must feel like they are trying to punch a cloud.

I know the Acklin folks believe they have, or had, commitments from some of the more Democratic leaning contituencies in town. That was certainly a selling point to potential funders early on to support his campaign. Yet if that support does not begin to manifest itself much more publicly  pretty soon then what is the point?  I suspect they are a bit in the position Bill P. was once in when he was convinced he had at least credible support going into an endorsement vote a couple years ago.  It was ever so close in the end.

The best thing the Ackin campaign has going for it?  If this is correct, then a recent KQV poll had him coming in third behind Harris and Ravenstahl. A very curious result.   Judging from how well Mayor Desantis did in similar KQV polling, Ackin may indeed be a shoo in.

I know there is consternation for some over how the protests were handled and noise that it could impact the election.  I just go back to my taxonomy on the (city of) Pittsburgh electorate. Those who are the least happiest with the police and might vent that unhappiness with LR are pretty much in the groups that were not going to vote for him no matter.  So it shifts little.  If anything I bet LR can't lose any votes he didn't lose before the start and shored up his support with some groups Acklin was counting on picking off.   Harris' campaign has been harder to figure out, but I figure he will start with the AABL vote (again per my taxonomy) and debatable dents into a few other groups.

So the month out prediction is that conventional wisdom holds for now...  Overall the results probably will not look much diferent than the Desantis-Ravenstahl race except with the two challengers splitting the votes Desantis got. Hard to peg the split on that.  Compared to two years ago there will be some differences at the margin we can parse, but overall the result will  not change. Probably a risker prediction is turnout, but it's going to be an awfully low turnout with no other headline race going on (quick name the judicial candidates seeking office?).  Common wisdom is that low turnout hurts challengers.  That may normally be the case, but I do think the conundrum facing the LR campaign is whether to campaign actively much at all.  There is a risk when turnout is uber-low that you just don't know what may happen.  So the question is whether LR decides to run any TV or other costly advertising at all. His victory over Desantis came without any meaningful TV or media spending at all though they did have a tsunami of mailings by the end. That may be the most substantive political debate over the next few weeks.

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