Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Council Collapse Disorder

(Sir) Ed Heath is now officially part of the Pittsburgh Punditry given his comments in the Trib today on the ongoing saga in City Council. The Trib’s Jeremy Boren was probably given 3 inches to fit in a piece that would have taken 30 to explain in any meaningful way, yet one that I hope would have gotten no more than a paragraph for any minimally necessary closure.

At this point when it comes to internal politics of city council I am as confused as the beekeepers who are wondering what is happening to all the bees? For sure, City Council has always been a nexus of painful and personal politics. You don’t need to go far into the past to find stories of squabbling amongst themselves. For the local historians out there, some personal spats are legendary: Madoff/DePasquale, Ferlo/Masloff, Polack/Givens to name a few. Yet even when the machinations were pointedly painful, involving profanity or even a few physical altercations on the record you usually could tell what the point of the fighting was about and who was on what side.

The problem we have today over the continued squabbling is that the public is confused at this point over what the point really is. Even the most charitable interpretation would find fault with just about everyone involved. How this has dragged on this far is mind boggling.

What is at risk if this continues a day longer. it is worth noting what this has meant to city politics. Consider the brief history to date of the sitting government for the City of Pittsburgh. When first elected and early in their term city council had quotes like this:

All I can say is that never has a political body had its reputation fall so far, so fast, over so little?

Now what? Does anyone really talk much about what is going on with regards to Lamargate. Does anyone remember the mayor’s former press secretary. What issue does the public associate with the whole billboard imbroglio?

Yes, this very post has sort of a Heizenberg effect that contradicts itself.. but for anyone who is a public official I really plead: end all of this now. I am sure everyone has lots of things they want to say and get off their chest. We all want greater transparency and communication with our elected officials. Nonetheless, at this point there is absolutely nothing any of you can say on the record that is going to do anything to lessen the public’s confusion in this matter. Stop, end, cease and desist, invoke radio silence on just this issue. There is a point so sometimes just saying “No Comment”. When those pesky media folks ask for “just one comment” to respond to whatever… just say no. Sometimes discretion really is the better part of valor.

The good news is that nothing in politics is permanent and with luck this will all be forgotten.. if not by each of you then by the public. This will not be the first issue you all disagree, sometimes on very core value terms. You can’t blow everything up over every instance like this lest what will happen, has happened, is happening, is a complete disfunction where matters that have to be attended to are just completely forgotten. Vote your consciences and move on. Anyone looking at how the city’s pension fund has been faring of late? Add 5 zeros to the legal bill jamming the machine to understand the magnitude of that one issue.


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

"Nonetheless, at this point there is absolutely nothing any of you can say on the record that is going to do anything to lessen the public’s confusion in this matter. Stop, end, cease and desist, invoke radio silence on just this issue."

That's a problem. If one happens to hold the worldview of Shields et al, one views Dowd's salvo today in the Trib as an intentional attempt to make the Council look shabby, petty and exhausting -- particularly when it comes to the Lamar issue.

His motive would be A) it reflects worst of all on Prez. Shields' leadership, which Dowd would like to end and B) as you point out, it makes the whole Lamar issue seem less about defending the law and public processes, and more about paying attorneys.

Why would B be important to Dowd? Well, if one suspects the Lamar issue has a politically radioactive center, then a real forthright, thorough, united exposition of it could conceivably lead to a Shields administration -- which would REALLY be something to avoid if one is already unhappy with Shields as council prez.

Just trying to add a little flavor.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 3:24:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

To be fair, in the Dowd worldview, the council is a shabby place under its current leadership, and it's about time to expose that. One reason the council is so shabby is because its leaders are too hung up on going after the mayor for high crimes and misdemeanors.

In other news:
Councilwoman Harris is exploring the feasibility of reinstituting standard host fees on suburban sewage handled by the City. Certainly a grown-up, serious-face measure that could have an impact on our financial well-being.

Our understanding? Shields is for it, Dowd is staunchly against.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 4:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. (Or is that "Here, here?" I never know. In any case, I agree.)

Lamar is still plotting ways to buy our cityscape out from under us, the pension fund still threatens to make the city implode, Don Barden wants to erect a massive concrete bunker surrounded by concrete on the North Shore, public transit may soon be unavailable or scarce (even more so than it already is), nobody has been punished for the URA handing over portions of the city to well-connected developers, .......

and they're fighting over who has a bigger, ummm, base of supporters.

This new City Council has thrilled me about as much as the new Democratic Congress of 2007 did.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008 9:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The problem we have today over the continued squabbling is that the public is confused at this point over what the point really is."

That, in a nutshell, describes Doug Shields mode of operation, so it's not surprising that as council president, he is imprinting his style on city legislative action. In almost every instance that I've ever heard him hold forth on a topic, he starts out making some sense but quickly devolves into confusion and circular logic before completely losing the thread or blowing up in anger/frustration. It could just be me, but I think others have had the same experience.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that the lawyer brought in by Shields, Hugh McGough, just ran for county judge with the very strong support of some key 14th Ward Dem. committee leaders. A lawyer with less of a political connection to Shields' key constituency might have drawn less flak.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:55:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

(All the lawyers playing a role in this little flap have interesting political resumes.)

It's clear, Chris, your post is dead on. These council members need to come together. We don't have the time to watch any endgames unfold.

As much as I have come down with Shields on the merits of this signature dispute, the evidence is accumulating that his diplomatic approach has not been helpful.

Dowd enjoys some comparative luxuries when it comes to conduct (luxuries which must start coming to a close, now that he's made his point) but Our President can never afford to get drawn into grudges, intellectually or emotionally.

It's on Shields to fix this. It's on Dowd to demonstrate that he can indeed be productively cooperative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 6:21:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

just to avoid any misunderstanding of my thoughts at least. While there are shades of gray all around, I really think its a very collective fault at this point. It's some variant of groupthink at this point, except its not that they all are collectively agreeing on the wrong thing, but collectively disagreeing to no good end.

Also, someone thought I was picking on EdH for the quote in the Trib. Not at all. The public will continue to react to this show as long as it goes on, I am hoping they will cut off the oxygen to the smoldering. Only they can do that.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 7:44:00 PM  
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