Monday, November 30, 2009

Green economy and Pittsburgh

disconnected musings on green economy...

Not all that surprising that some things thought to be huge when oil peaked over $140/bbl are not panning out. Even some of the things that were trotted out front and center during the G20 binge.
Since there is so little steel news covered locally anymore... I thought this was interesting on a new steel plant in the Netherlands that will reduce CO2 emissions by half.  Reminds me:  What is the status of the upgrade at the Clairton works that was put on hiatus?


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Aloysius Lilius saves gambling in Pittsburgh

The PG pokes at the state of casino competition in town here. One theme seems to be that things might be slowly getting better.. or at least things are not as dire as they seem to some of us.  I can’t pass on commenting on a paragraph, the point of which seems to say that things might be getting better. Here is the verbatim quote:

(at the Meadows) gross terminal revenue fell from $29.9 million in July to $22.4 million in Sepetember before rebounding slightly to $22.6 million in October.
a bit later it has: 
… Rivers revenues, while well below projections, have seesawed, going from $16.2 million in August to $15.6 million before jumping back to $16 million in October. (emphasis added in both)
So let's deconstruct the verbiage:  “rebounding slightly” and “jumping”. For the meadows case the slight rebound was a jump from $22.4 to $22.6 million. It works out to +0.85% if you look up the full number. In the Rivers casino case the ‘jump’ came from an increase from $15.6 to $16.0 million… if you look it up it was +2.63%. In both cases the comparision was October vs. September.

So maybe the words are a bit exaggerated?   But no, there is this other little point that may make a difference.  Probably worth mentioning in there somewhere is that October has 31 days while September has 30!  So even if revenue flows stayed exactly the same you would expect October revenues to come in over 3.3% higher compared to September. And in the case for Rivers you would think that the abnormal week of G20 in September might be noted as a big factor causing that delta. 

If you look at their actual revenue flows the "slight rebound" at the meadows was actually a decline nearly 3 times larger or minus 2.4%.  The 'jump' at Rivers was actually a decline of 0.67%.  Which may seem small numbers, but for a monthly change are pretty rapid declines by most standards.  So the qualitative description of the trend is essentially opposite what I think readers took away from the story in itself.

So the best explanation for the jump has nothing to do with the state of the market, marketing, the weather, rivers, advertising or competition of any kind... it's all because the orbital period of the moon divided by the time the earth takes to rotate on its axis is not a whole number. That and a little help from a polymath Renaissance doctor.

Probably worth mentioning, but most of November is done at this point as well and those numbers are not great shakes.  Month to date revenues at the Meadows are at a rate which would be down over 9%. Rivers is showing some recovery from the artificially depressed September.  They would be up 2.5% if they end out November on pace which I suspect they won't... This little event called Thanksgiving coming in the way.  Together though the cumulative revenue between the two casinos is down solidly again.  That is the huge story just being missed completely.

Great photo with the PG story though.

Yeah, yeah... I know... who cares?   Dennis who?!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

PA High Speed Rail?

The remote possibility of a real rail link between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is mentioned in the Sunday  NYT:  Entering the Superproject Void.

Funny no mention at all of maglev anywhere in there. 

I still think the idea of an enhanced Pittsburgh to Cleveland rail line is a lot more realistic project to be even thinking of. Or to be ambitious:  Cleveland - Pittsburgh - DC.  

Odds Rendell still winds up as Transportation Secretary?  I bet the Prez has some deal with LaHood to take some other job when Rendell feels he can leave Harrisburg which would leave Senator/Acting Lt Gov Scarnati as Governor. 


blogito ergo I rant

So I now come to understand some of the antipathy I sometimes hear from our media friends on those ‘bloggers’. Already making the meta-commenting rounds is this from the PG yesterday:  Bloggers Open the Floodgates on Mayor. Really? 

It’s not just journalists actually… every now and then in more professional settings I will hear someone discount all of the blog world with generalities about it being nothing but crazed ranting. Sometimes such a statement will be followed by folks staring at me, or a wink from others. I just smile usually. That all came to mind reading the PG story yesterday attributing all the humorous exhortations of twitterdom to bloggers; I get it now that a lot of journalists, or maybe their editors writing the headlines, really don’t get it. That someone conflates masses of folks poking fun at a topic as literal commentary is odd. It is commentary of course, but so is Colbert.

It’s sort of like writing off all newspaper journalists because the Drudge report exists out there. It didn’t come across as bad as say Mike Seate’s rant against the blogs last year, but you sense it was written with the exact same set of preconceptions at the very least. Might need to watch out, those twitterers are the very same folks populating the exponentially expanding content in the wikisphere.. something no professional journalist would ever crib from

Nonetheless… the topic at hand is the mayor’s retention of a Philadelphia lawyer solely to protect his privacy. You have to admit that this fellow Sprague is one interesting fellow. Far more interesting that the nominal reason he has made it into local news stories of late. The Philadelphia Magazine had one of the longer looks at the good counselor and his estranged relationship with former State Senator Vince Fumo:  The Feud,

What amazes me above all else is how he is just another datapoint on how recent political history in Pennsylvania comes back to Arlen Specter. Arlen has now set the record for the longest serving Senator in Pennsylvania history yet he got his political start getting himself elected* as the Philadelphia DA after serving a stint on the Warren Commission investigating the JFK assassination. His top deputy for years in the Philly DA's office was the same Richard A. Sprague. Other unknowns in that office included some fellow named Rendell. You have to wonder how PA history would have played out for all of them and us without that single bullet theory propelling Arlen to ever greater fame. It’s almost enough to make me rethink my disbelief of all those grassy knoll theories.

But back to Mr. Sprague and ex-Senator Vince Fumo.. undisputed leader of all Harrisburg machinations for decades. If you search Pennsylvania Campaign finance accounts. What you find is at least a million dollars in expenditures from the Fumo campaign accounts to the firm of Sprague and Sprague, usually for legal expenses. You can find those items yourself in these filings:
9/22/2006 $50,000.00
4/26/2006 $130,000.00
2/12/2007 $350,000.00
1/30/2007 $50,000.00
12/27/2006 $25,000.00
11/29/2006 $25,000.00
8/24/2006 $100,000.00
7/20/2006 $40,000.00
7/17/2006 $50,000.00
2/14/2006 $150,000.00
5/22/2006 $150,000.00

I have to presume those are all expenses related to Fumo's criminal defense efforts.  But geez…. All that and Fumo is still sitting in a Federal prison. You have to wonder how long he would be in jail if he had spent less than 7 figures on a defense no matter who it was representing him. Though there is one recent news story that says the sentence he got was 3 months longer than the plea bargain he was offered before the trial ever began.

Those numbers just made me wonder if Sprague and Sprague was the single largest recipient of expenditures from Pennsylvania Campaign accounts across the board. I was going to try and play around with aggregating all the top recipients of expenditures from all political accounts tracked by the state… but it looks like it would be quite a project unto itself to come up with a definitive list. Different spellings of different entities makes it problematic in itself to aggregate all of that… but you have to believe Sprague and Sprague comes close to being near to top of such a list if it were to exist.

So who knows… Potter has already suggested this in a comment on his own post a few days ago that there is already fodder out there as it stands for potential litigation on the part of Mr. Sprague. Is the bluster against potential slanderous speech just bluster? We will see. There is an interesting question of how one could afford an attorney such as Mr. Sprague... though I would not presume the nefarious if he is offering his services at a cut rate price.  I suspect he has all the money he needs and as Potter also alludes to there is new law to be made in this whole field of internet privacy.  It might be the challenge of setting precedent that brought counselor and client together.  Pittsburgh is always striving to be on the cutting edge.  We may have succceeded.

* I didn't realize how unique Specter's original election as DA was.  I thought the history was that he had changed registration from Democrat to Republican to run in the race.  It seems from my reading of the historyt that he actually was elected as the nominated Republican.. but was still a registered Democrat at the time.  Only after getting elected did he change registration.


Friday, November 27, 2009

G20 echo: Newsweek on the Declining Burgh

This one is a little different.  Newsweek on the web peers at the Burgh: Cutting Down to Size, Postindustrial cities, even relatively successful ones such as Pittsburgh, are trying to manage, rather than just reverse, population loss.

It seems to focus on the city more than the region and is a little odd.  It refers to the management consultant euphemism of "right-sizing" for cities like Pittsburgh.   I think the message is really reflective of what more academically would be called the debate over "managed decline" which has been a topic for some here and elsewhere for decades if not longer.  I can't believe Youngstown escapes mention in the piece however short it had to be.  There is the nexus of folks really coming to grips with what managed decline means economically, politically and practically. 

It also references the misunderstood article once in the UK's Daily Telegraph on the state of Urban America and the quote that parts of our cities 'need to be bulldozed'.  Lest anyone doubt it, we have as many of those new urban prairies as anywhere else in America.  What may be different about Pittsburgh is both good and bad.  The bad is that we just hide our abandoned neighborhoods better than most other places, a reflection of our general insularity aided by topography.  The good that does not get mentioned much is that for the city, while it is the case that the resident population has gone down as precipitously as anywhere, the jobs have been stable. People still don't believe me when I mentionthat.  I have posted before that the jobs loated in the city of Pittsburgh have not gone down at all over that period.Of course now a lot of those jobs are filled by people who commute in from elsewhere. 

Seriously, there are today roughly 300K jobs located within the city limits of Pittsburgh, which is roughly the exact number of jobs that were located in the city in 1960.  Few cities like Pittsburgh can claim any such comparison.  When you realize that a lot of those jobs in 1960 were retail and service jobs supporting the much larger population, then the ability of Pittsburgh to retain jobs is a remarkable story.

Of course, if the story is one of places left behind to be de facto abandoned, you have to look beyond the city proper here more than most other regions.  That is just because the City of Pittsburgh stopped expanding so long before other major cities thus leaving much of what would be the urban core elsewhere to exist as their own municipal entites.  Thus the pockets of emptiness are as likely to be just outside the city's borders.  No need to really say it... but Braddock?

So worth reading, but like all such looks too short to go beyond what we have talked about ad infinitum.  I suspect what most will take from this one is a new description of LR as the "the city's lantern-jawed young mayor".


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving past

Some snippets from the PG front page a couple days after Thanksgiving (Nov 29) 1941

A headline:

City Slices Real Estate Tax Slightly
Is that the last time that has happened?

A quote on the XMAS shopping rush:

"Pittsburgh yesterday celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, or Blank Friday, so named because when an ordinary man finds himself Downtown between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on this day everything goes blank."
Not quite sure I get that completely...  and a more ominous headline:

US Awaits Next Move from Japan. Peace in Pacific Hinges on Tokio
Which if nothing else is a reminder of how fast things can change. When that was printed, the Japanese Task Force was halfway to Hawaii.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Follow those posts

WW:  as best I can tell this translates to...   Smack

Casino Watch: Smack

Kind of related on Barden's bankruptcy... Poor Gary, IN:  Smack


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Pittsburgh native Juanita Warman was buried in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday.


not all connected you say?

You need to go to law school to figure out the current state of assessment litigation before Judge Wettick.  It looks to me like everyone is appealing.  Appeals of appeals of an appeal that has already been appealed or something like that.  I'm sure it makes sense to the legal beagles. .

There is also news that Pittsburgh's one-time savior Don Barden is declaring bankruptcy.  Well not him, but his Majestic Star casino operation.  Bankruptcy needs lawyers as well, maybe that's a theme for today.

Which reminds me that it was a little noticed news item that progress has been made on getting a property assessment in place for the Rivers casino now operating.  Want to place odds whatever valuation the county comes up with will be appealed.... so more billable hours.

Still my best to understand the current state of the assessment litigation. Lawyers in film that is.

Which then gets me wondering if the anticipated valuation of the casino property is baked into the city budget that is all a tizzy these days.   City itself will get roughly a $million in revenue for every $100 million in assessed value.  You would think that in at least a semi-rational world, the value of the new casino structure and the real estate it sits on would at least be worth the cost of construction which was not a small number.  In one fell swoop the casino may become one of the most valuable non-tax-exempt parcels in the city proper.  

How small is Pittsburgh? Let's connect the news of Gene Connelly passing away.  The location of the casino is entirely the result of that parcel being amalgamated and bought by Connelly for the local site of riverboat gambling that never happened.
Only for loal history nuts.  Gene Connelly's story is tied much to that of his brother John whose earliest career had an big part in the story of one time congressman Harry Davenport as documented in Hoerr's Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: accusation and betrayal in America's Cold War.  The book also talks about some of his early business career in the news/advertising business of East Liberty back when people said it was the third biggest retail district in Pennsylvania. Lawyers in there somewhere I am sure.  We'll stop the stream of consciousness at that, though we could leap into the current debate of late over getting Target into East Liberty. For another day.

I still think it is fascinating that as we, as the paragon of success weathering the current recesssion, are nonetheless more and more looking to casinos to save us from our troubles.   All while Las Vegas looks toward us for lessons on the future.  Interesting to read the 86 comments now with that article from the Las Angeles Sun. 

and not up yet as I type, but maybe by the time you are reading this there will be an update to the casino watch.  We will see how Thanksgiving and the whole holiday season impact revenues down there.


Monday, November 23, 2009

feeding the meters

While I admit this is anectdotal at best and most likely routine.... but of late I have noticed a bevy of new parking meters being installed. I didnt think much of it until I also read this story out of Chicago which Bram caught before I did talking about their deal to sell their parking meters.  Note the line about quadrupling of rates.  But like selling your house, if you were to put up the parking meters to market what you would expect to see is a lot of activity such as installing and fixing meters before those prospective buyers come and kick the tires. 

Keep in mind a couple things.. the sale of parking garages downtown should be a very distinct debate from any discussion of whether it makes sense to sell individual parking meters across the city.  Also note the Chicago story is interesting in a meta-news kind of way.  It is from the NYTimes but says the story was sourced from a 'nonprofit news cooperative'.  What does that mean?

Just for historical sake I will post again a link to this undergraduate thesis from a half century ago.  Nominally it's about the early history of the ACCD, but just take note how much of it is devoted to parking issues and development.  See: The Allegheny Conference for Community Development for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (warning, large file) by John David Weidlein. May 1950.  Joe A. and I have in the past both posted links to parts of a complementary film from just a few years after that:: Freedom of the American Road.  that has some focus on Pittsburgh and it's Downtown parking issues. 


Saturday, November 21, 2009

unemployment maps on steroids

Spotted via the Transportationist... but from a site Daring Fireball (don't ask me?) is an amazing if sad animated graphic worth taking a look at.  It shows the month by month: Change in US Unemployment Rates by County.  Play the animation and look closely at that PA-OH border near us.

If the big picture depresses you... a small point but there was net employment growth locally in Pittsburgh last month, while Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is flat even though most states saw increases in October; local real estate sales are actually up substantially while local real estate prices are showing sustained moderate increases.  That's a lot of not bad news at the very least. 

In fact the latest bit of Pittsburgh hagiography comes from the Christian Science Monitor today.  Pittsburgh is not technically on their list of the Five Cities that Will Rise in the New Economy, but it gets several gratuitous mentions that takes the hagiography to a new level.  Check out this curious paragraph:

In other areas, healthcare complexes are evolving into microeconomies in themselves. They attract labs and researchers. Patients fly in from around the world, needing hotel rooms, and laundry and banking services. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center annually pays out $2.7 billion in salaries to its 50,000 employees – the equivalent of the entire Canadian aerospace industry.
I mean, not to dis UPMC or our friends to the north, but I never really thought of the Canadian Aerospace industry as a benchmark powerhouse?  Then later on it says this:

Cities , of course, have been reinventing themselves since the days of cobblestone streets. Pittsburgh went from being the nation’s Bessemer furnace to an education and medical technology leader.
Do you notice what is happening in the national and international media references on Pittsburgh?  The coverage has reached a point they don't feel a need to explain their references to Pittsburgh any more. It's almost assumed folks get the point without that "Pittsburgh, huh?"  moment.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Jane Jacobs pub crawl

When I lived in NYC I barely had time to eat, but I still tried hard to visit a different neighborhood in the city each week.  I barely scratched the surface of the city.  That just comes to mind because I caught this note in Metropolis for a Jane Jacobs Pub Crawl which has me feeling a bit nostalgic for living in NYC.  It's one of those ideas I should just fire over to Eve who actually could make it happen... Does anyone do anything like that here? It is said to happen in Jane Jacobs' favorite neighborhood there.  What would Jane Jacobs' favorite neighborhood be in Pittsburgh?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

all 'Burgh all the time - the reprise

Well...... there was a brief pause after the G20 tsunami, but it continues.  Note the Burgh mentions in:

ForbesAmerica's Fastest-Recovering Cities

Time:  America, Where Every City is a Health-Care Industry Mecca

although the news going all around is all about the fiscal story of late. See the long article in Inside Higher Education for: All Eyes on Pittsburgh


Mumbo Jumbo Public Finance

Awful lot of fodder out there to poke at. Might as well focus on the esoteric that will get lost in the noise otherwise.  Maybe just a note on the state Auditor General's press release on the use of investment 'swaps' by local governments in Pennsylvania.  I still think this news commentary is one of the best and most direct editorials on what was going on in Pennsylvania was this from Bloomberg's Joe Myslak some years ago: 

Magic, Mumbo-Jumbo Were Used to Sell Muniland Swaps

and kind of related to that.  But you would think that with 253 legislators in Harrisburg all looking for something to do at least one of them would take up a cause similar to what New York State is making progress on.   If anything this is needed here more than in New York.  See this news from late yesterday:  NY strikes deal to reform public authorities.  Maybe Joe or someone would be interested in a story on our Stadium Authority without a stadium anymore? You could say it was all mumbo jumbo debt issued by mumbo jumbo governments in Pennsylvania. 

and I pointed this out recently, it does look like the PWSA is out from under the gun on some of it's own swaps induced public finance miasma.  Yet you have to wonder what they had to pay JP Morgan for that privilege.  When you add up the original cost of that debt and all the subsequent costs to get out of it.... not a small number.  and as best I can tell, the current deal is just a temporary measure effective to 2011 or so. So the story is not over with.  If I were bond counsel it's like the debt that keeps on giving. 

I do have one really serious suggestion for our friends in Harrisburg.  The problem with all the small governments in Pennsylvania that got caught up with all these ill-advised debt structures is that they really don't have the wherewithal to negotiate their ways out of the deals... even in cases where they were clearly bamboozled (that is a technical financial term) by the banks.  The state, like maybe even the auditor general even?,  really ought to collectively take on the task of negotiating some form of restitution and relief.  That comes to mind because that is exactly what is in the news today over a lot of Auction rate debt and a deal negotiated between states and Wells Fargo.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

USS Monongahela underway again

I know few will care beyond me..... but I actually caught this news on the local NPR station where it was local news this morning.  The USS Monongahela was indeed underway for the first time in a decade after having broken away from her moorings due to storms on the east coast last week.   The ship is awaiting being made into razor blades.

I just wonder if anyone showed any civic support for the USS Mon while it was operating.  The USS Pittsburgh is a submarine out there today and gets suppport from the local Navy League. People remember past ships, some even write about them.  Even ships like the SS McKeesport will occassionally get a little love from folks like Togyer.  But what about ships named for rivers? I bet few paid much attention to the USS Mon.  It even turns out to be the third ship named for the Mon since the Civil War. Who knew?


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lucy and that football

So I have to admit I just don't get the ICA.   A month ago they gave preliminary approval to a proposed budget for the city of Pittsburgh with a big $15 million in revenue itemized only as TBD.   There were clearly going to be issues with whatever new revenue source filled in the blank.  You really have to wonder why there were so willing to give the green light a month ago and then reject it out of hand now. What were they expecting with their first vote?

And a minor point in the big scheme of things... but I see the idea that some of the budget hole can be filled by auctioning of stuff from the Civic Arena.  I hate to ask, but would not proceeds from any such sale need to go toward the debts of the Sports and Exhibition Authority(SEA) which is the owner of the arena?  Not like they don't have money issues of their own.  The difference I guess is that they have some dibs on money from Harrisburg that the city can't quite get a piece of.

Speaking of the SEA.  I note that not only the SEA, but even the interminable Stadium Authority have their own Wikipedia entries authored again by prolific wiki author Blargh29. Whomever that is they know their stuff.  The SEA entry has a great line at the top saying:  "Not to be confused with Stadium Authority of the City of Pittsburgh."  How many folks in town can distinguish the two and the policy implicatons that follow?

Some final thoughts.  Time will tell if this is all a brief spasm or if city/ICA relations have come full circle to where they were in the beginning. If you want to dig into the budget revenues a bit, I had put up this interactive graphic of the city's 2009 budgeted revenues in Manyeyes.  And connected to everything are the finances at the casino.  Revenues down there have clearly settled into a range.  No joke how everything comes back to the revenue generating capactiy of the casino.  Harrisburg has forced the universities to wait for money only to flow from the prospective table games; the SEA depends on casino payments to fund the arena bonds; as bad as the city's finances seem to be now and into the future, they depend ever more on ongoing payments from the casino directly into city coffers on top of everything else. and finally the state, which the city will look to as a last resort, is stuck backing up payments to the SEA from the casino to pay for the bonds building the arena.  Got all that?   So everything is connected in all of these debates.  I sense the potential for a cascade failure.


Cleveburgh Notes

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer the other day:

NEO 77 a joint venture by business groups to coordinate and fund regional economic development efforts

Sounds a bit familiar.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Harrisburg doings

Given the news of late in Harrisburg, which seem to focus on doings in the state house...  here again is my graphic of the current state of campaign finance for Pennsylvania House incumbents fwiw.  The graphic below and the more useful interactive version made via IBM's Manyeyes site:  


Sunday, November 15, 2009

transparent Akron

A note on government transparency comes from Cleveland's Writes Like She Talks... check out the plan in Akron to put ever more public data online.  It says it will include daily updates on tax payments. 

Not really related, but the Guardian's (UK) blog on data transparency has a neat post on some maps of urban green space in England.  Anyone want to try and produce some similar maps here? It's beyond anything I can do.

and something that might get a few Burghosphere denizens thinking.. Intrepid Cleveland Blogger Jill Miller Zimon (author of the Writes Like She Talks blog mentioned above) was indeed elected to actual political office a couple weeks ago.

Speaking of Cleveland... Note the intense look at Allegheny County and in particular local politics (including a cameo by Mike speaking of the Burghosphere) in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. See:  Pittsburgh's Allegheny County offers Cuyahoga some lessons in reform. If I were the author I would be wary of what happened to the journalist who wrote the last glowing piece in the PD about us.  I think he was laid off the next day. 


Friday, November 13, 2009


Just because nobody else is mentioning anything like this... but first some supermarkets have gained approval to sell beer. Now the convenience stores want to follow suit.  You can't tell me the pharmacies are not too far behind. Given the long trail of failed pharmacies (think Phar-mor anyone).. there has to be a reason for all the new investment and consolidation in Walgreen's and Rite Aides everywhere. I'm just saying is all.

What I have never asked the lawyers to parse for me completely... but something I mentioned in the past about these liquor license developments is that new venues for beer sales isn't really anything new... I live blocks away from a convenience store that does in fact sell beer as it has for years if not decades at this point.   So it's not really anything new so I don't quite get what is novel about what is happening now or why beer sales have not expanded already.  It's aparently a perfectly legitimate 'E' license for my local convenience store.  In the distant past the neighborhood protested the location of the liquor license, but the legalities were too solid to get rid of it. I wonder if there is any list of nuisance 'convenience stores' out there?  It all came ot mind because it was precisely the location of a fairly horrible attack just days ago.  


Thursday, November 12, 2009

displacement and dice II

Here is the actual report from last month out of the Indiana state government looking at the impact of new casinos on their revenues.  Estimates of the Fiscal Impacts from Out-of-State Casino Competition and Movement of Casino Licenses in Indiana.  The whole idea of displacement when it comes to casino revenues is something Atlantic City is learning the hard way.  It's not like it is a topic that has not been studied or anything.

Not that current casino revenues are building much confidence here in town, but they do seem to be in a range for now.  

Which all inspired a picture. This was intended to be a look at what the potential impact of future casino openings might be on revenues here.  In the graphic below all the circles are 100 mile radii around Pittsburgh and around the potential locations of casinos that may be yet to come.Not included are other already operating casinos which are nearby.   The red is 100 miles around Pittsburgh.  The orange is Lawrence County which until its prospective owner filed for bankruptcy next week was slated to get a casino into operation.   The pink circles are for the locations that are designated to get casinos with both slots and table games per the Ohio referendum that just passed.  So just to give some visual perspective on all that... you get this graphic for what it's worth:

Of course it's not that simple.  Nothing concrete about 100 miles versus 50 or 200, but it is certainly within a range that the professional casino industry analysts use when looking at this type of thing.  If most patrons come from closer it's less of a issue, but if the catchment area is even 150 miles the intersection of those footprints is significantly larger than shown here... at 200 miles even more so.  There are second order effects as well I suspect.  The other nearby casinos I didn't show on this graphic will also be hit by the same competition and will ramp up their own efforts to maintain reveneus... so pressures will compound for local enterprises.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans among us

Still the best Veteran's day post.  The video below is of a local veteran and provided by


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WW: CPA = zero

Thar she blows....   Reassessment ruling filed.   'he' I suppose.  CPA as in this... not a dis on our accountant friends.


that pay gap

Short piece looking at gender wage issues in Pennsylvania in the PG today. It's not a topic that really ought to forced into a few sentences.  Most have seen this, but last year we put out a report on the causes of Gender Wage Disparity in Pittsburgh.  And for the wonk-obsessed there is a bunch of gender data in another piece:  EEO Employment Data for Allegheny County and the Pittsburgh Region.

But one of the more important things that has defined the "transformation" of Pittsburgh has been the role of women in the workforce.  See the report for the full story, but an amazing quote from the 1947 is this:
(Pittsburgh) will, however, slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area.
Something else I put in that report that really tells a story (many stories?) unto itself.  For one less than obvious angle, I actually am only now realizing the diaspora story embedded in this graph.  No time to get into it, but ponder this:

Also note (again) the impact of age in the constant debate over how 'educated' Pittsburgh is.  What do we have a disproportionate number of?  Old folks maybe... but in particular older women since women live longer than men in general.  Most metrics of educational attainment at the regional level aggregate together everyone age 25 and over without accounting for age issues.  So consider how different our relative ranking is when comapred to other regions like that compared to looking at just narrow age cohorts.. in partciular the youngest age folks who represent how well we have been doing at educating folks in the recent decade or so. 


Monday, November 09, 2009

obligatory Steelers post

Folks up the pike should be ashamed of themselves over this.   Even those Ravens' fans should be talked to.  What is it?  6 hours drive from Baltimore to Cleveland.

and just because it's the Broncos.   Can't forget our BFF: Denver's Bill Johnson.


the next race

For those political junkies already experiencing withdrawal there is something coming up.  With Walko heading to the bench... O'Toole has one of the first reads on the race to replace him in Harrisburg

I had maps of the last time the seat was contested.  See the election returns for Banahasky, Purcell and Walko in the spring 2006 primary for the 20th State House District.    O'Toole mentions Paul McKrell as being interested in the race.  He must have moved out of the 21'st district where he once looked to run.  I kind of wondered if another 21st district denizen would move a few blocks to be eligible to run for this seat.  That is nothing more than idle musing to be clear, but I speak of Len B. who I suspect must live within blocks of the district 20. It would be a stronger base to leverage his Lawrenceville support actually compared to District 21 where he, Dom Costa and Brenda Frazier really split the vote a nearly perfect 3 ways in the last election.   I also just realized, this must be the mayor's home district as well.  Who knows what that means?

Of course there is this other question of who is going to take over the as the chairman of the PWSA which might be a position in the news.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Appalachia Burgh

I see a flood of hits from Rustwire that look to be Brian O'Neill's fault.  It was his Null Space mention in a question during an interview related to his recent book: The Paris of Appalachia.

Vannevar, btw, suggests the goal ought to be for Pittsburgh to become the Copenhagen of Appalachia.

So one of those factoids 5 of us talk about: As Brian mentions Pittsburgh is often said to be the largest city in Appalachia.  Could be, though it obviously depends on your definition of Appalpahia.   This is kind of wonkish oral history.... but a colleague of mine tells me that Pittsburgh was the place where the Appalachian Regional Commission actually decided it's own geographic scope decades ago.  Thus it would make sense that if you look at their maps, Pittsburgh may indeed be Appalachia's largest city... Looks like their defintion only gets to the exurban areas of Atlanta which would obviously be bigger than us.  But I wonder... is that factoid still true if "Pittsburgh" is defined as just the city proper?   I thought maybe the semi-consolidated city/county of Nashville/Davidson county would have displaced Pittsburgh.  That would have been an interesting angle to our own city/county consolidation debate, but they seem to be just outside the ARC's map as well.  Same for Cincinatti...  Birmingham, Alabama is in their geography, but the population there is closer to 200K while Pittsburgh is still only flirting with 300K. Am I missing some other obvious city or is Pittsburgh still tops in 'Appalachia'?

There has been a newfound interest in the definition of Appalachia.  Some of it is the political story...(also this).... Related is the sociology.  I was looking for the map that made the rounds showing counties in the US which had the highest percentage of people who identify themsleves as ethnically 'American', but can't find it.  Then there is the energy story of late since Pittsburgh Seam coal is a subset of the Northern Appalachian Coal Basin.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

more numbers

Misc election numbers I have not seen talked about much anywhere. 

Write in votes in City Council District 6 came out to 847 of 3,961 votes cast in that election. So 21.4% which is actually quite an amazing showing for a write-in candidate. Some day folks on the Hill will stop fighting with each other more than with others.  Just a question I wonder about:  Does TP try to keep her seat on the URA board?

City wide straight ticket Republican votes = 1,361. So about half of the 2,697 in the 2007 mayoral race. Not quite sure what it means. Remember LR was the nominated R because he got I think 1000+ republican petition signatures. Who knows if those folks are the same as who pulled the R levers… probably not… Consider though that the 2008 presidential election… 10,847 straight ticket Republican votes. No, not a typo. Over 10K Republican level pullers are out there somewhere in the city proper and just don’t bother to show up in these city elections just as most Democrats stay home as well. But that still is a larger number than most would assume is out there. Not that anyone has ever found a way to motivate them to show up in off-years.

1,259 people showed up at the polls in the city but did not vote for anyone for mayor.. not even a write-in. Not the biggest of numbers and I am not sure what it means. I suspect it's part of the general showing (or no-showing that is) of Democrats across the state.  If statewide D's had motivated folks to come to the polls to support the statewide judicial races, I suspect you would have seen more folks casting ballots without a selection for mayor.  I know burghosphere denizens may find this hard to believe, but a lot of folks who are above average in their interest in politics and the news on bigger issues still don't care a whit about local races like mayor. I think it all comes across as noise to them.  these are folks who skip the local evening news but will often watch the national news with interest. 

It's not atypical for some folks to show up and not vote in particular elections, but I have always wondered a bit  about the final ‘confirm’ button on the new machines. I know people in other contexts don’t quite get the idea and I really wonder if there are not a few people out there who walk away without hitting the button that last time. I think the poll workers are trained to void the vote if someone really leaves a machine in that status, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t hit confirm for a few folks.

The uber cynical have considered that poll workers could change some of those votes left like that. I don’t believe that at all and I am pretty cynical.. but the nature of the new machines does leave the whole process a lot more ambiguous than the old mechanical machines with curtains that only opened once you submitted your vote. That and I always jumped a bit when it happened. You always felt like those old machines were going to shake themselves to pieces as they recorded the votes and then opened the curtain. What could possibly have been going on inside the machines to make all that noise? The gnomes inside could have been engraving the vote with chisels in granite for all the fuss… but you for sure knew when you had submitted your vote.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

maps, maps and more maps

More political maps than you can shake a stick at: click here.


what next

Methinks Judge Wettick was at least waiting for the election to be done with before poking at assessments..  If so keep an eye out for his ruling on how to implement his ruling on a new assessment for Allegheny County.

update:  speaking of Judge W...  check out one Mr. Bill Maro who appears to have submitted and had printed the virtually same letter to the editor in both the PG and Trib today.

Casino watch update...  a tick up in revenues per machine last week, but still way below expectations.  Not sure why there isn't more angst over the fact that Ohio approved its own casino referendum on Tuesday.  I wonder how that may impact casino revenues here? Both Indiana and Michigan expect to see their gaming revenue go down as a result of the new Ohio casinos....  Maybe Pennsylvania will be an exception?


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

maps and more

My colleagues have mapped a slew of data from the election yesterday including both the returns themselves, but turnout data and even a comparison of turnout yesterday to the last presidential cycle. Not just for the city but the county as well.

For example this link will give you the returns for Harris in the city. Similar maps for Acklin, or for Ravenstahl.

but to see the other maps go to the main page by clicking here..   You want to select the options on the left for "Elections" to see further options and you can zoom in as far as you want.


Say it ain't so Joe (Weinroth)

What to say about the election?   who knows? Honestly the initial thought is something I first mentioned 2 years ago, but became a bit clearer last night. You have to give greater respect to the campaign of Joe Weinroth when he ran for mayor just 4 years ago.

Consider… a fellow with virtually no money, effectively no support from his party, neither public nor media giving his campaign much respect and having the distinct disadvantage of running against an uber-popular Bob O’Connor somehow came out with 27% of the vote in the city of Pittsburgh 2005 mayoral race... . I said this before, but you just have to wonder what he might have done if he had had the money or support or the general circumstances Mark Desantis had 2 years later or any of the things going for him that either Harris or Acklin had going for them this time around. He didn’t have to run against another strong challenger, but he did have a horde or minor candidates nipping at what might have been his votes. The minor candidates in that race nipped away nearly 6% in that election you have to remember as well.

Anyway... I know, kind of a tradition of sorts. Maps coming, but for now some parsing. Just using Joe as a benchmark of sorts I thought it would be interesting to see how the folks yesterday did comparing his votes to each of theirs by voting district. This is what you get.




Too much parsing? This is a more traditional breakout of the results by city council district.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

punditry meets reality

As lame as the election is… the political commentary on Nighttalk tonight, which apparently even the campaigns are not watching, is as honest as I have ever seen in some time most anywhere. Some hightlights for only the uber-political junkies:

I have beaten up the campaign of Mark Desantis in the past.. but Mark is on the show there with some real honesty about his campaign in 2007. He said that his campaign back then had some real advantages, the foremost among them that the “media wanted a race”. That was the thing that really perplexed me, the media kept telling people how close that race was and it just was not based on any real or assumed fact. No matter which side you were on, it just never made sense. The implication that has to be considered is… what would his results have been if the media had not repeated the mantra about the close race as often as they did. Is the difference between what he got and the Weinroth returns, when the media pretty much said there was no hope, nothing more than an artifact of the differences in the coverage? Ponder that some.

Matt Hogue called in to the show and pretty much amplified his endorsement of Acklin and dis’d the mayor. Being a family friendly blog my honest comment is unprintable, but for sheer Chutzpah you have to give him credit.

Mark Desantis did decry the state of his party for not having a candidate in the race.. but that prompted no less than Jim Roddey to call in to respond direclty to tell him that there was a Republican candidate and that Acklin had only dropped out at the very last second.  Thus preventing there being any Republican getting on the ballot. Something about Roddey expecting Acklin to be the R on the ballot and that he had been out there telling folks on that just days before Acklin de-registered.

And Jim Roddy ‘predicted’ or otherwise stated that Mark Desantis is going to be running for County Executive in 2011. Mark silence in response all but said “neither confirm nor deny”.


foolish numbers

It's a fool game to try and peg numbers on the Mayor's race this cycle... 3 candidates vice 2 and low turnout make the exact number a matter for chaos theory to determine if anything....   but as my Russian teacher used to tell me... if you want to be a mushroom, jump into the basket* so why not be a fool.   Polls are still open so this still counts as a prediction:  62-21-17.   The order is even less meaningful to peg and no matter how it turns out I wouldn't overinterpret it as some will be wont to do.  But if one had to I pick it's R-H-A respectively.

I still swear there is an academic paper in how the straight ticket numbers look in the end.  It is about as close to a natural experiment as you can get comparing 2007 to today. Just 2 years ago voting for the R ticket gave your vote to Desantis and this time around it will give you Desantis' opponent.  So it will be a big datapoint as to whether people are paying attention if nothing else.  The news blurbs thus far (see CP and PG for examples) indicate there are folks pulling the R level pushing the R button without realizing it means you wind up voting for the Democratic incumbent.  And then there is this curious issue of who will vote for the Dok Harris ticket vice voting for Harris individually. 

Looks like low turnout across the state FWIW.  Statewide prognosticating is beyond me, but I was thinking of something.  If really low turnout across the state I bet it it helps Panella for supreme court.  There are these semi-active races mayoral races in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg and at least for controller in Philadelphia (yeah, I know... it's a stretch.. but it's somethign)..  So any bump in turnout in those areas will give some help to Panella over Melvin, but who knows how that turns out. 

* No, I really never figured out what that meant either.. but sounds good for my context.


The day hope abounds

I still stand by my own version of a taxonomy of Pittsburgh voters I put up earlier in the year.  I thought I was pretty insightful...  of course it wasn't anything new.

Below is an ad for the Republican candidate in the 1977 general election. But if you read the bottom part of it...  it uses some different labels, but pretty much breaks down the Pittsburgh electorate the exact same way.  It also has a very specific quantitiative prediction on how the Republican candidate could win. . According to this the voter breakout was:
  • Hard Core Democrats (the machine faithful)
  • Hard Core Republicans (hopeful at last)
  • Closet Republicans (the Democratic Disenfranchised)
  • Independent Democrats (It's the man, not the party)  [the man? even for 1977 that's iffy]

Interesting looking back at that. I presume that local Republican money paid for that ad.  At the time Cosetti was the odd man out running as the Republican, but he had actually been a Democrat and the City's treasurer under Flaherty not long before this election.  The numbers are obviously different than what will be true by the end of today.  The ad presumes 150K folks would cast ballots in that election.. it will be more like 40K today. The point though is much like many an underdog wants to make today... that there is at least a mathematical possibility that they could win.  1977 was a bizarre election and so it was conceivable that the Republican could have won... with Foerster and Caliguiri effectively splitting the Democratic Party vote it's actually amazing that the Republican didn't win... but of course Dick Caliguiri would win as he would two times more.


Monday, November 02, 2009

from the archives

I got nothing.... so from the archives what some past general elections look like in the city:

and this is 2007 Ravenstahl/Desantis


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Big Apple peers in

Maybe the NYT knows where I am reading from, but this is coming up as the main story right now on

Pittsburgh Mayor Faces Tough Tests Far Beyond Re-election

It speaks for itself... but am surprised Verbanac gets referenced directly in that.  At this point I wonder if this whole episode hurts John or gives him greater stature than he had before. 

Might be interesting to see what the New York Times has said about Pittsburgh mayoral elections in the past.  From Pete Flaherty's election 40 years ago:
The mayoralty election Tuesday will mark the end of an era for Pittsburgh, where an entrenched Democratic organization has dominated politics for 36 years.
We can debate this after the election, but I'd argue that statement is actually correct for the most part... certainly compared to what the situation was like before Flaherty's election. 

Misc pre-election notes:  Well, not really election related, but anyone see Guy Costa getting on the local news for his fitness routine? Curious.  And I note the minor flailing over Matt H's 'endorsement' of Acklin.  I dunno what it means, though it may represent the most public endorsement of KA by a Democrat in the city. Does KA put out a PR highlighting it?  Not to imply that it has anything to do with Matt's logic it brings to mind something I had wondered about.   The perceived mutual support beteeen LR and DO has collateral impacts since Wagner is still being talked about as being another potential gubernatorial candidate.  It also ties in with O'Toole's editorial overview of the election in the Sunday PG where he also focuses a bit on the Wagner influence in the southern neighborhoods. 

I thought that the impact of the governor's race could provide blowback against LR,  but I thought that in the spring and it didn't amount to much.  The areas which ought to constistute core Wagner support in the city came in for LR by some of their largest margins in the city.  Maybe with the governor's race being closer it might play out a bit differently? 

One last curious thing.   O'Toole only mentions the race in his last paragraph, but potentially the only contested race on Tuesday is for County Council District 1 which has incumbent Drozd facing Democrat Michalow.  The thing is that 4 years ago the race where Drozd was first elected was a minor upset.  He was elected in what was an extremely close race beating Mark Purcell in a race 50.1 to 49.9%.  22 people switching their votes in that race and the result would have been different.  So if you live across the Allegheny River Valley your vote may really count on Tuesday.  I wonder how many know that?

With all the talk of city county consolidation or all the things going on at the county level, you would think there would be greater attention paid to the machinations of county council, but I don't see it.  City council could be debating the color of paint to be used on the 5th floor and it could make news or comment fodder all around. Yet county council debates some bigger things routinely without much notice.  Have not quite figured that out as yet.

Less than 48 hours and done.....