Issuing what he termed "a wake-up call for Pittsburgh" and passing out cups of coffee on the sidewalk below the mayor's office, Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd turned up the heat on his electoral challenge to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today, charging that his "administration is for sale" to government contractors for campaign contributions.
"If you connect the dots, the story is very simple," he said. "The mayor has a million-dollar war chest, so-called, because he's willing to give no-bid contracts and sweet deals to campaign contributors."
Mr. Dowd challenged the sincerity of Mr. Ravenstahl's proposal this year to limit campaign contributions and to eliminate no-bid contracts starting April 15, but declined to detail any stronger proposals, or to rule out taking political checks from city contractors. Mr. Ravenstahl is pushing legislation before council that would make Pittsburgh the second Pennsylvania city -- following Philadelphia -- to cap campaign contributions, and has created a commission assigned to bring the best contracting procedures from around the country to the city.
"On the first day of taking office, I would issue an executive order that would ban no-bid contracts for political contributors to elected officials," said Mr. Dowd, whose 2007 council run was backed in part by a handful of lawyers and financiers that do business with the city. "I'm sure at some point we will also say that we will have no no-bid contracts."
Mr. Dowd pointed to a Sunday Post-Gazette story on the tendency of business executives and their political action committees to make campaign contributions to city, Allegheny County and state officials who have say over contracts they're seeking. He reiterated his criticism that a $414 million Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority debt deal crafted last year by firms chosen without a competitive process -- some of which are major campaign contributors -- cost more than it should have.
He also blasted the administration's purchases of trash cans and firehouse ventilation systems from a state joint purchasing system, rather than through competitive bids at the city level, saying both resulted in higher-than-necessary costs. News reports have not suggested that those contractors were political contributors.
"These are tough economic times, and we cannot afford this type of behavior, we cannot afford this kind of governance," he said.
In a written statement, Mr.Ravenstahl called Mr. Dowd "a desperate politician willing to do or say anything to get elected." He noted that Mr. Dowd has run for four offices in the past eight year.
"While he's talking and done nothing, I have submitted campaign finance reform pending before Council and I am reforming Pittsburgh's decades old procurement practices," Mr. Ravenstahl said.
Mr. Ravenstahl said previously that the proposed campaign finance bill will make substantive changes and could hurt incumbents like him.
"It will also give challengers, for example, perhaps a better opportunity" by limiting the big checks incumbents can get, he said. "In some ways, it would put me at a disadvantage."
Tomorrow council will hold a special meeting on the proposal, backed by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, to limit campaign contributions by individuals and partnerships to $4,600 to any official per four-year election cycle. PACs could give $10,000 per cycle.
Councilman William Peduto, a longtime backer of contribution limits, said he wants lower limits, a legislated ban on no-bid contracts of more than $25,000, and an online database of contributions and contracts.
"I will not vote for a bill that does not contain all three of them," he said.
Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb has said he is putting together searchable, online lists of contributions and contracts.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.