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There IS an election tomorrow

May 14, 2007

Mayor of Aquarius?

There may be no race for mayor, but there's lots of action at www.lukeravenstahl.com

The domain name, inexplicably not bought up by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl himself, was a porn portal held by a Web site squatting firm a week ago. Then some anonymous prankster bought it and turned it into a link to Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill's column, 2 Pittsburgh mayoral candidates in search of a difference.

Now anyone who types in the address goes to a hilarious You Tube video for the 1969 hit "Aquarius," as in, "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius," by The Fifth Dimension.

A fitting theme song to the young mayor's tenure? We're not yet sure, but we can only hope the post-primary season brings "Harmony and understanding, Sympathy and trust abounding, No more falsehoods or derisions, Golden living dreams of visions."

Jupiter Aligns with Mars

Two Pittsburgh City Council races continue to try to make up for the lack of a mayor's contest -- in ferocity, if not in importance.

In the District 7 race, pitting Councilman Len Bodack against school board member Patrick Dowd, the challenger's camp is up in arms about a flyer sent by the incumbent dated Thursday with the city seal at the top. Besides looking a lot like a piece of official city mail, it calls Mr. Dowd a "liar" for some of his statements regarding Mr. Bodack's spending of city funds on district office utilities and, early in his term, on consultants who happened to be Democratic Committee officials.

In response, the Dowd campaign is running an automated phone call saying, in part, that Mr. Bodack "has refused to be caught in public in any situation where he could be asked tough questions about his wasting of our tax dollars," by declining to debate. The city still hasn't provided records requested by Mr. Dowd documenting Mr. Bodack's spending of tax dollars, the challenger's campaign tells Early Returns.

Mr. Bodack's sticking firmly to his core campaign argument - that he listens to the residents, gets the little things done, and fights crime. In his flyer, he also gives Mr. Dowd an "incomplete" for his work on the school board, saying he hasn't turned around the struggling district, which continues to shed students.

Not to be outdone, in District 3, Councilman Jeff Koch continues to parry with challenger Bruce Kraus in one of the bitterest races in recent city memory. Mr. Koch is questioning Mr. Kraus' campaign finance reports, saying the challenger has run a slew of ads in the South Pittsburgh Reporter, but reported just $233.94 in payments to the local newspaper.

The Kraus campaign, meanwhile, is circulating photos of a smashed window just off of Carson Street, behind which a television repeatedly ran an ad for their man until some hurled object smashed said window Friday night.

They're not exactly pointing fingers, but said in a release that the occurrence "does not seem like a random act of violence but rather a perpetuation of a pattern of criminal activity that will not cease until after the election. In the last 6 weeks nearly 100 of our campaign yard signs have been stolen, or defaced."

The League of Young Voters has entered the fray with a call on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl "to step up and ensure safe, fair elections and to discourage voter intimidation and campaign violence in the days between."

In the eight-person race for Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle's seat, the incumbent is taking the unusual step of keeping the location of her victory party a secret. "Mum's the word," she said when asked today where she'll be partying after the polls close tomorrow.

Her campaign treasurer told Early Returns, "You're not invited."

Possible reason: Ms. Carlisle faces criminal charges related to an alleged kickback scheme.

If you've gotten an invitation to the councilwoman's party, we invite you to e-mail rlord@post-gazette.com and let us know the location of the top-secret celebration.

Ethics effort still not in good form

It seems the city Ethics Hearing Board still isn't quite ready to take complaints. The five-member board finally mustered a quorum Friday, more than a year after the late Mayor Bob O'Connor pledged to revive it from a decade of dormancy.

That meeting led some less-jaundiced observers of city politics to hope that it would start scouring a political landscape that has, this spring, been littered with accusations and questionable campaign practices. Our write-up of the historic meeting is here.

But today Jason Phillips, the erstwhile campaign staffer for Superior Court Judge Debra Todd who was fired after blowing the whistle on Councilman Jeff Koch's aide, tried to lodge a complaint and met with mixed results. Assistant City Solicitor Kate De Simone, obviously caught a little off guard by the effort, was nice as can be, offering to make up an ethics complaint form, pronto, and e-mail it to Mr. Phillips. But her offer came with three warnings:

"One thing I would point out about filing a complaint with the Ethics Hearing Board is that it's a very lengthy process," she said, estimating it at "up to a year" if the allegation is complex.

She repeated that all complaints are filed "under penalty of perjury." Translation: if the complainant is found to have lied on their complaint, they can find themselves on the wrong end of a prosecution.

Under the ethics code, she said as a reporter sat a few feet away, the complainant is not allowed to make their filing of a complaint public. Mr. Phillips' concerns have already made newspapers and the TV news, but Ms. De Simone said that didn't necessarily bar him from pursuing a complaint -- as long as he doesn't specifically tell anybody that he has filed it.

After leaving the solicitor's office, Mr. Phillips wouldn't say whether he will file a complaint, but said he wasn't deterred by what Ms. De Simone said. "The length of the procedure seems untimely," he said. "I have no concern with perjury, because I don't plan to perjure myself."

But, he noted, "It definitely seemed the city is unprepared for something it has been working toward for a year."

Bloomberg vs. Giuliani

He's popular in Pennsylvania, but "America's mayor" doesn't seem to match that popularity in the booming metropolis where he once reigned.

In fact, New Yorkers overwhelmingly prefer their current mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, over GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, according to a poll released today by the New York Daily News.

"Some 56% of voters said Bloomberg has been the more effective mayor, and 29% picked Giuliani. An additional 10% ranked them about the same, and 5% didn't know."

"'I like that everything Bloomberg said he is going to do for the city, he did. There are more charter schools and I like that,' said Sharran Roberts, a 30-year-old mother from Bushwick, Brooklyn."

New Yorkers would also rather see Mr. Bloomberg as president, by a margin of 46 to 29 percent.

Mr. Giuliani rose to national prominence as the man who led New York City through the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

According to a March poll from Quinnipiac University, Mr. Giuliani leads all Democrats in Pennsylvania, with a 46 to 42 percent lead over Hillary Clinton and a 46 to 39 percent edge over Barack Obama.

Important slots appeals hearing

It should be a relatively quiet week in Harrisburg, since neither the House nor the Senate will be in session. (But look out for next week, when the House will spend four days debating, amending and adopting its version of the 2007-08 state budget.)

The main event this week will occur in the state Supreme Court, which will hold a hearing tomorrow on protests by several groups of the state Gaming Control Board's decisions on slots licenses.

In December, the board awarded the lone Pittsburgh slots license to Don Barden of Majestic Star casinos, rejecting applications by Forest City/Station Square and Isle of Capri. Those two companies have appealed the gaming board's action to the high court. The appeal is delaying the gaming board from issuing the slots license to Mr. Barden and delaying his ability to begin construction of his casino on the North Shore.

He still hopes to start work this summer and then have his gambling palace open by summer 2008, but a decision from the high court on the license issue isn't expected for at least several weeks. And if the court orders the gaming board to reconsider its decision to give Majestic Star the slots license, it will delay the opening of the Pittsburgh casino for months.

A rejected slots applicant from Philadelphia, as well as one from the Poconos, are also appealing the board's decisions on the slots licenses in those areas, which also will be heard tomorrow.

New award for the Capitol

The green-domed state Capitol, a leading tourist attraction in Harrisburg, has won another award -- the Victorian Society in America's national preservation award.

The Capitol Preservation Committee has spent years in restoring the historic building, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. The current building replaced the original capitol structure, which burned down in the late 19th century.

The certificate on the award said that it was given "for the complete and painstaking restoration over a 25-year period of the 1906 Beaux Arts national historic landmark designed by Joseph Huston, including the cleaning of its elaborate murals and for implementing an ongoing maintenance program to ensure the structure's future preservation.''

Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, chairman of the committee, said this latest award comes shortly after the Capitol was given National Historic Landmark status by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

John Murtha, King of earmarks

President Bush may have been the commencement speaker at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe last week. But the school's favorite politician is probably John Murtha. In 2004, he secured $4 million in federal money to realign a two-lane state road on campus.

In fact, religious organizations are profiting handsomely from the federal earmarking process, according to a front-page story in Sunday's New York Times.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to kill one of Mr. Murtha's favorite projects in his Johnstown district, the US News & World Report reported last week:

"House Republicans early this morning invoked a parliamentary procedure in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the often-derided if little-known National Drug Intelligence Center, a small federal agency created to coordinate the drug war as well as a pet project of one of their chief nemeses, Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Murtha has led his party's efforts to impose troop withdrawal deadlines in Iraq.

"The center, loathed by the Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly died on the drawing board--and by many accounts, it should have. But Murtha, chair of a powerful appropriations subcommittee, resuscitated the center and planted it in his own district, creating a host of logistical problems.

"In 2005, U.S.News & World Report published an investigative report on the agency. (GOP leaders highlighted the story in making their case.)

"The proposed Republican amendment would have forced a potentially embarrassing audit of the facility and cut its budget to levels just high enough to enable its closure. The remainder of its budget, the GOP argued, would be better spent supporting intelligence programs in the war on terrorism.

"That may be true, but the chance to publicly excoriate the NDIC while calling for its closure also gave Republicans the chance to make Murtha sweat. Losing the NDIC would be a blow to his rural district, where jobs are scarce.

'It wasn't used as a vehicle to embarrass Murtha,' Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner, told U.S. News, 'but as a vehicle to highlight the misguided policy positions in the Democratic Party. The underlying intelligence bill cut covert operations, and this motion to recommit would have restored some of that funding.'

"While motions to recommit have successfully split Democrats in the past to secure key Republican wins, the latest attempt failed, 241 to 181, largely along party lines.

"Murtha's spokesman was out of the office today and did not respond to an e-mail."