Dowd attacks mayor over billboard

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In a scorching attack on Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Democratic primary challenger Patrick Dowd today stood before a never-lit Downtown electronic billboard and decried what he called a "culture of corruption" in city governance.

"This city should not accept the signs of corruption as necessary, or even acceptable," he said, standing across 11th Street from the unfinished Lamar Advertising sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center. "We should not tolerate this form of garbage governance."

Mr. Dowd, now a city councilman, was resurrecting last year's longest-running city government controversy, which started with the permitting of the sign and ended with the resignation, as part of a severance agreement, of former Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford.

The Ravenstahl campaign responded in a statement by campaign manager Paul McKrell that Mr. Dowd "has issued nothing but negative, duplicitous attacks. He's stuck to mud-slinging." The Ravenstahl campaign also unearthed news stories from the challenger's past.

Mr. McKrell lashed out at Mr. Dowd for voting for two buyouts when he was a school board member: one involving former Superintendent John Thompson, and another involving Chief Academic Officer Lynn Spampinato.

"The truth is clear: Pat Dowd authorized two hush-money buyouts in less than two years," he said.

Mr. Dowd held up a cardboard check representing the settlement Mr. Ford won of around $100,000, including a continuation of salary and benefits through June 30. The agreement bars him from disparaging city officials, and vice versa.

"Pat Ford was given hush money. That's what it is! Let's call it out!" Mr. Dowd said.

Mr. Dowd held a highlighted copy of the agreement and rhetorically ripped into it.

"Our mayor, duly elected by the people in 2007, is required by the public to keep his mouth shut," he shouted, his neck reddening, as a handful of passersby stopped to watch. "That's hush money! That's a sign of corruption! That's unacceptable in this city."

Mr. McKrell decried what he considers the negativity of the campaign, calling it "one of the most negative campaigns ever waged by a candidate for an office in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh deserves better than desperate mud-slingers. They deserve a public servant with a plan. That's Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

The billboard case was complex and is now in the hands of the courts.

For years, Lamar worked with city officials to trade scores of vinyl billboards for a dozen LED signs near the Boulevard of the Allies, Bigelow Boulevard, Banksville Road, the Parkway East and other roads.

Last year, Lamar got a permit to put a 19-by-58-foot sign on the Pittsburgh Parking Authority's new transportation center.

Five council members challenged the permit -- four of them as public officials and Mr. Dowd as a private citizen. Lamar sued them. Mr. Ford resigned following news that he got Christmas gifts from a Lamar executive.

In December, the Zoning Board of Adjustment nixed the sign, on a tie vote that had the effect of denying Lamar's request for special permission to build a bigger- and higher-than-normal billboard where new signs aren't usually allowed.

Lamar appealed, arguing that the permit was properly granted based on an established vinyl-for-digital swap process, and that the company relied on it when it spent well over $1.3 million on the unique, curved sign. The case has been assigned to Common Pleas Judge Joseph James.

Mr. Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, said today that his client "continues to cooperate with authorities on matters of mutual interest" -- language he has been using since August.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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