At the South Side's Beehive Coffeehouse, Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd leaned in as the woman running the counter yesterday talked about the challenges of doing business on rowdy East Carson Street -- specifically the problem of drunks stumbling in and vomiting.
A few minutes later, Mr. Dowd was working that input into his speech as he stood over a new, $1,010 trash can at the corner of Carson and 11th Street.
"We've heard that people are disgusted with the wasteful spending of this administration as symbolized by this trash can," the mayoral challenger said. "Other people told me, look ... people can't use these trash cans. They're too drunk."
With that, he crystallized the message -- end excess, reverse decline -- of his bid to beat Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the May 19 Democratic primary.
"We cannot afford another day of this sort of waste, let alone another four years," he said.
The incumbent's response, too, echoed now-familiar themes.
"We have a desperate candidate with no plan of his own, showing himself to be just ridiculous," said Ravenstahl campaign manager Paul McKrell.
Mr. Dowd highlighted $20.2 million that he characterized as the tip of "an iceberg of waste."
Dominating the tally was $19 million in fees and costs associated with a $414 million debt deal the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority entered into last year. The costs included $10.1 million to insure the debt, and $6.9 million to J.P. Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch Capital to terminate a 2007 debt deal and underwrite the new one.
Mr. Dowd said those costs might have been much lower if the professional service contracts had been awarded competitively.
Mr. McKrell noted that Mr. Dowd voted on council to allow the authority to complete the debt deal, and called his criticisms "nothing short of hypocrisy." Authority leaders have said the deal allows them to repair facilities without raising rates.
Mr. Dowd listed $861,500 in "waste" from an Urban Redevelopment Authority parking lot management contract awarded with bidding irregularities, and the purchase of trash cans and firehouse ventilation systems through state contracts. "We should've done the ventilation system, no question, but we should have bid it out," he said.
"What does Patrick Dowd know about a good [ventilation] system?" asked Mr. McÂKrell.
Mr. Dowd also counted $337,000 in payments to police Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly (demoted and then reinstated after a federal lawsuit), former Operations Director Dennis Regan (paid for seven weeks of leave during a Law Department probe before he resigned) and former URA Executive Director Pat Ford (given a settlement following an ethics investigation).
"This wasted money can be used to improve peoples' lives, to improve a business district," said Mr. Dowd, or to "invest in public transportation, parks and better policing."
He wants all contracts over $25,000 to be subject to competitive bidding.
Mr. Ravenstahl has said there will be competitive processes for every contract award beginning April 15.
Rich Lord can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1542.