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Support your local police

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's allies continued to employ political judo in response to the Friday announcement that the Fraternal Order of Police had endorsed his Republican rival, Mark DeSantis.

Mr. Ravenstahl focused in on Mr. DeSantis' pledge to eliminate the residency requirement that forces all city employees to live within its borders. Police want it gone, and Mr. DeSantis has pledged to help. Democrats are portraying that as pandering.

"Anyone working for the city needs to be a city resident, period," said Councilman Jim Motznik at a City Council meeting today. "A GOP candidate will promise anything to get the endorsements that he thinks are needed."

He also noted that Pittsburgh's police residency requirement is enshrined in state law (as is the parking tax cut he tried to overturn ). "How can you take someone serious who's going to promise something that he has no control over?" he asked.

He also claimed that most police are likely to buck their leadership's recommendation to vote for Mr. DeSantis, which was forged by a three-member political committee.

"A large majority, I've got to tell you, a large majority of police officers support Mayor Ravenstahl," he said. "The membership of the FOP are highly frustrated that the leadership would come out with an endorsement without a vote of the membership."

Mr. Motznik even claimed, approvingly, that there's a "petition" circulating in the zone stations urging support of Mr. Ravenstahl. We at Early Returns suppose that he will promptly report those officers to the city's Ethics Hearing Board, since, as the city's Ethics Handbook notes, all "city employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity during work hours and at all times in City offices."

Support your local mayor

In other matters related to the most heavily hyped F.O.P. endorsement ever, Mr. Ravenstahl today addressed the much-blogged-about offer the police union allegedly dangled in front of him for a $5,000 campaign contribution. The key question: Did the discussion come close to resembling the one in 2001 that preceded the city's agreement to concessions to the firefighters, then-Mayor Tom Murphy's endorsement by the International Association of Fire Fighters, and a U.S. Attorney's Office investigation that ended inconclusively?

The answer, according to Mr. Ravenstahl: yes, and no.

The mayor confirmed that in endorsement talks with the F.O.P. political committee, the $5,000 campaign contribution that comes with that prize was mentioned. "They've given my opponent a $5,000 campaign contribution, so it was part of the discussion of the endorsement and financial support, and what the union really wanted to see as a benefit," he said. "It wasn't necessarily a quid pro quo, you do this, I do that."

That said, the union asked for a fifth week's vacation for veteran officers, a lifting of the residency requirement, increased equipment purchases and some benefits improvements in their next contract, which starts Jan. 1, 2010, the mayor said. "There were a lot of questions and demands that were asked of me, and I was unwilling to cave in to the pressure, I guess you'd say. ... I'm not willing to sacrifice this city before an election."

The hardball nature of the discussion, he said, "certainly brings up a lot of similarities with what took place [in 2001]. It was political, and it was right before an election."

The much-hyped federal investigation of Mr. Murphy's action ended with no charges filed.

So, then, it was similar to the situation that got Mr. Murphy in trouble with U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan?

Well, no. "Obviously the Murphy situation led to a grand jury investigation," the mayor said. "This discussion was not in that context. This discussion was, 'This is what I want to see for my F.O.P. in the future. Can you give that to me? Can you help us achieve that goal? In turn, obviously, we would want to support your candidacy.'" It was "in the context of an endorsement discussion" but not of a contract negotiation.

O.K., that clears that up.

Mr. Ravenstahl went on to second Mr. Motznik's suggestion that the police rank and file was in revolt against their leaders' endorsement of Republican challenger Mark DeSantis. "It's my understanding that there are a significant number of them that are upset with the F.O.P.'s position," he said. "I think they agree with a lot of the things that I've done, and they're concerned now that their union, for example, is not reflecting that in their endorsement."

And, in his inimitable way, he sort of assured Early Returns that there would not be politicking for, or against, him in the zone stations.

"My understanding is that any activity that is occurring is not on city time," he said. "If I am aware of anything that is happening on city time, I would discourage it. And I don't think that that is what the police officers are doing."

Free Cyril

And speaking, as we were a moment ago, of Mary Beth Buchanan, our man Jerome Sherman was there as former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh told House lawmakers this afternoon that Ms. Buchanan's prosecution of Cyril Wecht was politically motivated.

The blog, TPM muckraker, reviews the bidding in the case. There's not a lot new there but the comments section has some interesting thoughts.

Timing is everything

Following Monday night's mayoral debate at WTAE-TV, Republican challenger Mark DeSantis said he could see his campaign picking up steam in his bid to oust incumbent Democrat Luke Ravenstahl.

Given Friday's endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police and recent financial donations, he said he could only imagine the traction he would have if he had started campaigning earlier. After a push by some party leaders to get him the GOP nomination in a spring write-in campaign, Mr. DeSantis kept a low profile most of the summer and didn't start campaigning until well after Labor Day.

"But what are you going to do about that?" he said. "Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I'm still happy with where we are right now."

Media relations

One of the region's more energetic political bloggers, and a consistent critic of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, got a frosty reception from the executive after the other night's mayoral debate.

"He asked who I was (a fair enough question, I thought, as I was a new face) and as we shook hands, I introduced myself as 'David DeAngelo, 2 Political Junkies.' I don't think I got to the end of the word "junkies" when he interrupted me with a quick, "I'm not interested, thanks." He turned and walked away, right out the door.

'Wow,' I thought. 'I just got dissed by the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh.'"

Parking meter

Pittsburgh City Council voted 8-0 today to uphold Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's veto of an ordinance that would have cancelled a parking tax cut, in light of the insistence by some members of the General Assembly that the reduction go forward.

Councilman Jim Motznik, who sponsored the initial bill, reluctantly motioned to sustain the veto. He said he found the situation "frustrating to me. ... The state's unwillingness to even open a dialogue with us, with council, with the mayor, on the issue, is very disheartening to me.

"We all realize that at the end of the day, if we end up on that crash course with the state Legislature, then city taxpayers lose."

Council's vote to sustain the veto followed a month-long debate over the city's 45 percent parking levy. It virtually ensures a cut to 40 percent Jan. 1.

State law demands that the city drop the levy to 40 percent next year, and then to 35 percent by 2010. Council members led by Mr. Motznik voted 8-1 to nix the cuts, since lot owners didn't pass this year's reduction from 50 percent on to consumers.

"There are better ways to spend this money, but we are held hostage by the state in this regard," said Mr. Motznik, adding that he hopes to open up a dialogue with legislators.

Mr. Motznik's bill would have dedicated parking revenue to city debt and pension obligations.

Politicians and ugly buildings

If you want to have a major office building in the Capitol complex named for you, you should try to become a speaker of the state House.

The former South office building was renamed for Pittsburgh legislator K. Leroy Irvis, who was speaker in the 1980s. Another office building is named for Matthew Ryan of Philadelphia, who was speaker from 1995-2003, when he died.

And today, the state House voted to rename the Keystone Building, across the street from the Capitol, home of the Department of Community and Economic Development and other agencies, for James Manderino, who served in the House from 1966-89 and was speaker in 1989, when he died.

"He was known as the Rock of Monessen," said Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, who served with him. "His word was his bond. He was a legislative giant. He brought passion to every issue. He devoted his life to making life better for all Pennsylvanians."

Democratic House leader Bill DeWeese added, "I too remember Big Jim Manderino. He lived, ate, slept and breathed the business of Pennsylvania."

Mr. Manderino's daughter, state Rep. Kathy Manderino, is now a legislator. Like her dad, she is a Democrat, but unlike him, she lives in Philadelphia.

The bill, House Bill 1192, now goes to the Senate.

No disrespect to Mr. Manderino, a formidable figure who Early Returns covered in his careless youth, but the effort to commemorate him reminded us of the Noah Cross line in "Chinatown."

"I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."

Hogworts on the Potomac

The startling news last week that Sen. Barack Obama was distantly related to Vice President Dick Cheney reminded one faithful Early Returns reader of the shocking revelation in, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," that Harry is related to Voldemort. We're not sure which is which, however. Mr. Cheney does wear those glasses.

If they're casting the movie with Washington celebrities, though, Larry Craig could play the part of Dumbledore.



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