Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ravenstahl Swimming with Sharks

After all the hoopla regarding Ravenstahl's cozying-up to Penguins owner, billionaire Ron Burkle, the interim mayor has a number of questions to answer about his campaign finances. Less apparent is why the heck Ed Rendell's deputy director for Western PA, Kevin Kinross, and Ravenstahl are chumming around with Burkle.

The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy released a policy brief on Friday with a number of criticisms upon examinination of the Pens' deal. Granted, the Allegheny Institute is a rather conservative organization oriented on market-friendly solutions to public policy, its criticisms raise a number of concerns. Major points made in the document are as follows:

  1. The first concern is that the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) will pay the team $8.5 million for the former St. Francis Hospital site. The team bought the site in anticipation of a new arena and it was to count as their up-front contribution to the project. Now they will receive its value in cash.
  2. The source for the likely $10 million in overrun costs for which the public is responsible has still not yet been determined.
  3. The state has agreed to fund marketing expenses incurred by the Penguins in promoting the team, amounting to a gift of $2 million.
  4. The Penguins have development rights to the entire Mellon Arena site and the SEA will compensate them with $15 million in what is called a redevelopment credit. This means the team will get the first $15 million worth of prime Pittsburgh real estate for free and if the team doesn't use it within 10 years, the team receives the balance in cash from the SEA.
Why wouldn't Burkle invite these two charming lads on his private jet and pick up the tab for dinner and drinks in Manhattan? A few thousand bucks for the trip is a small investment for the return he gets from these public officials for his team.

Why did it appear to the public that the city, county, and state were in conflict with the Penguins during the negotiations when the Pens were already fairly confident they would get a good deal (see point 1 above)? If there were some conflicts in the details, and, indeed, it is likely that there were, it is obvious they never escalated to the point where it would have prevented Rendell's representative, the mayor of Pittsburgh, and the owner of the team from fraternizing. And they weren't having beers and a NY slice at Gramercy Park Hotel - it ain't exactly a working-class joint.

Only two premises are possible. One is that Luke is competent in his role as mayor. If this is the case, and he contributed substantially to the negotiations of the deal, then he is helping to feed the taxpayers to the sharks. He believes that flaunting his new relationship with Burkle is OK and would accept a campaign contribution from him. He was aware of the disappearing line between his public role as a mayor (whose time on the clock is paid for by taxpayers) and his role as candidate but went along with the trip anyhow. He was aware of the historically significant and sincere concerns of Hill District residents and community leaders but decided it was sufficient to send Zober instead.

The other is that Luke is not competent in his role as mayor. If this is the case, then he is being fed upon by the sharks. Being wined and dined in an upscale Manhattan institution has to be exciting for a 27 year old and he was overcome with the excitement. This suggests that he is, in fact, immature for the position and risks being swayed on issues where, as a representative of city residents, he should take a stand (even an unpopular one with the Pens' owner if necessary) on behalf of his constituents. Being so impressionable is dangerous for the city. He wasn't aware of the disappearing line between his role (and finances) as mayor and candidate. He wasn't aware of the historical significance between arena and the lower Hill and can be excused for being too hung over (excuse me, "unable" because of inadequate flight schedules) to make the meeting.

In either case, Luke is swimming with sharks and the water is dangerous.

And, finally, the mayor had time for an overnight trip to NY but didn't have the time to debate his opponent before the public?