Luke continuing to not understand the problem


Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl refused to release a letter Thursday that contains changes the city Ethics Hearing Board has recommended to ethics rules.

I must point out that I am not the first or second Pittsburgh weblogger to mention this.

The Mayor, seen here pretending to be George Washington, makes the argument that the letter is a personal communication between the city Ethics board and himself. I must say, I didn’t even know that public boards even had the ability to send personal correspondence. No matter, someone is talking, at least in general terms, to the Post-Gazette:

The city of Pittsburgh’s Ethics Hearing Board has written to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl urging limits on participation in high-dollar charitable events like the charity golf outing that recently got him in hot water.

This is pretty much what everyone expected any such correspondence to say. Why the Mayor, with Ethics Board Chair Patrice the Nun backing him up, would make the extremely dubious claim that a letter from a public board to a public official who they recently questioned about his behavior could possibly be personal is a question that gets at the heart of the problem here, and indicates why the Mayor and his defenders feel so put-upon by this whole series of events.

The argument from the Ravenstahl camp goes like this: What Luke did isn’t specifically against the rules, and plus everyone does it. The second point is irrelevant and likely to make enemies, as John McIntire pointed out in his City Paper column this week. The first, the facts of which are arguable at best, assumes that ethical behavior is equivalent to acting strictly within the written code.

As long as the Mayor regards his ethical responsibilities as a public official as getting his hands on as much as he can without specifically violating the ethics code he will continue to have trouble, because he has a tin ear. Ultimately the reason that he is in trouble here is because he blew off an important meeting for his extremely expensive golf outing.

Now, he refuses to release a letter that, barring something really shocking in the contents, could not possibly make things worse for him. Why would he be secretive about such a thing?

It can only be because he is an idiot. And that is the root of all his problems. How dumb do you have to be to not guess that people will be upset if you promote a bunch of woman-hitting police officers? How dumb do you have to be to not realize that people will be upset if you blow off a neighborhood group concerned about construction to fly to New York for late night drinks with they billionaire who is pushing the construction? How dumb do you have to be? How do you smack someone out of that level of dumb?

My suggestion: send Ravenstahl an e-mail, and make your own request under Pennsylvania’s right to know law. Here is mine:

Dear Mayor Ravenstahl,

I was interested to read about the City Ethics Board letter to you of 8/28/07. As a concerned resident of the City of Pittsburgh, I would like to see the contents of that letter. I can pick it up some time in the next five working days, as provided for by the Pennsylvania Right-to-know law.


McArdle Booker

The more people who request this, the less Luke can pretend the problem is “yellow journalism” or political opponents who are out to get him because they are closet Republicans, or hate handsomeness, or whatever it is that Luke believes makes people attack him. His e-mail address is, and requests must be made in writing (e-mail counts).

Update: The P-G has more information on the letter:

“We are concerned, however, that attendance by city officials at certain types of charitable events, while technically in conformity with the city Ethics Code, can be misunderstood by the public,” it continues. “We are thinking of exclusive events where the price of admission is above the means of most city residents, and where the cost of admission is underwritten by an ‘interested party.’

“Even if no quid pro quo is granted, the perception of favoritism or privileged access may persist. Such concerns could lead to an erosion of the public’s trust in the impartiality of city officials in making key decisions, signing agreements or awarding contracts.”

This is the most charitable way of putting it, pretending that the problem is not the Mayor using his position to get a bunch of free stuff, but the public’s “misunderstanding” of the nature of how the Mayor gets free stuff.

Still, dummy Mayor says:

“Their recommendations are something that we’ll consider,” said Mr. Ravenstahl. “Perhaps there are other components of the code that we can look at as well.”

He said he agreed that the board should be made available for advice, but hadn’t yet decided whether rules on invitations to charity events would make a difference.

Of course it will make a difference. Your friends will not be able to give you free stuff in that particular way. You will have to find a new way for them to give you free stuff.

Is this how we will spend the next two years? Luke sparring with the rest of the city, all the time dreaming up new ways to take gifts from companies that want something from him, occasionally promising to do something wonderful that he can’t pay for. The rest of us will constantly pressure the rest of government to do what they can to keep Luke in line.

It sounds exhausting, but with a Republican running against Luke who refuses to take running for mayor seriously, we are stuck. I still recommend requesting the Ethics Board letter, and I think the reasons above remain valid, even if someone had the good sense to give at least part of the letter to Rich Lord.

5 Comments so far

  1. Bram R (unregistered) on August 31st, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

    My impression of Board Chair Hughes is that she is sincere and earnest, and very keen to improve the state of ethics in city government. However, she is also extraordinarily hesitant to create media issues, engage in politics, or overextend her board’s mandate.

    Also, she is not a lawyer, and has no particular expertise in city law. Nor does any of the board — except Ravenstahl’s appointee. And the City Solicitor’s office is no great help.

    She’s doing what she can.

  2. Bram R (unregistered) on August 31st, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

    And BTW, I think you’re a bit premature about DeSantis.

  3. Mac (unregistered) on August 31st, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

    Premature, Bram? There are two months left. DeSantis has been on the ballot, with a serious uphill battle in front of him, for over three months, and he has pissed all of that time away. What makes you think that he will suddenly turn into a master campaigner? That he can change seventy years of voting habits by spending a ton of money? That he can even raise the enormous amount of money that he has set as his goal when the donor base has seen the same failures from him that you and I have? I don’t buy it. Ravenstahl’s poor conduct gave DeSantis a chance, and DeSantis squandered it. This race is over, and Luke didn’t win it. Mark lost.

  4. Bram R (unregistered) on September 1st, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

    Someone quipped to me the other day, “Remember, Republicans don’t roll out new product in August.”

    As far as his policy details, remember Luke’s MO and what he’s done to all of Peduto’s ideas. I’m starting to think it’s really not a bad idea to get Luke firmly on record as “We don’t need to do anything”, and then explode with a lot of dramatic reforms in late Sept / early Oct. Cynically, it gives the other guys less time to tear you apart, also.

    Otherwise, Luke will pick off the nice-nice parts of the plan as his own, exclude anything that involves pain or sacrifice, and wind up actually looking like he’s done something.

    Now, as to the “ground operation” — this is a concern. It’s hard to judge from an objective standpoint, particularly if you don’t happen to know any republicans. I know that in the primaries, the victorious candidates had a lot of young idealistic crusaders out there knocking on doors, talking to their friends, and generating buzz. Does DeSantis have this capability? I don’t know. I don’t know how repubicans campaign. Perhaps they must be more media oriented.

    But I’m definitely reserving judgement for a while. As a practical matter, I don’t want to contribute toward tagging MD as a “loser” until he’s given every chance to define himself.

  5. lost faith in bill (unregistered) on September 14th, 2007 @ 3:14 pm


    Today Mayor Luke was practicing his fire fighting abilities at the Police and Fire Academy. Mr. Peduto, finding out the Mayor would be showing off his skills decided to stop by the Academy and do a little “fire fighting” of his own… Unlike Mayor Luke, Mr. Peduto instead showed off his lack of resolve and ran out of the building. Much like he did from the Mayors race. Maybe next time he wants to follow the Mayor he should be behind him in the Great Race… Not running into a burning building!

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