Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Could A Move Kick-Start Local Donkeys?

Allegheny County Democrats are on the move! A postcard mailed to Democratic Committee members a few days ago confirms it.

Before local Democrats grumbling about the local party's lack of energy and achievement get too excited, however, they should read the fine print. What's moving is merely the county committee's headquarters -- literally, and for the second time in recent years. (The new address is 73 South 13th Street, 15203, near the heart of the South Side Intoxication District.)

We do not know what this development means, but a review of background seems worthwhile.

The county committee's performance has been generating complaints from important Democrats -- candidates, party workhorses, donors, fundraisers -- in increasing breadth and volume.

Candidates complain that the longstanding worthlessness of the party's endorsement in a primary election has been creeping into the context of the Democratic nomination during a general election. The candidates' complaints concern lack of financial support; spotty effort and loyalty from party leaders, including most municipal committee chairs; and declining campaign manpower. If elected, these candidates perceive neither respect for nor indebtedness to the Democratic Committee.

Party workhorses don't complain nearly so much; they simply work less or devote energy elsewhere. Fundraisers such as Lazar Palnick and Cliff Levine have been working independently, taking their donors with them. Street-level volunteers have been moving to Organizing For America and MoveOn, or switching to gardening, craft brews, the PTA, and Rachel Maddow.

The county committee's leadership seems poorly positioned to address these problems. Chair Jim Burn (right) is stretched severely, as county council president, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, and a husband and father who must earn a livelihood. His vice-chair, Nancy Mills, is no help; her backroom selection for the position baffled nearly everyone and has never been explained in word or deed. Ed Abes, the treasurer, has little to do because funds are scarce.

Whether Jack Cambest and Ed Grattan continue to occupy Democratic Committee positions (Cambest as solicitor, Grattan as finance co-chair) is open to guesswork. Their names were removed from the party website after Rich Lord illuminated The List-Makers, the organization that appears to command the primary loyalty of Grattan and Cambest. Grattan and Cambest are listed in some party mailings but not others. In any event, Cambest has always been a ceremonial figure, leaving the party's legal work to others, while Grattan (like finance co-chair Stephen Frobouck, whose public-private network includes Jeb Bush and the List-Makers) connects money and political figures more for private perks than for party benefit.

The result is that the Allegheny County Democratic Committee is bereft of bite and can barely bark. It labors to pull off the occasional rally, golf outing, candidates night, or Kennedy-Lawrence dinner. It can not arrange candidates better than lawyers declared unqualified by the bar association, the Ravenstahl boys, and the three-clown circus endorsed by the city committee for city council a few months ago. Nearly every major local Democratic official got Obama-Clinton wrong, a rookie mistake for which the region has suffered.

Luke Ravenstahl and Dan Onorato (left), the two top local elected officials, would be Republicans in most regions of the United States. Each is more likely to embarrass the Democratic Party than to generate enthusiasm among Democrats.

Some Democratic regulars gripe about these circumstances, but no one acts, perhaps because there isn't enough enthusiasm in the party to sustain a debate or challenge.

The best thing the county Democratic committee has going for it is that its Republican counterpart is weakened by registration disadvantage, afflicted by lame leadership and harsh infighting, and badgered (and to some degree tempted) by Tea Party nuttiness.

One interesting point -- and, for local Democrats who seek a strong party structure rooted in principle rather than patronage, reason for hope -- is that the move to the South Side involves a departure from 225 Ross Street, nerve center of a cream-skimming network that has sapped the strength of the Democratic Party in Allegheny County for many years. That point alone supports a bit of hope that the Allegheny County Democratic Committee can shake its shackles and become a needed force for good in InsolvenCity and beyond.

Infytune: Our House, Madness
Infytune: Our House, Crosby, Stills, and Nash


the third rail said...

Is this your return to local politics after summer break Infy?

Anonymous said...

In fairness, the party did manage to endorse two city council winners--Burgess and O'Connor--and lots of good local Dems backed Clinton over Obama. That race was not an easy call by any stretch.

Infinonymous said...

The smart play would have been for Ravenstahl and Onorato to split on Clinton-Obama, covering local bases.

With the possible exception of the Burgess race, the city committee was irrelevant to the most recent city council races. Which is good, given the city committee's track record.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Anon 12:10 - By April, once the delegate count was out of reach and Dick Scaife and Rush Limbaugh were openly pushing for Hillary, it should have been an easy call.

Burn took to KDKA to counterbalance Bill Peduto in a debate over "recent criticism" of the mayor. That seemed to me like a noteworthy assertion of the party leadership's position, coming as it did not in the midst of any general election campaign. Do you think he was cracking the whip overhead?

Infinonymous said...

We believe Jim Burn is too smart to squander whatever local political capital he continues to possess on half-hearted defense of Luke Ravenstahl's antics.

Anonymous said...

Re Jim Burn is "too smart" . . . Jim Burn has always defended Ravenstahl and has often compared his own term as a 20-something Mayor in Millvale to Luke's mayoralty in Pittsburgh. More likely at this point, the people pulling Ravenstahl's strings are also pulling Burn's.

And just a reminder of the local leaders who were early supporters of Obama: Michael Lamb, Chelsa Wagner, Patrick Dowd, Doug Shields and Cliff Levine (his brother-in-law went to school with Barry in Hawaii). Most of Hillary's supporters were either Friends of Bill, Friends of Hill or Friends of Rendell (and afraid to cross the then Governor).

Infinonymous said...

Jim Burn is a realist with respect to Mayor Ravenstahl . . . privately, at least. Publicly, if he has carried water for Luke, we missed it.

Cliff Levine seems to be, by far, the most influential voice in Obamaland that Greater InsolvenCity has. Levine is not using that influence for himself. He turned down the U.S. Attorney position, although he might take a spot on the federal bench, and he does not appear to be trading his chits for lobbying fees. If Levine is using his pull for any local interests it has been on the severe down-low. That appears to leave the region with no practical champion at the White House, thanks in large part to the Dan-Luke miscalculation. Cliff Levine still has juice, but he seems to be the rare local political player motivated by principle instead of by profit.

Monitoring the Burn-Levine relationship as the 2012 campaign unfolds should be worthwhile. If Burn wants to be in the first-class cabin, guys like Grattan and Cambest might be on the way out. Ravenstahl, who screwed Levine foolishly, disrespected Obama carelessly and has no political weight, will be lucky to get within sniffing distance.

Anonymous said...

Not suprisingly, the Obama/Clinton battle scars have not quite healed yet, at least locally.

At the risk of opening myself to insider ridicule (which I guess is why I remain anonymous!) I would offer that Dan Rooney might have some pull with the White House vis-a-vis the region. And of course Onorato is a non-entity--he lost the gov. race and is on his way out of office. And even if Ravenstahl had backed Obama, do you really the think that the president and national party poobahs would be giving the kid much consideration at this point? Doubtful, since Luke brought, and continues to bring, so little to the table.

But really, it's almost 2012 and we're talking about the current state of the ACDC. Seems to me that with East End Fitzgerald the prohibitive favorite for CE, and Mt. Washington Mike Lamb leading the early line for mayor, the Ravenstahl/Onorato/Burn North Side regional cabal will soon be slipping into oblivion.

Infinonymous said...

Rooney has a personal tie with the President, but Rooney uses his remaining chits for business, things like U2 concerts at his publicly subsidized playground, rather than for regional or civic purposes. And that is probably all Rooney could accomplish with the White House political operation, anyway.

Rooney has shown interest in local civic affairs only when his bank account, Ireland, and/or the Catholic Church will benefit.

Plus, he and his family are primarily Republicans. Art II is a bet-hedging Democrat for business purposely only. Don't expect Rooney to expend capital on behalf of regional concerns, and don't expect the Obama operation to devote much attention to Rooney's input.

From here it looks like Cliff Levine might be the region's Obi Wan Kenobi -- the only hope -- with respect to juice at the federal level.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Oh there was water-carrying, I assure you. It was the Age of Aquarius.

But I had assumed without giving it much thought it was for the benefit of the general KDKA listening audience. Considering now however your obvious intimate knowledge of committee feeling, I was asking, could it have been more of an effort to herd that committee back together? Could such a thing be becoming necessary?

Anonymous said...

"It can not arrange candidates better than lawyers declared unqualified by the bar association,.."

Don't get too fixated on the ratings of the Allegheny County Bar Association. As a lawyer and an active member of the Bar Association, I can tell you that I and many of my fellow lawyers believe that the Bar Association's Judiciary Committee is more politically tainted that the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

For years, the membership of the Bar Association's Judiciary (rating) Committee was kept hidden from not only the public but members of the Bar Association.

The selection process for the Judiciary rating committee heavily favors Republicans as the Judiciary (rating) committee is normally stacked with big law firm attorneys who represent corporate interests and tend to be overwhelmingly Republican. The Bar Association will allow token women and minorities on the Committee but acts to block anyone who has had any involvement with the Democratic Party.

I know of a few fellow lawyers who I believe should be rated "Highly qualified" by the Bar Association's Judiciary Committee; who were not given favorable ratings due to their politics. You will not hear about most of these people b/c they were embarrassed by the unfair and unfavorable ratings by the Bar Association and largely have chosen not to run for judge so as to not taint their professional reputations by allowing a bad rating by the Bar Association to become public knowledge, as it does once someone registers to run for judge.

I also know more than a few fellow lawyers who are commonly thought to be degenerates by their more respectable peers; who have received the highest ratings from the Bar Association's Judiciary (rating) Committee.

(Some of the lawyers, who I know personally; who have received the highest recommendations by the Bar Association are individuals that I wouldn't leave alone in a room with small children.)

Infinonymous said...

Most of the candidates for the Democratic endorsement and Democratic nomination in recent years have been unworthy. Too many of the unworthy candidates have been endorsed, and nominated, and a few are currently on the bench. This is a major stain on the Allegheny County, and especially the city, Democratic committee record. The city committee's established preference for low-quality candidates discourages many good prospects from seeking office (other than by appointment).

No matter how bad the bar association's system, we judge it to be laps ahead of the local political parties' performance with respect to judicial candidates.

Aquarius said...

Speaking of water carrying, it appears that Infy has two 40-gallon barrels labelled "Cliff Levine" slung over his shoulders.

Infinonymous said...

Our water-carrying efforts appear to be unproductive. All Cliff Levine has to show for his work is the satisfaction of knowing a good man occupies the White House.

The water-carrying reference is ironic, however, given the way Luke and Yarone screwed Levine at the water authority, and the manner in which subsequent events have vindicated everything Levine did and revealed as costly failure everything Luke, Yarone, and the List-Makers have screwed up at the water authority, from Iron City Brewing to the line-insurance scam, from self-dealing to financing debacles.

Did you intend that point of irony?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't know what I mean anymore. Good information nevertheless.

Proud Democrat said...

As a member of my local Committee I think much of this is true, sorry to say. The party is losing it's strength, and too many of the big shots lookout for themselves not the party. If Jim Burns knows who is writing this stuff he should have him excommunicated, either that or hired as right hand man. No middle ground, clean house one way or the other. If Burns doesn't know who it is that tells me right there the criticism is right on.

By the way I don't doubt Onorato and Luke would be Republicans, if they could. Neither one worth a damn to Democrats

Just got here said...

First time reader, from the Post Gazette today. You have a very cool blog.

Anonymous said...

Infi - you mean the same Cliff Levine that is representing son-of-Risha in his bid to put a strip club across the West End bridge? The same Levine that was forced out of TRA?

Infinonymous said...

If Levine is representing the spawn of Risha, we hope they lose. Levine is a zoning lawyer and that is a zoning dispute, so it sounds like Levine's job. In a declining city, a lawyer probably can't be too picky about paying clients. Levine represented Onorato, too, but we don't hold that against him. Slim chance the West End case puts Levine in the List-Maker camp, or on the level of the List-Maker lawyers.

What is TRA?

Anonymous said...

So when Levine uses his positions on planning to give away favors and get political jobs like water authority it is ok, right? When he reprsetms son of Risha it is ok because it is "his job.". I hope you will stay consistent with that theme. Or you will pick and choose depending on whthere you like someone just like the people you criticize. And you are wrong - lots of lawyers who are competent don't have to take just any case. You would never see the big boys representing a strip club on West End.

And Lazar and Cliff taking their fundraising elsewhere? Laughable. Once again you show you truly have no idea who is who and what is what.

Infinonymous said...

Reed Smith and K&L represent criminals (white collar). Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney represented at least one strip club operator.

With the three biggest firms in town out of the way, to which "big boys" do you refer?

(Or was your point that representation of a Strip District strip club is distinguishable from representation of a West End strip club?)

If Levine misused a commission position to dispense unwarranted favors, he should be excoriated for it. With the water authority, however, he was punished for trying to represent his client and benefit the public.

If you believe Lazar Palnick perceives a need to defer to the local Democratic Party establishment, please identify the person -- Jim Burn, Luke, Dan, Nancy Mills -- who in your mind holds the leash. Those people need Palnick and Levine, not the other way around -- and not even close.

Which could explain why the local Democratic Committees are broke.

Pwned!!!!!! said...

That link shows, if you wanna joust with Infy you better bring your A game. Of course, first you have to have an A game.

Anonymous said...

Actually, if you read the link you will realize Infi pointed out nothing. That is, unless you are a paralegal that think they are a lawyer. Tom Buchanan never represented a strip club. He did, according to the article, minimal personal work for the man who owned the strip club. Nice try, come again when you know what an A game is.

Infinonymous said...

You should have quit while behind.

That firm did plenty of work for the Bare Elegance strip club and its proprietor (who currently appears to be in federal prison), which might not be surprising, if Mr. Kosow was a client of the firm for 10 years.

For example, Buchanan Ingersoll handled zoning work concerning the club's opening, according to city records. State records indicate the firm also filed the LCB application for the club in 1996.

Refuting your assertions is becoming tiresome.

Another Anonymous said...

Am I the only one thinking Infinonymous is someone in government or maybe a group of people in government?

So the question is, who in local office hasn't Infinonymous gone after?

Anonymous said...

Ha, pathetic! a 1996 lCB application and "some work" for a strip club that isn't even open today? You are pathetic. Here is my guess on who infi is: lives on Mt. Washington, makes about $28,000 a year and pretends to be in the legal field. Write any letters to the editor recently infi? Dork.

The point though on the zoning stuff is that you are putting Levine on this platform that is built on quicksand. He is representing the worst of the worst - Mr. Risha - in putting a strip club next to a club that helps people with drug addictions and the entrance to several neighborhoods. Any good lawyer has the ability to turn away a case. Levine didn't. He was forced out of Thorp Reed because he didn't have much business. why? because his political plumbs dried up. He sucked off the government nipple for way too long and it came to an end. The infighting in the City is because people like Levine that used to collect the public dollars to live expensive lifestyles are upset because another group of blood suckers has control. Nothing more and nothing less.

Infinonymous said...

The point, asswipe, was that your swing at Levine -- with the claim a "big boy" would not represent a strip club -- was a complete whiff. When shown that you were wrong, you doubled down. When bitch-slapped again by facts, you declared victory, "mission accomplished" style.

Does it puzzle you that Levine works at Cohen & Grigsby after being "forced out" of a lesser firm?

Or are you too busy keeping track of those "political plumbs?"