Friday, March 02, 2007

Personal endorsements from Jonathan and Mary Robison

Jonathan Robison, an Oakland attorney and long-time activist and D committee person, has a personal newsletter. I've hired J.R. in the past in a court case about ballot access. Anyway, he has some interesting insights. I've kept most of the content and cut out some other bigger chunks. See him for the entire posting or look at my Google Documents folder, but the blasted link isn't working.

Richard Swartz, D., executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, is running for Allegheny County Executive against incumbent Dan Onorato.

Of course, he doesn’t have a chance, and he knows it. But his candidacy is important, and I hope that you’ll help him. Why is he running? He was asked to run by several people who were unhappy with some of Dan’s positions and with his attitude. (Rick’s decision to run was made too late to apply for the Democratic party endorsement.)

For me, the big issue is public transportation. At first, Onorato said that we would have to make a disastrous 24% cut in PAT bus and trolley service if we didn’t get additional funding from the State Legislature before PAT’s fiscal year ends June 30. (Please see the ‘Save Our Transit’ article below.) This, sadly, may be true. Then he said that he would make these cuts even if we got the money from Harrisburg. He said that he would “right-size” the system. This is cruel and stupid.

That the cuts would be cruel was made clear by people, thousands of people, at meetings, in letters and e-mails, and at PAT’s own public hearings.

The plan to cut service regardless is also stupid because it undermines years of our efforts to get the funding the state’s transit systems all need – dedicated, predictable, inflation-sensitive and adequate. The bipartisan Transportation Reform and Funding Commission has proposed funding for transit, and to fix our dilapidated bridges. Governor Rendell has his plan for funding transportation. But why should any legislator risk the voters’ wrath by supporting any taxes or any expenses when Onorato says that he intends that the transit riders will be devastated regardless?

This transit issue is crucial for our region and its people. It is easily an adequate reason to make me vote against Dan Onorato. But there are other issues. For example, there is the freeze on assessments, which hurts both the elderly homeowners and the municipalities and the school districts, while it subsidizes real estate speculators.

Underlying the issues are is a larger problem: Dan Onorato doesn’t listen.

Besides, it’s not good when a candidate is unopposed for an office this important.

Please help Rick Swartz. Call Joy Sabl, campaign coordinator pro tem, 731-7020, and leave a message.


The race May 15 with the highest visibility is the primary to nominate a Democratic candidate for mayor of the City Of Pittsburgh. I’m glad we’re getting a special primary as well as a special election in November for the two years remaining in the term of the late Bob O’Connor. Usually, in special elections there is no primary, and the parties’ nominees are chosen under the rules of each party.

I support Bill Peduto. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses.

Bill is bright, dedicated, and independent-minded. He has many good ideas. He has supporters who will help him carry out new ideas. His supporters include many of the activists whose work brought victory last November. For example, Bill has been endorsed by the Sierra Club Allegheny Group, based on the work that he has done for the environment, including his opposition to mining in the woods overlooking the Hays neighborhood and opposition to the Mon-Fayette Turnpike. This is Bill’s best opportunity. If his opponent serves a couple of terms, Bill will be ‘no longer young.’ Believe me, at 64, I personally can relate to his situation. I hope that Bill has learned to listen better, especially to people who don’t share his ideas and to city employees, some of whom are very dedicated.

Luke means well. He is off to a good start, including his buy-back of the city liens. The city sale of tax liens provided money in the short run but later proved to be a hindrance to neighborhood development. Both Peduto and Ravenstahl have proposed tax breaks to draw new residents to targeted city neighborhoods. But, as a Post-Gazette editorial Feb. 25 said, one is “a thoroughly researched and analyzed 64-page proposal from Councilman Bill Peduto. The other is a thin and speculative concept from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.”

Despite his youth, Luke’s support seems to be based on the old guard, such as Dennis Regan, who was his director of public safety until Commander Catherine Mitchell blew the whistle on his interference in a police personnel problem. And Luke is continuing to pursue disciplinary action against Catherine Mitchell, in the face of the unusual preliminary injunction won on her behalf by the ACLU.

There is also reproductive rights, which is not an issue one expects in a mayoral race. Luke opposed the “bubble zone” ordinance championed by Bill Peduto to prevent harassment of women going to health clinics that provide abortions. He did not propose an alternative, but merely said that he was “pro-life.”

City Controller – Several Excellent Candidates

I’m still having personal difficulties with this race.

Michael Lamb is certainly well qualified, not just well-known and well-funded. He continued to do an excellent job as Allegheny County Prothonotary after the County Charter was amended to change to position from one of the elected Allegheny County “row officers” to an appointed position. He has done a good job of computerizing the office, saving money and making the office more user-friendly to both attorneys and the public. He has been progressive on social issues, and I consider him a personal friend.

On the other hand, Tony Pokora, who was deputy city controller when Tom Flaherty was elected to a judgeship, has done a good job. He is also an old friend – in fact, I got him started in politics. In 1972 I was George McGovern’s legislative district coordinator. We had an office on East Carson Street. I asked Tony Pokora, who was still in high school, to help run the office. He got the politics bug, and the rest is history.

On the third hand, Doug Shields is also well qualified, a good progressive, has good ideas, and is a friend. The only problem is that he is running for two offices – city controller and his seat on City Council. I personally advised him against that, and like Bill Peduto two years ago, he didn’t take my advice on that subject. It hurts to not support him because he is doing such a good job where he is. But I told him that he can make more difference for Pittsburgh as President of Pittsburgh City Council.

If the person running who ran in 2005 against Bill Peduto for City Council hadn’t been a total twink, Bill might have lost both races, and been in a weaker position to run for Mayor. Doug Shields, on the other hand, has a strong opponent for his City Council seat, Pittsburgh School Board member Theresa Colaizzi.

There is a fourth candidate, former County Commissioner Mike Dawida. I also like him, but I’ve run out of hands.

Patrick Dowd for City Council

The 7th City Council District runs from Highland Park to Bloomfield and Lawrenceville. I support Patrick Dowd, another School Board member, who is running against the incumbent Len Bodack.

Pat is bright and has done a good job on the School Board. He has a young activist base. He has good ideas, including housing utilizing our 15,000 vacant units, and plans to improve our public transit/ Len Bodack is one of the brighter of the old guard, and better than his father, former party boss and former State Senator Len Bodack Sr. Still, we need Pat Dowd on City Council.

Patrick Dowd’s campaign office is 4326 Butler St, 403-9295,

Bruce Kraus for City Council

Another challenger I support is Bruce Kraus.

Bruce ran before and narrowly lost the special election in the 3rd District to Jeff Koch. Kraus was endorsed by the Gertrude Stein Political Club, the multi-partisan electoral politics organization for lesbian and gay rights and reproductive rights, of which Mary and I are charter members. Since his election, Jeff Koch has been a steady member of the old guard. He did do one very good thing – he put our ward chair, Eileen Conroy, on his staff

We Need Doug Shields – on City Council

In the 5th District, Doug Shields has done an excellent job. His colleagues have elected him president of City Council. But he is running for two offices this May – City Controller as well as his City Council seat – please see above. I can’t support him for City Controller, but I strongly support him for re-election to City Council. He has a well-qualified opponent, School Board member Theresa Colaizzi.

9th City Council District

There is a crowd of candidates in the 9th Council District against Twanda Carlisle, who made some questionable uses of her Community Development Block Grant funds. It is not clear who among the nine or more challengers will emerge as the stronger candidates.

County Council – Re-Elect Joan Cleary

In the County Council – 9 of the 15 essentially unpaid seats are up this May. There has been a progressive majority, led by County Council President Fitzgerald from the 14th Ward and At Large County Councilman John DeFazio, who is a district director of the United Steel Workers. Both are running this year on strong records, and may be unopposed. John is a strong supporter of funding for our transit service. I wish I could say the same about Rich Fitzgerald. (Please see the ‘Save Our Transit’ article below.)

In this year’s primary, we may be seeing an attempted revenge of the old guard.

Joan Cleary, one of the best of the newcomers, was elected in the 6th District with the strong support of the Service Employees International Union, is being challenged by John Palmieri of Baldwin Township.

In the 13th, Brenda Frazier is being challenged by Matt Arena. She is an independent-minded and active African-American, even though I am still unhappy with her vote on the proposed Living Wage ordinance. Matt Arena appears to be one of the old guard candidates. Nonetheless, I would consider him an old friend from my work with him against an unnecessary highway when he lived in Frazer Township. I guess that shows my age.

Several Good Judge Candidates

There are perhaps a dozen candidates for the four positions to be elected to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. All are well qualified, and they seem to vary from good to excellent. In addition, more than half the candidates are women. It’s about time. We would like to mention a couple of favorites.

One is Wrenna Watson. She was appointed by Governor Rendell, along with Joseph K. Williams III. Both are African-American, both are highly qualified, and neither is likely to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled State Senate. Wrenna Watson serves on the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment and the City Planning Commission. She also has extensive experience actually adjudicating cases as a hearing officer in mental health commitments and for the state Liquor Control Board.

Another outstanding candidate is Cathy Bubash. She is a district magistrate on the North Side. We are impressed by her judicial deportment and diligence as a district magistrate. I was particularly impressed when I appeared before her as an attorney. Lots of magistrates treat us attorneys with respect. But she treated everyone with respect and consideration, whether they came from the county bar or Joe’s bar.

Hugh McGough is a proven worker and a proven leader. As assistant city solicitor, he defended the Constitutionality of Pittsburgh’s Human Relations Ordinance, including sexual orientation. He also served as President of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.

Shirley Novak, a twenty-year legal veteran, is almost a sentimental favorite for me. I worked with her, her sister Gloria, and her mother Thelma Novak, along with Dr. Marty Krauss and others in HEART, in the fight to save the East Street neighborhood from I-279, in the successful fight from better compensation for those displaced, and in the successful fight to save St. Boniface Church from demolition. She is part of the reason why “A home for a home and a business for a business” is a standard in eminent domain.

Another good candidate is Laura Ditka. She is a single woman who adopted a child. That takes fortitude.

Judge Anne Lazarus for Pennsylvania Superior Court

We’re also electing two members of the state Supreme Court and two members of the state Superior Court. Anne Lazarus is well regarded as a Common Pleas judge in Philadelphia, well regarded by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and a good feminist.

For the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, there are two well-regarded candidates, both incumbent judges, Debra Todd and C. Darnell Jones. Judge Jones is African-American and is President Judge in Philadelphia.

Referendum on an Appointed Sheriff

County Council has voted to have a referendum to further amend our County Charter to make the County Sheriff an appointive office. It will be at the top of the machine. Especially in the wake of all the troubles in the Sheriff’s office, there seems to be no organized opposition.

Who will be President (... cut ...) Same to with Iraq section.


This fall, we must fight again to save our transit system. Pennsylvania’s assistance for operating funds is simply inadequate. Years of interim action and inaction have caught up with us. PAT’s budget for fiscal 2006-2007 requires $31 million in additional operating funds. Without new state sources of money, PAT (and ACCESS) would need fare increases. PAT is now planning elimination of about a quarter of their service, including elimination of over half of the bus routes. PAT needs a balanced budget for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The PAT Board meets on the fourth Friday of the month, and currently plans to vote March 23 on a plan to cut service AND raise the fare, probably to $2.00. Originally County Executive Dan Onorato supported a horrible plan to cut service if the State Legislature failed to provide essential statewide transit funding. Then he said he supported 24% service cuts regardless, to “right-size” the system. (Please see above.) Now he is talking again about supporting the efforts to get the state money. What next?

Governor Rendell saved the system two years ago by “flexing” federal highway funds, but he can’t do that again. The Governor’s bipartisan Transit Funding and Reform Commission issued a report, spelling out the need for $659 million to keep the state’s transit systems going – and $1.013 billion needed to repair and maintain our bridges and roads. (The $1 billion would fund NO significant new capacity highways.)

Please take action. Call, write, or e-mail your legislators, especially in the State Senate, and urge them to approve a solution for providing funding both for public transportation and for maintaining and fixing our bridges and roads – funding that is dedicated, predictable, inflation-sensitive, and adequate. And tell Dan Onorato – people depend on our buses and trolleys. Don’t betray us.

I am tired of talking or writing about this issue.


There will be an M.S. Walk Sunday morning, April 22, to raise money for MS research.

I will be on the walk -- not walking, of course, but on a new power wheelchair. We have a Power Team on the five-mile route – power chairs, scooters, and friends who just walk. You are invited to join us. We gather at 8 am at Heinz Field and start at 9. Please join me, or join by making a contribution to the National MS Society for medical research into a cure for MS. Tell us you’ll walk, or send a check to the National MS Society, 1501 Reedsdale St. #105, Pittsburgh 15233. Please mention the Power Team.

This cause is personal. My MS – multiple sclerosis – got worse this fall, and I switched to a new medication, Tysabri. I’m glad to say it’s working, and I’m better. Please join me on the MS Walk, Apr. 22.

Love and Peace,

Jonathan and Mary Robison
(with some snips)
All in all, the biggest problems with the above endorsment letter resides with his selection of Bruce Kraus over Jeff Koch. But, I understand that he'd have an impossible time giving an endorsement to Koch. I can't endorse either -- but it isn't my place to say much, yet.

I'm with Jonathan in that an endorsement is not a prediction as to who will win. Finally, I'm sure that most of you out there are clueless to the fact that Dan Onorato is going to have an opponent in the D primary in May. That will be interesting to watch.

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