When new Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor was sworn into office in January, 2006, city council was a flutter with controversy as to who would be the next council President. Former President Eugene Ricciardi had won election to a District Justice post, thus leaving that position open.
Had experience meant anything, councilman Bill Peduto would have been a “no-brainer” to succeed Ricciardi and lead council; however, qualifications have almost never meant anything on Grant Street. More than anything—perhaps on planet Earth — Pittsburgh politics is about who you know, who you’re related to, and above all else, you’re a union-shilling, economics-be-damned Democrat.
Peduto would not be President of Pittsburgh City Council because he dared oppose O’Connor for Pittsburgh’s top job (we’ll exclude Steelers Coach), despite the King maker’s “next-in-line” designation. O’Connor’s long-term right-hand man Doug Shields had orders from above that prohibited Peduto from being council chief. Shields reportedly wanted the job for himself back then, but at the time was unable to muster the votes, especially with a ticked Peduto holding a salvo or three. [Shields now serves as Council President.]
Councilman Jim Motznik was the self-appointed front-runner for the Presidency. Motznik assumed he had the post locked up, but years before the former Public Works muck-raker quite spryly bolted from a television reporter’s camera over some rather routine questions of the day, and promised to resign from Council to assist Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign (the clock still ticks on that vow). With assertions like those, Motznik’s growing political irrelevance made his ascension impossible (to Motznik’s credit, he did narrowly win re-election after those gaffes).
A quick scan of the remaining Council members from the time proved nearly all others to be “too new” or privy to political alienation for one reason or another.
At the same time there were quiet whispers that Twanda Carlisle wanted the largely ceremonial engagement. She would have been an aesthetically-pleasing choice: youthful for a Pittsburgh politician (despite the fact it’s difficult to find anything about her age: we’ll guess she’s 46), attractive in that “looking beyond you into the abyss” sort of way, and African American.
For at least one second, Carlisle was being considered for President of Pittsburgh City Council.
Instead, an even younger upstart — who was born up-to-his-neck in Pittsburgh political lineage — was ultimately considered a “safe choice,” albeit hand-picked from the flock by O’Connor. North Side resident Luke Ravenstahl was selected for Pittsburgh City Council President only because no one else had the necessary votes.
Then tragically, O’Connor was effectively out of the Mayor’s post before the first pitch of the MLB All-Star Game at PNC Park on July 11, 2006.
The waiting game was on. As days became weeks, it was clear that something was not right with the hospitalized Bob O’Connor. He passed away on September 1, 2006.
Ravenstahl was jettisoned to national prominence almost immediately and he quickly proved to be the epitome of the none-too-worldly-wise 26-year-old who was far more interested in trips to the Late Show with David Letterman (where Luke admitted on television that city police looked the other way when it came to ticketing Ben Roethlisberger after the infamous motorcycle accident) and crashing parties with the elite of the elite (he drove a Homeland Security SUV to visit Tiger Woods at the suburban Oakmont for the U.S. Open). Ravenstahl was also photographed with Sienna Miller, the 25-year-old actress with a face of a Pop Culture Godess and mind of mushy squid when she risked ire of Cleveland Browns-fan proportions by calling the city a bad name.
The city’s fortunes could have been far more interesting had Twanda Carlisle been handed the role that—at the time—was a harmless license to appear on one of the public access channels and crow about being perhaps the city’s highest-ranking African American female city official EVER. Her predecessor, Valerie McDonald Roberts never made it to council President, largely because O’Connor held the post when she was in office. Roberts, who previously served on the Pittsburgh School Board, eventually moved to a lower-profile Allegheny County post. That was too bad because she would have been an ideal standard bearer had she received the chance.
Imagine Carlisle had the opportunity to serve as council President when O’Connor was prominently shown hanging Wi-Fi equipment downtown, in a ceremonious photo op that ultimately would become his final public appearance.
Instead of a frightened Luke Ravenstahl being sworn in as Mayor that late summer evening, it was “that close” to being the glassy eyed Carlisle (did she ever have any other expression?), hand on Bible, accepting the reigns of running the Commonwealth’s only interesting major market city.
Pretend for a mili-second that Twanda Carlisle was the Mayor.
Somewhere along Carlisle’s employ, she decided that the city’s bloated coffers were in fact a secret slush fund for anyone of her acquaintance.
Reports leaked with Carlisle purchasing books of questionable political merit, then escalated to an expensive fur coat and vacations abroad. Worst of all, Carlisle’s mother’s boyfriend received $29,000 to brazenly plagiarize a University of Pittsburgh study and shoehorn it around his own rinky-dink, narrow-minded, quasi-idiotic ideas. Assuredly, no one would read the examination of healthcare, religion and politics in Twanda’s 9th Council District, but the story of fraudulent intrigue had already spread. Local media eagerly awaited the tome’s release. It didn’t disappoint. The “study” turned out to be a hodge-podge of mystification that made the CBS News’ “Memo-Gate” that dethroned news hierarchy Dan Rather look Einsteinian in comparison.
That and other crackpot expenditures quickly drew the attention of the federal government, namely United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Mary Beth Buchanan.
What would have occurred had Carlisle been Mayor when the stories of misappropriation of funds been made public?
It depends on when the story broke.
If Carlisle had been Mayor, certainly up for election, it would have been interesting to see if Bill Peduto would have waged a challenge. The city’s only real “Reform Democrat” with fiscal-conservative leanings, Peduto remains Pittsburgh’s best choice to remain relevant; nevertheless, he’s not subservient to the Special Interest Groups (a.k.a. public sector unions) that control the city with the most selfish of Socialist contentions. Keep in mind, even an elementary understanding of real-world economics has almost never been a strong suit of Pittsburgh City Council in 70 years.
A thinking man’s candidate—even a Rust Belt Democrat—has no chance against a free-spending, Devil-Wears-Prada-on-public-dime empty power suit.
Fact is, those who dominate the voting block in the city probably wouldn’t sweat had there been pending federal action against the “supposed” Mayor Carlisle administration with Republican Mark DeSantis in the race.
All Carlisle’s handlers would need to do is parrot DeSantis’ Republican registration over and over again and punctuate the proof that Buchanan is also a member of the Grand Old Party.
Carlisle could have bested DeSantis by an even larger margin than Ravenstahl because of her gender, ethnicity, willingness to sign big checks to the unions and simplistic party affiliation.
The “Sheep” would continue to pull the party line, the donkeys would assuredly bray. Carlisle will need to pay back more than $40,000 in embezzled taxpayer cash.
That being noted, there’s little double that the city’s naïve voting electorate would still endorse a convicted felon to Mayor of Pittsburgh over a Republican, regardless of his or her qualifications. Lynn Swann, one of the most beloved Pittsburgh Steelers of all time wasn’t given a fair shot by Pittsburgh voters in his race for Governor because of his voter registration.
In 2007, it’s plainly that dire on Grant Street. With DeSantis dispatched and Peduto quiet on the sidelines, all of the great potential leaders on the current landscape have been vanquished.
At least Carlisle won’t be governing with an ankle bracelet anytime soon.