Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
I can’t recall the last time, or ever, complimenting USAir, but they did right by me. We had a very bad 12 hour period. Our flight was scheduled for 7:50 PM from Pittsburgh to Savannah GA. We left in enough time, but were cutting it a bit close for the 30 minu
te drive to the airport. We also knew there was a Lil’ Wayne concert in the area, but really did not connect the two.
It quickly became apparent that we were in trouble. We entered the highway and were stuck in total gridlock. The normal 10 minute drive downtown
took an hour. We saw a car broken down in the middle of the parkway and figured that was the problem. At this point it was going to be touch and go to get to the airport on time. After the river of vehicles parted around the dead car, we figured that the traffic would flow, but it didn’t. It came to a grinding halt. We were screwed.
Checking the internet from our cell phone we learned that there were no other flights that night to Savannah. We called USAir and were told to go to the airport. There were seats available on the first flight out the next morning. If we booked that flight on the phone it was going to cost us an extra $500, but by going to the airport and going standb
y, since we missed a flight due to traffic they could get us on the flight the next day for no extra charge. We also called our hotel in Savannah and they were kind enough to cancel our room without charge.
As we worked our way through the Fort Pitt Tunnel our flight was boarded and ready to take off. There was an accident in the tunnel. I figured that was the delay, and that things would open up once we got out of the tunnel. Wrong again! Things were bumper to bumper gridlock on the Greentree side as well. We called our daughter who had left a half an hour before us to go to the Little Wayne concert. She was only a few miles in front of us. After observing a couple of more accidents we realized the issue. Lil’ Wayne is a dope smoking fiend. Many of his fans were smoking it up on their way to the show. Reactions were slowed down. Fenders and bumpers were mangled as a result, and traffic came to a standstill.
After 2 ½ hours we finally made it to the airport. Our flight was long gone. We went to the USAir counter. They were actually closed. The employee, already off duty and certainly anxious to get home after a long day at work, reopened for us and got us on the flight for the next day with no extra charge. The bottom line was the schedule was going to work out so we would arrive at our ultimate destination at about the same time as if we stayed on our original flight.
The next task was to find a place to sleep so we could make it to the gate for 6:50 boarding. We decided to pay a bit extra for convenience and stay at the Hyatt attached to the terminal. Sensing we were frazzled by the time we got to the restaurant at almost 10:00, the waitress really took care of us. She arranged for us to have breakfast delivered to our room at 5:30 the next morning so we could have coffee and some food before our flight. We also learned that Lil’ Wayne was booked at the hotel registered under the name of Mr. President. Maybe he should have chosen B. Rack.
The next morning we got up early. Breakfast was delivered as promised at 5:30. When I reached for my wallet to tip the server, it was gone. Panic set in. I looked all over the room. No wallet. This meant no credit card, no money, no ID. That meant “no” at the security, no flight, no trip. Panic morphed into a full scale anxiety attack. I went to the front desk. They didn’t find my wallet. Next I thought that perhaps I left it at home. Did I have enough time to drive home , find my wallet, drive back and get the flight. Unlikely, but what other choice did I have. As I ran to the car, I remembered I did have my wallet when I paid for short term parking and re-parked near the hotel in the extended lot. Sure enough the wallet had fallen out in the car and I found it. Relieved, I return to the hotel and overheard some airline personnel who also stayed at the hotel complaining about the Lil’ Wayne entourage that arrived on their floor at 3 AM and continued their party. I was glad they were not my crew. Who wants a pilot who didn’t get sleep and was engulfed in a cloud of weed smoke from his neighbors.
We boarded on time. The flight was totally full. Had the man at the gate not taken extra time and helped us the night before I would still be sitting at the airport stranded and the word “terminal” would have special meeting. I don’t know the man’s name, so I will just give a big thanks to USAir for kind and excellent service.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
This weekend we completed the Keystone Country MS 150. It's really a beautiful event in a lot of senses. The ride is gorgeous. The ride meanders through both sides of the valley between Hollidaysburg and State College PA. This is a little known area of the state that is reminiscent of Vermont. The back roads go along the Juniata River and through little towns. The hills are deep with green trees and roads cut by farms. The ride overnights in State College, a very nice college town.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Today we stopped by a brand new restaurant for lunch. Our friends Fred and Lori Rongier had their "soft opening" on Friday, June 5th. Fred is French and has created an authentic bistro like you would find in Paris. We have been hoping Fred would open a place ever since tasting his wonderful crepes at our son's school parties at Linden Academy.
The menu features crepes but also has entrees, salads, pastries, coffee etc. Prices are amazingly reasonable. The food is to die for. Located in the sprouting East Liberty/East Side area, the design and decor is right out of Paris. As you walk in you are greeted by a long case filled with delectables. Behind the case is an open kitchen gleaming with shiny stainless. The chef, Ceasir, is from the Brittany province of France. He is friendly, greeting customers to make sure they are happy with their meals and bellowing "Merci" to every compliment.
The service is great. Fred and/or Lori greet guests as they arrive. They are warm, outgoing, genuine people. Bussing are their two oldest children. The rest of the wait staff is very professional and experienced. Many worked at the recently closed Au Provence in Squirrel Hill. Our waiter was American, but spoke fluent French with a perfect accent and was extremely knowledgeable. In addition to the head chef, Paris 66 also has a French pastry chef.
We each had a savory crepe: the La Montmarte, made with organic buckwheat flour, chicken, mushrooms and bechamel, and the La Paris 66 with ham, swiss cheese, egg, mushrooms and tomato Provencal. Both were amazing. We split a chocolate mousse for dessert; this almost resulted in a brawl over the last morsel. It was fantastic, perfect flavor and consistency.
The dinner menu is very impressive. I can't wait to try the Seafood Spring Roll or the Salmon filet a la Parisienne. The most expensive item on the menu, Duck Confit is only $22.50. Also they have a BYOB policy with a specialty State Store only steps away at the Eastside Shops.
With summer upon us there is a back deck which will be full furnished by the June 21st official grand opening. They open early, 8:30 and stay open most nights until 10. Fred and Lori welcome cyclists to give that true spirit of France. Lou's Crew will be stopping by soon for coffee and crepes following a ride. With great food, atmosphere and prices Paris 66 is sure to be the hot Pittsburgh restaurant for 2009.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
The Pirates are at it again. For some stupid reason I'm a life long Pirate fan. I was buying in again this year and again they pulled the football out just as I was running into it.
Last year at this time they had the best outfield in baseball: Xavier Nady, Jason Bay and Nate McClouth. In less than a year they are all gone, replaced by 11 prospects. Of those 11 prospects we have one starting third baseman who shows some promise, two starting pitchers, one who looks decent and one who looks very average, a fourth outfielder who doesn't look too good, two double A outfielders who look promising and a cougar baby snatching wife, three minor league pitchers who may or may not ever be on the Pirates and two pitchers with long term injuries. I think I would rather be entertained with the best outfield in baseball and at least root for possible mediocraty.
The Pirates haven't been too bad this year considering Ryan Doumit has been out most of the year. Starting pitching and defense have been very good. Offense and particularly power have been bad. So of course we trade our best power hitter. McClouth is a guy I really enjoyed watching. He is small but always gave great effort. He has a perfect swing for PNC Park and generates a lot of pull power. He goes all out in the outfield and makes some awesome defensive plays. The truth though, is that but for two great months last year he is a lifetime .250 hitter. He makes spectacular plays, but experts who analyze these types of things statistically say he is actually a below average center fielder. Replacing him will be the organization's best prospect Andrew McCutcheon. He has performed well throughout the minors, but has yet to generate power.
As our President would remind us: "Hope." Hey, he is a Cubs and White Sox fan. Maybe some of these prospects will shine so we can trade them for prospects as soon as we as fans buy into the players. Don't worry, I will still be running full steam at the football just so the Nuttings can pull another Lucy on me.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
You give a man really good comfort food and he will treat you right. On Monday President Obama was served Pittsburgh's finest pancakes. On Thursday the favor is returned as it is announced that the G20 will take place in Pittsburgh in September. At first I thought a G20 was a used Infinity sedan.
"Since 1999, the G-20 has contributed to strengthen the international financial architecture and to foster sustainable economic growth and development. The G-20 now has a crucial role in driving forward work between advanced and emerging economies to tackle the international financial and economic crisis, restore worldwide financial stability, lead the international economic recovery and secure a sustainable future for all countries."
Apparently President Obama understands when it comes to tackling there is no better place than Pittsburgh. It was just one week before this announcement that the Steelers visited him at the White House. He seemed thrilled by being in the midst of multiple generations of Pittsburgh's greatest tacklers, Joe Greene and Troy Polomola. I didn't even matter that last season's best tackler, James Harrison, stayed behind.
On the international side of things, also in attendance last Thursday was the newest US ambassador to Ireland, Pittsburgh icon Dan Rooney. When is the last time, if ever, that a President lavished so much attention on Pittsburgh. The President also was apparently impressed by our green initiative and leadership in renewable resources. Remember during the campaign he stopped to visit a company that made solar technology products and talked about Fossil Free, a bio-desiel conversion company in Braddock. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the first and largest certified “green” convention center “green” in the world and is the only meeting venue to be awarded the Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The President's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "Pittsburgh was chosen as the site because, "it's an area that has seen its share of economic woes in the past, but because of foresight and investment is now renewed, giving birth to renewed industries that are creating the jobs of the future,..And I think the president believes it'd be a good place to highlight some of that stuff."
President Obama has treated Pittsburgh right. Pittsburghers treated him right last year during the election and he did not forget. This conference could do wonders for the city. The exposure could lead to great postive attention and potential jobs. Those pancakes are damn good.
Monday, May 25, 2009
James Harrison has had a tough week. First the media pit bulls tried to take a bite out of him for refusing to go to the White House. Then his pit bull took a bite out of his son. The President also took a bite out of a Pittsburgh institution this morning, by starting the morning with a plate full of Pamela's pancakes.
Various stories came out about James Harrison not going the White House. One rumor had it that he is afraid to fly. A Post-Gazette columnist wrote that he should have driven. Really isn't it Mr. Harrison's decision whether he wants to go the White House or not? He earned the invitation by being an instrumental part of a Super Bowl Championship team. Although no one wrote about it in the paper, Harrison's teammate Aaron Smith also did not making the trip. No explanations were provided either by fact or rumor.
Mr. Harrison is not a celebrity because of his political or philanthropic involvement. He is famous because he is an amazing football player. He is respected because on the football field he is aggressive, never gives up, over came long odds and excels. He is a great sports story and an athletic role model. He should not be held up as a role model for other reasons. It's not fair to him. Other Steelers have taken to being role models, such as Hines Ward, Charlie Batch and Troy Polamalu. These players have taken their fame and stood for causes or issues outside of the playing field. They can and should be looked at as role models. The Steeler visit seemed like it went very well, with the players and the President using the time for a good cause, making care packages for the military. What more would have been accomplished if Harrison was there? Would Pittsburgh have been any more or less proud? At least we didn't have the embarrassment of what happened with Joey Porter the last time the Steelers visited the White House.
I wish Mr. Harrison's son a speedy recovery from the Pit bull attack. I am a big dog person, but I really don't understand the popularity of pit bulls. You would especially think that football players would stay away from them after the Michael Vick incident. You are always hearing about pit bull attacks. Do you ever hear about Golden Retriever or Havanese attacks? Golden Retrievers do steal food, slobber and shed on people and Havanese have been know to pee on your feet when they are excited, but you really don't hear about them attacking people. Of all the breeds and mixed breeds that you can chose, why the pit bull?
As far as the pancakes, this a great thing. First of all, Pamela's makes awesome pancakes. The owners have worked hard for years to develop a good business. I remember when it was Papa Joe's on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill. Pamela and her partner improved on the original formula and created a mini-empire that has evolved to six restaurants, all of which have long lines on weekend mornings. President Obama recognized the greatness of these pancakes. He also remembered his populist promises of making the White House more accessible to the public. Little things, like bringing two self-made business owners into the White House kitchen or having football players and the President role up there sleeves to provide service to soldiers, sends a good message.
For the record Pamela's isn't the only place that serves great pancakes in the area. Try the Kaufman House in Zelienople, the GI Day Room in Meyersdale and the crepes at the soon to open Paris 66 in the neighborhood formerly known as East Liberty.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
My son turns eighteen this week. This is a big day all around. As he reminds me, he will be an adult and set his own rules. As I reminded him emancipation is a two way street. If I don't like his new rules I don't have to pay to support them. As a true Pittsburgh Guy I love sports. I love sports more than politics, yet I don't blog that much about our local teams.
My son's eighteenth birthday got me thinking about our local sports teams. As we were in the hospital awaiting his delivery the Penguins were just celebrating their first Stanley Cup victory. Shortly after my son celebrated his first New Year's, the Steelers hired Bill Cowher. That Fall the Pirates had their one and only winning season of my son's lifetime.
During the next 17 years the Steelers had some ups and downs, but mostly ups. When they had their downs, they made the most of it and selected well in the draft and took advantage of easier
schedules due to their weak record the previous season. As a result they have played in three Super Bowls and won two.
The Penguins also had their ups and downs. They won another Stanley Cup, lived through the retirements and comebacks of Mario Lemieux, bankruptcy, terrible seasons, Sid the Kid, Malkin and the Flower and now hopefully back to back Stanley Cup Final appearances and a third Championship.
The Pirates on the other hand have had their downs, starting with a candy ass throw from a pre-steroid Barry Bonds that slowly made its way to home plate behind the sloth-like Sid Bream. Then we had more downs: free agent defections, bad general managers, blood sucking owners, a series of lame armed first round draft choices and 17 years of losing. This weekend we watched the Pirates struggle to score any runs. They have had surprisingly good starting pitching, but not enough talent on offense to win. This has been the story for my son's life time: when the pitching is good there is no offense, when the offense is good the pitching is terrible, when the pitching and offense seem decent the fielding is bad. Then, for the majority of the time, the pitching, hitting and fielding are all bad.
So how over the last 18 years have the Steelers and Penguins flourished, but the Pirates floundered? Bad lack and lousy management on the part of the Pirates are part of it, but probably the bigger answer is in the management of the sports over all. Baseball has refused to have a salary cap. Football and hockey have salary caps. The Pirates financially have not been able to compete. As a result they have a lack of talent and depth. Every injury is devastating. The Pirates lost Jack Wilson, an average starting major league shortstop, for a few weeks. In his place they brought up Brian Bixler, who struck out 3 of every 4 at bats and botched routine plays. They lost their starting catcher, Ryan Doumit, a good hitter who has never had a full season of at bats but is the team's clean up hitter, and their offense goes dormant. Other teams can weather these set backs because they either have the depth in the organization or the ability to spend money and trade surplus for replacements.
Other teams, such as the Tampa Bay Rays, the Twins and the Marlins have been able to have some success without great financial resources. The Pirates have not, because they have had a lack of stability in management and long living plan other than losing. In the same years that the Pirates went through a series of long forgotten managers and general managers, the Penguins have had two general managers and the Steelers have had two coaches. It should also be noted that the Pens have had Mario for stability this entire time and the Steelers have had the Rooneys. The Pirates have had dabbling out of town owners. Perhaps some good luck from the Penguins will rub off on the Pirates. After all one of the Pirates most entertaining players, Nyjer Morgan is a former hockey player, and Evgeni Malkin was recently spotted taking in a Pirate home game. He wasn't even sleeping, although I doubt he knew what was going on at the city's nicest outdoor bar.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
As more people are riding, we have people at different levels with different goals. Generally the Sunday ride is the true Lou's Crew ride. The ride length and difficulty will be dictated by who shows up. The ride will always be a No Rider Left Behind (NRLB) ride.
People who are looking for a more challenging ride have started to ride on Saturday. Saturday rides tend to be faster, longer and more challenging (FLC). We also do some rides after work and particularly on Friday afternoons/early evenings. On occasion some of us suffering from DSB (deadly sperm build-up) will engage in a hammerhead, leave it all on the road ride. We will try to label rides with these initials and the approximate mileage we will try to complete. Remember the overall goal is to get everyone ready to do back to back 75 mile rides in time for the July State College ride. The other goal is for everyone to have fun and enjoy cycling. By taking note of the type of ride that is planned you will have your best chance of enjoying the ride and getting better.
Friday, May 22, 2009
What are the lessons learned from Tuesday's primary:
1. Money + endorsement = victory
2. There is the East End and the rest of the city
3. Post Gazette endorsements don't mean a lot to the voters
4. Bar Association Ratings don't mean a lot to voters
Luke had lot's of money and the Party machine working for him and he rolled to an easy victory. Dowd got good press, the Post-Gazette endorsement and it didn't matter. Robinson also got a lot of good publicity but combined, Dowd and Robinson couldn't come close to Luke.
In the Judicial race one candidate had the grand slam: Bar Association highest recommendation, the Democratic endorsement, Post-Gazette endorsement and money/tv ads. That was Joe Williams who led the Democratic ticket. Don Walko was second. He had the Party endorsement and a lot of name recognition from his time in state politics. He did not get a good recommendation from the bar association as he has limited experience practicing law. He also didn't seem to spend nearly as much as other candidates on ads. Susan Evashavik Dilucente had the Party endorsement, a good but not excellent recommendation from the bar, the Post-Gazette endorsement and she spent a lot of money on ads. She came in just a hair behind Walko.
The fourth slot was the only one that went to an unendorsed candidate, Phil Ignelzi. He was highly recommended by the bar, endorsed by both papers and spent the most money. That money bought him a lot of votes. Two other candidates who were unendorsed were highly recommended by the Bar and endorsed by the paper, Alex Bicket and Hugh McGough. Ignelzi outpaced Bicket by 11,000 votes and McGough by 20,000. Bicket had ads on TV, but did not spend nearly as much as Ignelzi. McGough focused on a grass roots campaign and did not spend money on TV advertising.
The fifth slot went to Klein who was endorsed by the party, but did not garner a Highly Recommended rating and did not get the Post-Gazette endorsement. He was only about 1000 votes behind Ignelzi and 10,000 votes ahead of the 6th place finisher, Bicket. Bicket did get the Republican nomination so we will see if the endorsement from the paper and a Highly Recommended rating along with TV ads and a high profile spokesperson: Rocky Bleier can be enough to win in the Fall. It makes sense that he could pick up the McGough voters as he will not be running in the fall. If so he would have enough support to win one of the five seats. On the other hand, it stands to reason that Klein may get some of the Marmo votes, as Marmo was the only endorsed candidate to lose. Marmo finished in seventh place, about 2000 votes behind Bicket.
Although I have not studied the East End numbers, my sense is that Dowd beat Ravenstahl in 14 and 7. McGough also had very strong support in this part of the city. The 14th Ward is the most populated and generally has the best voter turnout, but this election is a reminder that popularity in this monied area of the city alone is not enough to win, or even come close, in a city or county wide election. Voters in these areas have a totally different philosophy than other sections of the city. Perhaps we are seeing a small shift with the more progressive City Council candidates winning in the Hill and the South Hills, but this didn't make a dent in the mayoral race.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Today was Pedal Pittsburgh. Based on what I experienced in Mt. Washington the picture is of a guy removing signs just to play a dirty trick on those riders who chose to climb up Josephine and 18th and then do a series of about ten very steep rollers. After a while all signs that we were on an organized ride disappeared. Ultimately signs reappeared near the intersection of Grandview and McCardle. These signs lead us to the near death experience of descending Sycamore Street. Every year I think about how stupid it is to end this ride by going down one of Pittsburgh's steepest and windiest streets. Of course every year I do it again. I am really a Pittsburgh lemming. This year we had an added treat. In a very steep section there is a hairpin turn covered with gravel. We made it to the bottom without incident, but probably without any brake pads left either. As an added treat after we got to Carson Street they turned us onto a street by Terminal Way that is steep down hill, Belgian block cobblestone and empties into a fairly busy street: a trifecta of risky business for cyclists.
One other thing that we clearly realized from this ride is that Luke is clearly not getting it done as far as repaving streets. We traveled 60 miles of city roads and for the most part they were horrible. Burma has better roads. Bikes and bodies were abused from riding over through and into crumbling and rutted pavement.
At least one politician cares. At the finish area at the Southside Works it was nice to see Alex Bicket, who is running for Common Pleas Judge. He was the only one who apparently realized that cyclists do have the right to vote. Alex is a good guy and a very good lawyer. The Bar Association has rated him Highly Recommended. Seeing Alex made me think about the article in today's Post-Gazette: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09137/970776-181.stm. Alex wasn't mentioned, but the topic was the outrageous amount of money that candidates for Common Pleas Court are spending. The critical factor should be who is best qualified, not who raises the most money. It is a sad state that both the winners and losers will go deeply in debt to finance the campaigns. Does anyone even like watching the TV ads for Judges? If I have to watch that one with the mug shots one more time I will break my TV. Campaign spending for Judges is out of control. Has anyone noticed what has been going on with the local judiciary? We had one Judge thrown out for allegedly soliciting bribes. Another Judge quit because he needed to make more money, so he became a private mediator. A third judge recently resigned amid controversy relating to a real estate dealing and financial ruination.
I like biking better than running, and certainly better than running for Judge. If only we could get our roads repaved.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I've heard Councilman Dowd speak several times and I can now never look at him the same way. He has a classic campaign poster with a very serious looking picture of him: a clean cut man, clean shaven with a jutting jaw looking for a political fight. I've heard his speech several times in which he mentioned that he used to have very long hair. Now every time I look at him instead of seeing the Gary Hart-like clean cut dark suited candidate, I visualize someone rushing for the stage at a festival seating Dead show.
At first I didn't know what to make out of Dowd. After several conversations with him I have come to these conclusions:
* He loves talking to people
* He is comfortable speaking to a group
* He is confident and not afraid of a fight
* Chameleon-like, he adapts to the audience
* He genuinely believes what is going on in the Mayor's office is just plain wrong
* He is very bright
These are enough attributes to make him the best choice for mayor. Unfortunately he doesn't have much of a chance. At the recent Dowd gathering I spoke with some of his supporters. One woman who was practically fawning over Dowd mentioned that she was a strong supporter of Hillary. I mentioned to her that Hillary is the reason that Dowd has little chance of prevailing next week. The reason is money. Dowd doesn't have much and Ravenstahl has a lot. He has a lot because Hillary and Bill cut a deal with him. Ravenstahl agreed to give Clinton his support in return for Bill agreeing to do a fundraiser for Luke. Bill honored the deal and the Ravenstahl campaign was $1 million dollars richer. Dowd just can't compete with that type of advertising budget. Luke is all over the TV and Dowd can't get on the air.
There was discussion about the picture in the PG of Dowd in front of the Pat Ford Memorial Electronic Billboard. Dowd said the picture down right frightened his children. I think it summed up his feelings about one of the stronger examples of pay to play and Luke getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Dowd was disgusted. It was grandstanding a bit, but it was also genuine. He really worked himself into a frenzy and it appeared that his face was going to fall off.
Luke and his people are using some rather intimidating tactics. I have spoken to several local business people. They will not show up to any political fund raisers for anyone other than Luke. Luke's people check up on everyone. If you want the help of Grant Street and you show up to a political event that the administration doesn't like, they know it and let you know that they aren't happy. We have a 28 year old mayor who is about to be re-elected, and is developing an old fashioned Chicago style machine. We would be better off with Chicago style deep dish pizza. Although artery clogging I think it would be better for our health, at least if you believe in democracy. Luke's machine could begin to roll like a freight train. He could be mayor for another 40 years. It is starting to look like an era of intimidating politics in Pittsburgh.
I admire Carmen Robinson and Dowd for understanding that the democratic political system is important. Those in power must be challenged so that we have a check and balance. Although, perhaps, neither has provided a clear plan of how they are going to save the city, they have opened the public's eyes to things that don't look right. They are both intelligent, articulate and strong voices who seem more credible than Luke. It probably isn't going to make a difference on Tuesday, but I do think if Luke continues to take a "Luke first" approach people are going to remember the voices of Dowd and Robinson four years from now. They have both earned my respect and appreciation for making a challenge and I expect to reward one of them with my vote on Tuesday. I have not heard enough from Robinson. I think she is short on experience, so I think that I will be going with Dowd. Even if he loses, I think he and Robinson have at least caused Ravenstahl to think about his actions. He is going to be held accountable. The more votes that go to Dowd and/or Robinson the louder that message will be.
Unfortunately it doesn't seem that this election is exciting many people. After the historic, impassioned election in November I think that local voters are having a Presidential hangover and are sleepwalking through these primaries. I expect voter turnout to be very low. Normally you would think that could provide a perfect storm for an underdog, but certainly Bill and Hillary's $1,000,000.00 will be spent making sure Luke's people know the difference between his posters at the polls and his picture on the garbage cans. A million dollars pays for a lot of election day campaign workers who will call voters and drivers who will make sure they get to the polls.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
There are several fine candidates for Common Pleas Judge. As a trial attorney I have definite thoughts about what it takes to be a successful trial judge.
1. A Judge must be fair
2. A Judge must be an experienced trial attorney to understand how to make rulings and how to control the courtroom
3. A Judge must be intelligent in order to analyze the issues of law presented in the cases
4. A Judge must have respect for the system: this means respect for parties, jurors, witnesses and lawyers
5. A Judge must be humble enough to realize that the case is about the litigants and justice, not him or her
6. A Judge must be compassionate
I have had the good fortunate of meeting and working with most of the candidates and would like to provide insight. The following is a list in order of the candidates who truly would be outstanding Judges:
Hugh McGough - I have actually known McGough for almost 40 years. He is one of the most open-minded and fair people I know. He is extremely intelligent. After college he became a journalist. So before even going to law school he was trained to analyze, write and get to the bottom of a story; all important qualities for a judge. After a first career producing the Bill and Patti Burns Noon News, he went to law school. Perhaps this was his destiny as his father and brother were top local attorneys. After graduating from law school he first clerked for a judge and then was an associate working for one of Pittsburgh's best civil trial lawyers, Russ Ober. From there he worked as a City Solicitor primarily overseeing labor issues. He has also never shied away from controversial legal fights in order to protect the interests of those who needed help the most.
Hugh McGough has been rated Highly Recommended by the Bar Association. Getting this rating is very difficult. The Allegheny County Bar Association will not give this rating unless they are convinced that the lawyers seeking the endorsement are the cream of the crop. Local lawyers want to make sure that the Bench is as strong as possible. McGough has all of the qualities listed above. He is perfectly suited to be a judge.
Joe Williams I have never had a case with or before Joe Williams, but I have gotten to know him over the last few years. He is a student of the law and has a passion for it. He cares about people and seems to be a fair minded person. He is very bright and successfully built his own practice in Pittsburgh's Northside. He has compassion for people who come before him and respect for the process. Currently he is serving as a Criminal Court Judge having been appointed to fill a term with the understanding that he now has to run. It is obvious that he has a good feel for what he is doing. The Criminal system, when possible should rehabilitate as well as punish. He knows when some one can use help and a second chance, while others need punishment. Williams has also been Highly Recommended by the Bar Association
Phil Ignelzi I have had cases with Ignelzi and he is an excellent attorney. He has a unique background because he has handled Criminal cases as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and he has extensive Civil Court experience. Of the candidates, he is the only one who has been inducted as a Fellow in the Allegheny County Academy of Trial Lawyers. Admission into the Academy is by invitation only after an extensive review and election process. All applicants must be nominated by a current Academy member. The entire Academy membership is confidentially surveyed regarding the qualifications of each applicant. The results of the survey, together with information gained through the application, letters of recommendation, personal interviews and the candidate’s trial experience, are carefully reviewed and considered by the Committee as part of its confidential process of selecting for membership those civil trial lawyers who have exhibited excellence and the highest levels of ethical standards and professionalism. Total membership is limited to 250 voting members who are practicing trial attorneys. Membership is evenly split between those who primarily do defense work and those who primarily represent the plaintiffs. It is one of the highest honors a local civil trial attorney can receive. He has also been rated Highly Recommended by the Bar Association.
Alex Bicket I have had a number of cases with Bicket and his firm. He is a very able civil practitioner. He has a good temperament and understanding for the law. His background is unusual. Bicket was born and raised in South Africa. He left for graduate school and moved to the United States, in part because of the apartheid policies in his native land. Like McGough, he had a first career that would benefit a judge. He was a high school teacher in the Fox Chapel School District. Part of a judge's job is to explain things to jurors and litigants. Bicket was also rated Highly Qualified by the Bar Association.
There are other good candidates, but none reach the level of these four. None of the rest have been rated Highly Qualified. One must look at judicial elections differently than most political races. One's political background really should not be an issue in these races. Judges need to be impartial and should not favor anyone because of political affiliation.
A few guides in analyzing the background of the candidates:
1. You cannot be an effective Judge if you do not have experience trying cases and particularly jury trials. Would you want a surgeon who went to medical school but never performed a surgery before?
2. There is a big difference between a District Justice/Magistrate and a Common Pleas Judge. A District Justice does not even need to be an attorney. This would be like moving from air hockey to the NHL.
3. A Judge does not pick which court he sits in. The new Judge could be assigned to Orphan's (probate), Criminal, Family, Juvenile or Civil Division. Therefore it is important for the judge to have the ability to adapt to any assignment.
It is very important to make a thoughtful decision about judicial candidates. This is how we protect our judicial system. When you go in the voter's booth think about the fact that you or your loved ones may be impacted by the decisions that will be made by these five new judges. This is your chance to assure that your fate will be decided by someone highly qualified.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Fascinating article in The City Paper on the District One School Board Candidates. Before reading this article the race appeared to be a rare case in which the public had an option between excellent candidates. Although previously I had experienced the very negative tactics of some Shealey supporters (see earlier post on 14th Ward Independent Doters Club), but believed Shealey to be a bright, open minded and competent candidate. I do feel that Stone is a better candidate based upon her long history of service to the community in support of issues affecting women and children, as well as dedicated service to worthy candidates such as Barack Obama.
Shealey is bright and has been involved in her childrens' school, but she has not been back in Pittsburgh for that long a time and has not been involved in politics. I really know little about the third candidate, Brooks, who declined to be interviewed for the City Paper article and did not appear to speak to the voting Democratic Committee Members in the 14th Ward. The City Paper article certainly makes me question Shealey.
The article started with a quote from out going District 1 Board member Randall Taylor
"You don't have a school board: You just have some people who are rubber-stamping," he says. "I can waste my time in better ways."
Taylor has been a controversial and disruptive figure on the school board. Generally the community sees it as a positive move that we will be getting a new Board member. Later in the article we learn that Shealey is being backed by Taylor. Further we know she is being backed by other individuals associated with the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club, who have acted in a threatening manner to "ruin" Stone and have said that she should not run because of the color of her skin.
To her credit, Shealey did not totally adopt this rigid-thinking position and was quoted as saying " a white candidate like Stone could represent the district." On the other hand she dropped this bomb:
"Pittsburgh tends to be a racist city"
Exactly who is she referring to? A city is made up of it's residents. Is she talking about the voters in her district, which is quite diverse: Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, North Point Breeze, Point Breeze and Larimer? Is she talking about her supporters who, unlike her, have said Stone should not run because of her race and that race should be the determinative factor in the election? Is she talking about the voters in the predominately white pockets of the District? Is she making a generalization about the all of the city residents? The comment certainly is offensive to any city residents who do not view themselves as racists.
The next quote attributed to Shealey, in response to Stone saying she has lost confidence in the system, is also surprising:
"I don't want my manager having mistrust in the system."
Compare this statement to the quote from her ardent supporter Taylor, which suggests that he had some "mistrust" of the system. Taylor is right. Board members protect the voters and taxpayers by being watchdogs over the system. If they don't have some degree of mistrust then how can they do their jobs of overseeing the school system.
The article points out that on her face, Stone seems to be an unusual candidate. She is white and it is stated in the article that her children do not go to public school. In reality, her daughter attends a private school but also attends a public school program, which gives Stone a unique prospective. She explains:
"You may have to break the rules: ... what your skin color should be, where your kids go to school -- all that kind of stuff....I am among the families that have lost confidence in the public schools. ... We need to get that confidence back."
Who better than someone who has views from both outside and inside the system. The article also gives a slightly erroneous report of her failure to get the 14th Ward Club endorsement. Quoting Club President Chris Zurawsky:
Club President Chris Zurawsky says Stone "didn't try very hard for the endorsement."
Talk about an understatement! The Club sent a letter to candidates asking if they wished to be considered for the Club endorsement. Stone specifically indicated that she was not seeking the endorsement and asked not to have her name placed on the ballot. She was told her name would be placed on the ballot whether she was seeking the endorsement or not.
Most importantly both Shealey and Stone believe closing the racial achievement gap is a priority, and both understand the importance of fiscal responsibility. Brooks declined to be interviewed for the article. They seem to be close on the issues. Stone has a longer track record in the community. Shealey has children who are students in the district. Stone's children are enrolled in a private school but attend a public school program. Stone wants to break barriers and has an out of the box view point. Shealey thinks Pittsburgh is racist, but she doesn't think we should have a lack of trust in the current system. Stone is the more progressive candidate, who is trying to represent the interests of this diverse district.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Every so often I talk to my dad's cousin, Harold Wintner. He is a remarkable person. At 89 he is sharp as a whip. He just retired as a successful CPA about 2 years ago. I really enjoy talking to him because he always has great stories, insights and humor. My dad was very close to him, so it gives me insights into my dad who passed away a few years ago.
Harold called me at work about a week ago. He wanted to make sure he had my correct address. We chatted and he said "You will get a package from me soon." A day or two later we received a book. For the last year, between the ages of 88 and 89 Harold wrote a book. It is a series of stories about his life. What a rich amazing life he has had. The book is well written and fun to read. It spans short stories from his childhood, high school, college, the army during WWII, his marriage and family, professional career, philanthropic efforts and friendships. It gave me tremendous insight into Harold and really made me understand why I so enjoy his company. So far he has had such a rich, fulfilling life and has touched so many others. In a way the book reminds me of the classic movie "It's A Wonderful Life" with Western Pennsylvania icon, Jimmy Stewart.
The book also provides tremendous insight into what America and Western Pennsylvania was like in an earlier generation. The World War II experience prepared young men to achieve when they returned. I always found it strange when people from my father's generation would look back at the war experience with nostalgia compared to how our generation looks at Viet Nam or Iraq.
The book, centered around McKeesport and Duquesne, also provides us with an idea of what the Mon Valley towns were like in their heyday. It's so different than what we see today. McKeesport was a thriving, self-sufficient city.
I am so appreciative that Harold has spent the last year chronicling the previous 88 years. The book is most worthwhile simply because Harold has passed his life and experiences down to his family, but even for those not related he has provided rich snapshots of Western Pennsylvania in an earlier time. I am certainly much better for have reading it.
If you are interested I'm not sure if the book is available for general sale through bookstores or Amazon. It is professionally edited and published, but I have a sense that Harold self-published and provided copies as gifts for the fortunate few. If you are interest in having a copy, please post a comment and I will provide information about availability.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
This is the best campaign mailing I've ever seen. It was sent out in Support of Christine Stone, a candidate for City of Pittsburgh School Board Director in District 1. Christine and her family worked very hard on the Obama campaign. They were so involved that they were invited to meet President Obama the day of the rally shortly before the Presidential election. President Obama spent considerable time with Christine's two daughters. Perhaps they reminded him of his own daughters. Lily is seen here handing President Obama a handmade campaign sign that she made for him. He really liked it. Now Lily wanted to make a campaign postcard for her mom. So she took her picture with Senator Casey and President Obama and wrote a note about her mom. Lily is a very smart young girl. Her mom happens to be the best candidate for the job.
. Christine is uniquely qualified to be the District 1 school board director. For nearly a decade, she has been an outspoken advocate for women, children and families. And as an accountant, she brings fiscal knowledge with an eye towards government accountability.
After her public school education, Christine worked full-time as a legal assistant to put herself through college. She graduated from
Christine currently serves as the State Public Affairs Chair of Pennsylvania for the National Council of Jewish Women. For nearly a decade, she has spoken out on behalf of women, children and families. Most recently, she has been part of a nationwide task force to conceptualize a new advocacy program that addresses economic justice to combat domestic violence. From working to expand S-CHIP for children and mothers to working for minority access to health care, and to moving fair pay for women into law, Christine has been passionate about her volunteer efforts. In 2008, Christine received the “Emerging Leader Award”. Christine will use her public policy background to be an advocate for the students and parents of District 1.
The most direct impact a school board member can have for us is in regard to fiscal responsibility. Christine’s background as an accountant, property owner, parent and long time city resident make her uniquely qualified. She has dedicated herself for many years to better our community through volunteerism to further the interests of women and children and support worthy candidates. To learn more visit her website: www.voteforchristine.com.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The pastries look like they could be in the finest shop in Paris, although the special Penguin pastries may be targeted for the local patrons. The wonderful smells and flavors draw me inside on every Saturday ride. Elliot, who is much more disciplined than me, tolerates my sweet tooth and normally patiently , waits outside while I buy my pastry and gorge myself.
On this day we turned the tables a bit. The ride first took us on the challenging rolling hills of Fox Chapel, through a nice stretch of Old Mill Road to Campbell's Lake and then to Dorseyville Road. The ride then went on Church Lane past farms and up a steep climb until we reached Middle Road, taking us past Hartwood Acres. After one more decent climb we were in Millvale. We stopped at the bakery. As usual Elliot waited outside, but we had a surprise. We brought birthday candles and ordered a large piece of the richest raspberry mouse cake known to man, lit the candles, and presented it to Elliot with a serenade of Happy Birthday. As soon as the cake was fully consumed we gave Elliot the rest of his present: a climb up the very tough Hoffman Road. Elliot, to his credit and my surprise, made the climb without puking. We finished the ride with an exhilarating descent down Spring Garden and then through town and the Jail Trail.
Sunday's Lou Crew ride was a different type of ride. We had a large turn out with several new riders. We did a fairly level city loop, through Hazelwood, across the river, along Carson to the West End Bridge. We continued past the ball parks, across the Mon and stopped for coffee at La Prima.
This year we have been trying to incorporate a latte stop in each ride. An a beautiful Sunday morning a stop in the Strip seemed appropriate. Just as the bakery in Millvale seemed to transform into France, la Prima is a bit of Italy in the Strip. Some how their drinks always seem perfect. It is a treat to drink a latte out of a glass mug instead of paper.
After the break, the ride continued through Lawrenceville, up past the zoo (which was the only real climb of this ride) and Highland Park, and back through East Liberty, Shadyside and ending at our weekly starting spot, Coffee Tree in Squirrel Hill. We all sat at the outside tables and enjoyed a final drink. While sitting there we admired the new front of the store, which is almost complete. The main feature is a series of windows that open like bi-fold doors. I commented that it would be a nice day to use them. Fortunately, the contractor was riding with us. He agreed and for the first time the Squirrel Hill Coffee Tree was opened up to the outside. We all admired Will's handiwork and thanked him for giving us back our sidewalk cafe.