Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Mayoral Debate on Neighborhood Development (Part I)

Here's Part I of the more substantial review of yesterday's Mayoral Debate on Neighborhood Development sponsored by the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) and the Community Technical Assistance Center (CTAC). The recap in the Post-Gazette missed a few of the subtle nuances, including Bill Peduto's use of the phrase "circumcised microphone" and Louis "Hop" Kendrick's promise of a 30% white cabinet.

PCRG invited a slew of people to this forum. Most of the ones that I recognized were from the established CDCs funded through PCRG. Few of the class "B" community organizations were represented, it seems. I did catch a glimpse of a couple of people from the current administration as well as a few people from the URA, who twitched nervously as the first question was read:

Question 1: Regarding the Proposed Merger of the URA with the County Department of Economic Development.

Kendrick: “Hop” supports merging the City & the County, generally, but not in support of merging the URA and the CDED. He seemed to support the common management of both departments, as was previously done under Mulu Birru. A “Hop” administration would institute a city-wide committee on development priorities.

Ludwig: Les was not in support of merging the URA and the CDED, but supported common purchasing between the City and the County. He proposed bulk buying of products by the CDCs from Home Depot.

Lamb: Mike touted his credentials on consolidation and pushed for more regional land use planning coordination, but was not in support of merging the URA and CDED. Expressed concern that merging would mediocritize the URA expertise. He favored selling URA "expertise" to the County and encouraged more interaction between the two organizations.

Peduto:Bill opened with his zinger from Michael Madison's Pittsblog about the URA being at the forefront of Economic Development... in 1946. [Even included the dramatic pause.] He supported a "change of model" away from Grant Street and to Main Street and pushed for smart growth policies and cluster development. Peduto did not indicate support of merging URA and CDED, but instead supported merging URA and City Planning.

Repovz:For some reason, Dan supported Local "Flavor" of the City and supported ending the URA, not merging, in favor of Regionalized Planning.

O'Connor:Not in support of merger. Bob wants to refocus mission to the redevelopment of the neighborhoods and reforging partnerships between the URA and the CDCs.

Analysis: The PG made a big deal about how no candidate supported merging the URA and the CDED. This glosses over, however, some key distinctions between the candidates. There was a general sense that the URA needed to refocus its mission back in the neighborhoods, but no common consensus as to how this would be accomplished, or what that actually meant. Repovz and Ludwig seemed particularly bland and uninformed as to what constitutes "development"; I'm not sure if Ludwig thought that CDCs actually go out and physically build structures with their own hands, or not. It certainly seemed to be the former, which is an incorrect assumption. O'Connor and Lamb were the only two to speak somewhat kindly of the URA, talking about previous neighborhood developments and the expertise of the organization, respectively. Kendrick did not seem to have a coherent argument, probably because he forgot his notes, and he rambled extensively about his city-wide committee to select projects. Peduto probably would have done better if he had forgotten his notes, at least he'd have an excuse for his vague nebulous concepts. I'm not sure what the legal implications or rational justifications of the merger of URA and City Planning are; I would have thought that you would want to keep the redevelopment functions of the URA separate from the administrative functions of City Planning.

In terms of actionable plans, O'Connor and Lamb both were the most reasonable, promoting incremental reform rather than radical overhaul. All the candidates were definitely trying to set themselves apart from the current administration's policies, which, according to the debate, seem to be limited to "major projects," "Downtown," or "South Side," take your pick. It was difficult, however, to determine whether or not the candidates were familiar with what the current administration's policies actually were, or what the URA and the CDED do, and how they are different.

In all, the first question went to Lamb and O'Connor, who both seemed to more clearly understand the role of the URA, its interaction with Neighborhood Groups, and the consequences of an actual merger. This makes sense as O'Connor seems to have support from Developers and Contractors and Lamb seems to have support from some URA-friendly community organizations; both of these groups have evidently coached these candidates on the need to keep the URA separate. The other candidates are evidently outsiders and know little about Economic Development in the City or the County, or are being supported by people that perceive themselves to be outsiders from the existing neighborhood power structures. Specifically, my instincts tell me that Peduto is being supported by some disaffected CDCs, who were spurned by the current Administration, and are looking to move their pet projects into the forefront. More on that below.

Kendrick: (-)
Ludwig: (-)
Lamb: (+)
Peduto: (-)
Repovz: (-)
O'Connor: (+)

Question 2: Regarding the Restoration of Funding to Community Organizations.

Ludwig: Supported using non-tax sources to fund projects that are currently using CDBG dollars, where they probably shouldn't. Supported selling advertising space on City property.

Lamb: Supported a more responsive government and promised quarterly Mayoral meetings with the CDCs. Promised to fight the CDBG cuts at the Federal level.

Peduto: Proposed reprioritizing mission and using other incentives (LERTA, KOZ, Main Street, ACCBO) to fund the operations gaps.

Repovz: Demanded that CDCs show positive returns on city investment. Proposed one-stop neighborhood "incubators" for development. Promised to lower the tax rate.

O'Connor: Promised to be an advocate for the City at the national level. Supported using existing programs for filling gaps, but also promised to help find matching money from the private sector.

Kendrick: Redirected the question to increasing minority participation in city projects so that the economic value of the communities could be increased.

Analysis: This is a big deal for the CDCs. Recently, they have been hit by two major cuts in operational funding, only one of those has been by the local government. CDCs are anxious to get some of that money back. Ludwig's proposal amounts to selling out the City to corporation advertising, although he later said that it would have to be art of high quality. While some Community Organizations may be unnecessary and need elimination, Repovz is delusional if he thinks that CDCs can run in the black without massive operational support from the City. Kendrick took an interesting turn on the funding question, almost as if he was trying to cover up his lack of knowledge on the subject, and clearly missed the point. The responses to these questions belied the relative inexperience of these minor candidates.

While the use of non-CDBG programs and policies makes sense to me, Peduto's response again backs up my suspicion that he's being backed by disaffected CDCs. Specifically his mention of Main Street and ACCBO funding, the control of which was a major point of contention between the current Administration and the CDCs, hints at knowledge of behind-the-scenes drama. I am personally concerned by the control of large chunks of federal/state money being controlled by CDCs, who are usually a group of self-selected individuals, with no real oversight by any public body. At least if the City (in any of its various incarnations) is controlling the money, it is ultimately responsible to Public Opinion. Peduto remains elusive on specifics of funding.

Lamb and O'Connor were on pretty much the same page, although O'Connor seemed to have the advantage on the advocacy end. Bob knows that his biggest strength is his interpersonal relationship skills. Lamb also told the CDCs what they wanted to hear: you get face time with the Mayor, not his Deputy. From a policy standpoint, I believe that these two items are the only real policies that any mayor is going to be able to enact anyway. Good job guys for setting the bar so low. Lamb's promise for a "more responsive government" is vague, and so is O'Connor's promise to "build bridges."

Second question, again, went to O'Connor and Lamb with Peduto performing better. The other candidates seem to be unfamiliar with the intricacies of City politics.

Kendrick: (-)
Ludwig: (-)
Lamb: (+)
Peduto: (0)
Repovz: (-)
O'Connor: (+)

That's Part I. Parts II & III coming soon.

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