Handcuffing O’Connor’s options

Yesterday was the URA board meeting that is the final board meeting for the current group of board members. Some people, such as Sala Udin, are rotating off the board, and some people, next month will be rotating onto the board as they are due to be appointed by the new Mayor and other entities. Nothing too unusual here, and as the Post Gazette reports, a few useful things were accomplished. The old Lazarus building was sold in what seems to be to be about the most fiscally responsible manner for the city and URA with no new expenditure of public funds, and a chance in hell of actually recouping all of the loans and previous subsidies. And yes, to Antirust’s probable chargrin, there will be nifty loft apartments there, but they look to be privately financed and developped, so good luck to them.

However that is not the interesting thing which occurred at the meeting. A little birdie told me that Sala Udin made two oral motions that were not on the agenda. The first was one a resolution supporting Oak Hill’s development as a mixed-used community instead of supporting the Pitt expansion into that area. The second motion was for support of the URA to any casino developper who develops at or very near the current Mellon Arena site with the proviso that the casino developer build a new arena.

Both of these votes are binding policy votes for the URA unless there is future board action. Both of these votes were last minute votes, although the Oak Hill residents were able to get to the meeting in time for a good write up in the Post Gazette. The casino vote is in direct opposition to the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force recommendation that they have no recommendation for tying slots funds to arena replacement.

The interesting thing to me is the actions of handcuffing future options for O’Connor that is being undertaken by Mayor Murphy’s crew. Sala Udin’s district is home to both the Oak Hills project and the arena, so direct incentive makes a lot of sense for the immediate cause of the motions, but I think there could be a little more than direct interest going on here.

I am going to grab three maps from the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat to start to make something that resembles a point.

The first map is the 2005 Democratic Mayoral Primary vote breakdown by precint. The first picture is that Bob O’Connor won big throughout most of the city, losing big chunks of the East End to Bill Peduto and chunks of the Southside and South Hills to Mike Lamb. But he won big:

Now this next map is Hop Kenrick’s vote shares:

And finally Bob O’Connor’s vote shares:

The Hill District is one of Bob’s main base areas, but he is not invulnerable there as illustrated by Hop Kendrick actually winning a precint there and doing pretty well in grabbing numerous second places in the region. I know that Oak Hill and the arena construction are big issues for the greater Hill district community, and that Sala’s motions are motions that are popular within the community as a whole.

If we work with the assumption that the Democratic machine in the city is still the dominant political force, but it is weaker today than it was ten years ago, and more especially thirty years ago, then this places O’Connor in a pretty pickle. If he chooses to support Pitt, he pisses off one of his major base areas that will still respond to the machine. If he chooses to support Oak Hill, he protects his base but could strengthen the Oakland support of Peduto who seems to be the one of the few major independent figures with a self-supporting power base on the Fifth Ave. corridor. Handcuffs of future options is what this resolution means unless O’Connor and his future appointees can get the URA board to go back on this vote and vote for a neutral position.

Now the arena resolution is more interesting because it brings up two major policy advisors/implementors in the city in direct conflict. That should be a good mess for him to sort out next month, but more importantly, it is a matter of priorities. O’Connor is more interested in paving the streets, repairing basic neighborhood infrastructure and recapitalizing the city funds instead of mega-projects as Mayor Murphy was interested in pushing. The community give-back from the slots parlor licenscee is pretty much the only source of uncommitted cash that the city can expect to see for several years. This is the easiest cash for Bob to move around, and if it is tied up in the arena replacement debt sinking fund, Bob is fiscally a lame duck the day he takes office.

So all I have to say is interesting, very, very interesting…….

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