Light and fog

Published by James O'Toole on .

Starting Tuesday, every television station in the country was required by the Federal Elections Commission to post online what is known as its political file, the list of campaign commercials and who is paying for them.

Previously, outside of the nation's largest fifty television markets, anyone who wanted to study that public information had to go physically to the stations that sold the ads.  It was the next step in a process to make this information more widely available that began two years ago with the FEC's previous disclosure order to stations in the bigger markets.  That order covered roughly 230 stations.  The expanded order that went into effect this week brings more than 2,000 stations under the disclosure mandate, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which helps track the ad spending through a variety of analytic tools available on its web site,

In a release heralding the next chapter of ad data, the foundation called it, "a rare victory for transparency in a political system increasingly innundated with dark money.''


Coghill ousts Wagner in the 19th

Published by James O'Toole on .

In a major changing of the guard in Pittsburgh's Democratic politics, longtime Chairman Pete Wagner stepped down from the helm of of the 19th Ward Monday night in the face of a challenge from his recent adversary, and onetime ally, Anthony Coghill.

Mr. Wagner, the father of Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, and brother of former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, had led the South Hills ward, one of the city's largest, for 28 years.  He held off a challenge from Mr. Coghill four years ago, but confided just before last night's meeting began in a Brookline American Legion hall, that his head count showed that he end up a few votes short.

Mr. Coghill supported Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto against the ward chair's brother, Jack, in last year's Democratic mayoral primary, one of many times they had clashed in the sometimes Byzantine world of Brookline politics.  He recruited new faces to run for committee seats in the May primary, arguing that Mr. Wagner's leadership lacked energy and effectiveness.

Mr. Wagner opened the reorganization meeting still wielding the figurative gavel he had held for nearly three decades.  He defended his record and criticized Mr. Coghill's ambitions, contending that they were rooted in a personal feud over Mr. Wagner's refusal to back his former ally, Mr. Coghill, in a city council race.  Then he surprised many in the room by announcing that he would not seek another term. "A lot of young people feel I'm a dinosaur after 28 years he said.  "I don't agree with that.''

But Mr Wagner had played one more card in his dispute with Mr. Coghill before leaving the stage.  He distributed copies of a twitter message in which the author,  identified as @pittsburghpolitical, claimed that Mr. Coghill had used a homophobic slur in referring to Mr. Wagner.  Jim Sheppard, who would unsuccessfully run against Mr. Coghill in the ward ballotting a few moments later, claimed that Mr. Coghill had used the words "sissy,'' and ''faggot'' in a conversation about Mr. Wagner.

 Mr. Coghill, heatedly denied the charge, in just one of a series of raucous exchanges that preceded the voting. After Mr. Wagner left the Brookline Boulevard hall, Mr. Coghill easily won the ward leadership with 46 votes.  Mr. Sheppard, a former employee of Luke Ravenstahl who said he now works for Ms. Wagner, received 28 votes while one of the ward's elected committee members held out and voted for Mr. Wagner.


Budget Day at the PA Capitol

Published by Karen Langley on .

Welcome to Budget Day at the PA Capitol! 

A trim $29.1 billion spending plan cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee last night, setting up expected passage through the full Senate and then the House. But Gov. Tom Corbett hasn't said if he will sign the bill.

From today's paper:

HARRISBURG -- Senate Republicans on Sunday turned from an earlier openness on using taxes to close a state budget shortfall, sending toward the floor a trimmer spending plan than Gov. Tom Corbett proposed earlier in the year.

At $29.1 billion, the state general fund would be hundreds of millions of dollars smaller than Mr. Corbett called for in February, before months of poor revenue collections left Pennsylvania facing a budget gap of well more than $1 billion.

The Senate and House are expected to take up the proposal today with hopes of delivering the general appropriations bill to Mr. Corbett by the start of the new fiscal year at midnight.

Minority Democrats derided the plan, passed on a party-line vote, as based on overly-rosy revenue projections and too many one-time fund transfers.

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Kelly, Quigley lead Pgh Dems

Published by James O'Toole on .

The officers of the city of Pittsburgh Democratic ward organization have elected Eileen Kelly as the new city chair, and Kevin Quigley as vice chair.  Barbara Ernsberger was chosen as secretary in the Sunday ballotting at the Hill House auditorium.

Ms. Kelly, of Oakland, had been the acting chair since her predecessor, state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, resigned the party post in 2013 to back Bill Peduto's bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor.   City Controller Michael Lamb, who eventually withdrew from the mayor's race, had been unopposed for the party endorsement.

The results suggest that depite his comfortable primary victory, Mr. Peduto has yet to translate his strength with rank-and-file voters into clout with his party's organization.  Ms. Kelly backed former Auditor General Jack Wagner in the mayoral primary. Mr. Quigley, a North Side ward leader and former city public works official, is a friend of former Mayor Luke Ravernstahl, and was fired by the Peduto administration on its first day in office.

The ballotting on the city committee leadership was open to the four ward officers of each of the city's 32 wards. 


It hurts too much to laugh

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                        By James M. Perry

Concession speeches by losing politicians are usually predictable -- congratulate the winner, thank the hard-working volunteers, hug the wife and kids, wave to the crowd, and head back to the hotel suite for a stiff drink. 
Not so last Tuesday night with Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, loser in a nasty, hard-fought primary runoff with U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. The 41-year-old McDaniel was angry, and refused to concede. "We had a dream and the dream is still with us," he told a crowd at his campaign headquarters in Hattiesburg. "Today the conservative movement took a back seat to liberal Democrats in Mississippi."  
Everyone in the crowd knew what he was talking about. The 76-year-old Cochran made a last-minute appeal to black voters, and by all reckoning they swarmed to the polls to vote for him. That's perfectly legal, for Mississippi primaries are open, meaning anyone can vote in them.
Because politicians hate losing elections, really good concession speeches are rare.
The best, I think, was delivered by the erudite Adlai Stevenson in 1952, after he was crushed by Dwight Eisenhower. 
"Someone asked me as I came in, down on the street. how I felt, and I was reminded of a story that a fellow-townsman of ours used to tell -- Abraham Lincoln," Stevenson said. "They asked him how he felt after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said he was too old to cry. but it hurt too much to laugh." 
Alf Landon, who lost badly to FDR in 1936, was pretty good too. Landon said his defeat reminded him of the Kansas farmer laughing after a tornado wrecked his farm. His wife said, "What are you laughing at, you old fool?" He replied, "the completeness of it all." 
After his loss to Barack Obama in 2008, Senator John McCain of Arizona told a home-state crowd that he would do all in his power to help Obama "lead us through the many challenges we face."  He said Obama had won an an "historic" victory and he recognized the "special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight." 
There have been lots of really bad concession speeches but it's hard to top Richard Nixon's famous "last press conference" on Nov. 7, 1962, after he had unexpectedly lost the California governor's race to Democrat Pat Brown. It was all the fault of the press, he said. They'd been badgering him ever since the Alger Hiss case in 1948. Now, he said, reporters should "give the shaft" to future candidates, just as they had given the shaft to him. "You don't have Nixon to kick around any more. because, gentleman, this is my last press conference." He was elected president six years later. 
Thomas Dewey was so upset by his loss to FDR in 1944 that he conceded with almost nobody listening in a radio interview. "Son of a bitch," FDR said. In 1916, Charles Evans Hughes took  took two weeks to telegraph Woodrow Wilson his concession. Wilson said the message was "a little moth-eaten when it got here, but quite legible." 
Ross Perot, a colorful independent candidate in 1992, gave a little concession speech "and then switched to body English," the New Yorker reported. "Cackling wildly, he swept his wife into his arms and danced to a deafening recording of Patsy Cline's 'Crazy.' "