What Fresh Hell Is This?

September 6, 2006

The Shields Election - The Story Behind The Story

Here's how Rich Lord of the P-G describes it:
Pittsburgh City Council elected Doug Shields its president today. The vote was 7-1, with only Councilman Jim Motznik, who has sought the position for a year, voting no.

The vote brought an angry response from Mr. Motznik, who said he was "embarrassed" to be on council, and questioned the intelligence of colleagues Dan Deasy and Jeff Koch, whose support he thought he had until this morning.
And Dan Majors reported this morning in the P-G that:
Mr. Motznik who has been president pro tem for four years, said he has spoken with all the members and asked them to support his bid for the job.
It's interesting now to note that it doesn't say that he'd gotten that support - just that he'd asked for it. Lord described Motznik as "angry." But angry is not the half of it. Motzik reportedly stormed out of the councilroom - followed by a group of firefighters who were also present at the meeting - and proceeded back to his office where a short time later he called the Marty Griffin show on KDKA to vent (listen to it here). Later in the day, presumably after he'd had a few hours to cool off, he was on the Fred Honsberger show to vent yet again (listen to that one here).

I heard the Honsberger show - pretty amazing, if I must say so. Motznik was pissed because he was convinced that he had commitments from council members made with "handshakes in a room full of witnesses." Motznik also said that Shields had committed to support him for president, if Motznik would support Shields for City Controller.

He dropped this bomb as well "Shields has been proven to be a liar."

This evening on Nighttalk with Ann Devlin, Motznik said that he'd attended a series of meetings a few weeks before the Mayor's passing where the "general assuption was that [he'd] be the next President of the Council." He did point out a few times that he didn't initiate those meetings but that he was invited to them, though he never identified who invited him or who was in the meetings beyond saying "members of the O'Connor administration."

Come to think of it, he never identified who those witnesses were in that "room full of witnesses" either. Who were they? Who were in those meetings? Who invited Jim Motznik to them? Inquiring minds and all that...

In any event, Motznik told The Honzman that he felt that he'd he'd "sealed the deal" a week and a half ago. (And for those of you keeping score, that was a week or so before Bob O'Connor passed away.) Today he said that it will now be hard for him to "sit with these people you can't trust." To Devlin, he said that he'd have no more personal dealings with any of the members of the city council. And according to Jim Motznik, his word is his bond. He's a stand up guy.

But some of the things he said confused me. For instance, while he answered one of Ann's questions with an unambiguous "I don't cut any deals," he made a point of describing the "deal" (sorry, Jim but there's no other word for it) he said he'd made with Shields regarding the city controller job. He also denied "campaigning" for the presidency but when when asked further about it, he said that he did ask for some council member's "support." Lord even said that he'd "sought the position for a year."

Am I missing something here? Did they change the definitions of "deal" and "campaign" while I was in Ohio this weekend?

Back to the vote. I talked to Councilman Bill Peduto this evening and he painted a different story.

For the record, Peduto said he'd never had a discussion with Motznik about the council presidency until Monday, Labor Day. He said that during the brief conversation, he informed Motznik that he was supporting Shields for the position - that he would not be one of Motznik's five votes. However, he told me that later on in the day he left a voice mail for Motznik saying that if Motznik already had the five votes necessary to be elected President, he'd vote with that majority in order to maintain a smooth transition into the next administration.

Peduto told me that when he talked to Shields on Friday (the day of O'Connor's passing) Shields felt at that time that it was a "done deal" that Motznik would be president. Interesting, something must've shifted over the weekend. On Nighttalk, WPXI Political Analyst Bill Green postulated that perhaps a number of the council were put off by the "unseemly" nature of it all - the Mayor was still alive while Motznik was asking council members for their support.

I don't think we should think of this in a vacuum. I thing it has to be seen in light of the previous City Council Presidential Election. Take a look at this. KDKA Political Analyst, Jon Delano had this to say about Ravenstahl's election to council President last winter:
So what's the real story behind Luke Ravenstahl becoming, at age 25, the youngest Pittsburgh city council president in history? Well, it depends who you talk to. Here's a possible scenario, but get out a play card because it gets complicated. First, the incumbent city council president, Gene Ricciardi, decided earlier this year to leave council and was elected district magistrate for the Southside in November. Ricciardi takes office on Monday, January 2 (remember that date) and will resign from city council that morning. He was not obligated to resign his council presidency beforehand, but decided to do so to help his long-time friend, city councilman Jim Motznik, secure the presidency for himself. [emphasis added]
Motznik however lost Len Bodack's vote (one of the five he needed to be elected Council President). He lost it because of his support for former Democrat now Republican Michael Diven. Delano goes on:
So Motznik, in some quarters, masterminds the election of young Ravenstahl. Why? To get back at Bodack and the other council members who refused to support him. Others say that gives Motznik too much credit -- that Luke was just a good compromise choice. In any case, Motznik, Ricciardi, Deasey agree to back Ravenstahl, but, of course, Luke still needs a fifth vote. Enter, according to some sources, Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor. The story, which is vehemently denied by others, is that O'Connor got his protege and one-time top aide, councilman Doug Shields, to give Ravenstahl the fifth vote -- and the council presidency. Why would O'Connor and Shields do that? Well, nothing helps a mayor more than a city council president who owes him something. [emphasis added]
So according to Delano, Ricciardi tries to get Motznik elected president and fails and then Motznik tries Ravenstahl elected president and suceeds. Motznik is then pro tem and has seemingly positioned himself to be next in line for the presidency.

But when seven out of eight council members said, "I don't think so" He stomped out of the room and complained to Marty Griffin and Fred Honsberger and Ann Devlin.

But what of the future? What will Wednesday's city council meeting look like?

With a seven to one vote supporting the new city council president, things should be rather smooth.

Good Night, Pittsburgh. I'll keep you posted.


Judge Rufus Peckham said...

In all seriousness, thank you for this excellent analysis. Most of the "politicking" that goes on at the City-County Building flies beneath the radar, but Mayor O'Connor's unfortunate death has served to rip off the scab and expose the pus that is City Council.

Anonymous said...

I don't follow city politics much so thank you for your post. It certainly painted a clear picture.