It’s a mess.
A big mess.
Grant Street is in turmoil, painted with muted shades of Detroit in a color Sherwin Williams would call Grey Ethics or Shady Shenanigans.
If you haven’t been following the story, and I know many of you are just now paying attention as it’s just getting good, let’s quickly recap what has happened and why it matters and what questions are left to be answered. This is what I understand to be true and to be the timeline. I am not a journalist. REPEAT. I AM NOT A JOURNALIST. I have never claimed to be one and I will never become one. This is simply what I understand to be true based on media reports. If I’ve got a detail wrong, let me know in the comments. Don’t freak out. Chillax.
Here we go. There will be a quiz.
— In 2010 Mayor Ravenstahl came under fire for the exorbitant cost of his security detail. $200,000 in overtime in two years alone, not to mention salaries, expenses, etc. No mayor before him had ever managed to rack up such costs. It was exposed. I wrote about it in an open letter to Lukey as I often did. In response to the scandal, I understand the mayor shrunk his security team a bit.
— In the past week, the FBI raided the special events office of the Pittsburgh Police. This is the office that handles, assigns, and bills for side work of members of the police force. When you go to a Pitt game or whatnot and you see officers? Side work. They get paid for that outside of their regular police wages. There is and has been a whole lot of controversy surrounding the special events office. That’s nothing new.
— The purpose of the raid was an investigation into the discovery that Nate Harper, police chief, or his office, had opened an account at a nonprofit police credit union and into this account, tens of thousands of dollars were being deposited — money that should have been deposited into one of the official, valid, legal city accounts. For instance, the force invoiced Pitt for side work to the tune of several thousand dollars. The payment check was then deposited into this off-the-books account no one knew about. That’s not good. That’s basically theft. Nate Harper closed the account a few weeks ago.
— Unknown figures in the city had debit cards linked to this account. Expenditures were for things like airfare, hotels, restaurant bills in places like DC and Denver and locally as well. At first, we were not told who had those debit cards.
— Luke, who originally stood by Nate Harper’s side, met with the FBI this week and on that very day, based on information he learned, asked for Chief Harper’s resignation. That was a good thing. That made me happy. Luke took new information and used it to make a new decision. A+!
— Luke stated he was not a target of the investigation, that he had no prior knowledge of the account or who had debit cards associated with the illegal slush fund. Slush fund. That’s what it was.
— Yesterday it was revealed by the Post-Gazette that it was the mayor’s bodyguards who had debit cards for the illegal slush fund account. [thud] I honestly didn’t see that coming. I’m so naive. Luke claimed he had no idea that they had the cards or that they were linked to the illegal account.
— Today, it was revealed by the Post-Gazette, that a former member of Luke’s security detail claimed and would take a lie detector test to prove that Luke did indeed know of the account and the cards, and that their purpose was to avoid the scrutiny on the spending that would surely come down on Luke’s security detail in light of how much he came under fire for it in 2010. Luke says these are all lies. Then apparently someone, possibly on Grant Street, turned the Post-Gazette on to the accuser’s ex-girlfriend to lay waste to any claim the accuser might have to being an honest individual. And she did a really good job.
Who knows who to believe?
It’s a mess.
1. We’ve taken a ding here. And if you love Pittsburgh, no matter how much you may personally dislike or distrust the mayor, you’ve got to want these allegations against him to be untrue. You’ve got to not want Pittsburgh’s name hanging out with Detroit’s and other cities we see as corrupt. Not that politics, and city politics, aren’t already by nature corrupt as we have only an inkling of what really goes on, but such a public smear on the name of the Office of Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh is a terrible thing. Want not.
2. If you love Pittsburgh, if the allegations turn out to be true, you’ve got to take that smear and be thankful for it because it will mean something harmful to our city has come to an end. It will be a small scar that we can learn from, rather than an internal injury we aren’t aware of until it grew out of control and became too late to repair without permanent damage.
3. You’ve got to ask yourself the questions.
Is it possible the mayor really didn’t know? If not, who would put illegal debit cards into the hands of his security detail knowing very well the resulting scandal could deeply risk the mayor’s position? If he didn’t know, is someone out to get him? To bring him down? Is he just a puppet taking a fall because someone decided to cut the strings? Very John Grisham-y.
Is Michael Lamb really in a position to criticize at this point? He’s running for mayor and he’s also the current lead overseer of all things financial when it comes to the management of Pittsburgh’s money. My advice to the mayoral candidates is to lay off a bit. We are well aware of what this could mean for Mayor Luke without it being shoved in our faces all “NEENER NEENER NEENER!” Here’s your comment, “I love Pittsburgh, and for Pittsburgh’s sake, I hope these allegations against the mayor are false. I’d prefer to win the office of the mayor standing on my good name and my strong platform and ethics, rather than on the crumbling remains of Luke Ravenstahl’s administration.”
Is Nate Harper the fall guy? What benefit at all did he really derive from the illegal slush fund? I couldn’t think of one. Can you?
It’s a mess. And it’s going to get messier because this isn’t a city investigation capable of being swept quietly away; it’s the FBI and we are just at the beginning of this bumpy road.
One thing is certain … the mayoral debate on March 17 is going to ROCK.
I cannot freaking wait for the verbal sparring. I bet it gets so great at one point that the moderator involuntarily goes all…