Secure in last month's re-election victory, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is putting his stamp on city boards. Among the casualties: Barbara Ernsberger, who has been removed from the city's Planning Commission, where she served as secretary.
But the most interesting pick may be one of Ravenstahl's choices for the city's ethics board. Ravenstahl has chosen attorney Isobel Storch, who's worked for Ravenstahl's former election challenger, Patrick Dowd ... and who represented Dowd in a matter that raised allegations of improper influence within the Ravenstahl administration.
Ernsberger, a local attorney who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Commonwealth Court last month, was appointed by Bob O'Connor in 2006 to fill out a term that expired in January 2008. But until now, she was neither removed nor replaced. "I wish I could thank Mayor O'Connor for appointing me," she told me, "because I really enjoyed being on the commission. I'm happy I got to do it as long as I have."
But Ernsberger didn't seem to be taking her removal personally ... and she said there weren't any sharp areas of disagreement with the mayor on any issues before the Planning Commission. "I can't give you a story on that," she told me, wryly.
Ravenstahl's decision to pick Storch might prove to be a bigger story anyway.
Storch, you may recall, represented Patrick Dowd when Dowd challenged a controversial electronic billboard Lamar Advertising wanted to mount on a Grant Street Parking garage. That challenge was later joined seperately by city councilors Bill Peduto and Doug Shields. Lamar was tight with members of Ravenstahl's administration, and in his unsuccessful mayoral challenge, Dowd turned the matter into a campaign issue.
Honestly, I'm not sure most voters knew what the hell Dowd was talking about. But the Lamar saga did spawn all kinds of craziness, including the eventual departure of former URA head Pat Ford. So on the surface, picking Storch would seem to be either a very counterintuitive -- or very principled -- choice for the mayor to make.
Somehow, though, I doubt it will be seen that way. The Lamar saga, after all, also ended up alienating Peduto/Shields from Dowd himself, thanks in large dispute over who should pay for attorney costs. Mutual distrust lingers between them even to this day. Storch's nomination probably isn't going to make their relationship any cozier.
After all, the mayor is losing two staunch allies -- Jim Motznik and Tonya Payne -- this year, and needs new friends in 2010. And though it may sound bizarre to say it, Dowd may be his best hope.