by Chris Potter
Remember John Verbanac? The guy who was at the heart of investigative reporter Rich Lord's series "The Network" -- a look at how influence works in local government? The guy who literally helped write Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's speeches? And who became a central campaign issue during Kevin Acklin's quixotic 2009 mayoral bid?
Turns out he's helping Ricky Burgess now.
The city councilor has filed an April 5 campaign-finance report which reveals that Verbanac -- the CEO of Cranberry-based Summa Development -- contributed $1,000 to Burgess' campaign. So did the president of Summa, fellow reputed Network A-lister Charles Zappala.
On one level, their support for Burgess isn't surprising. Burgess has been the city councilor closest to Ravenstahl, after all. In fact, the two men appeared at an event to announce a master plan for Homewood just this afternoon, and Ravenstahl was brimming with praise for Burgess.
On the other hand, I was surprised to see the contribution listed. As I wrote a year-and-a-half ago, the thing about Verbanac is that "For a guy with such long arms, he leaves very few fingerprints":
[W]hatever else John Verbanac may be, he's ... adept at avoiding the public eye. In fact, [Common Cause head Barry] Kaufmann himself was surprised to find that Verbanac's name never seems to crop up on campaign finance reports. (Which it doesn't -- one reason Verbanac's name has come up so rarely until now.) "I find it hard to believe a person of this cache isn't making donations," Kauffman told me.
I, for one, can't recall ever having seen Verbanac's name on a campaign finance report. But it's there now, along with that of Zappala and William K. Lieberman, who also appears on Lord's roster of "Network" players, and who gave Burgess $500.
Our Lauren Daley caught up with Burgess this afternoon to ask about the donations. Burgess said that he had never spoken with Verbanac et al about their contributions. But he noted that "My commitment is to continue to advocate for low- to moderate-income families and their community." He cited such causes as his efforts to distribute federal community-development money more fairly. And he added that, "I assume anyone who donates to my campaign shares my vision, because that's the vision I advocate 24-7 ... I like to think that people who contribute to my campaign agree with my position on issues that I unapologetically advocate for."
In any case, Burgess has scored a major political coup: It's not often that Verbanac makes such a public show of support.