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Mayor 'Stahled Out

McNeilly case shows trouble in the mayor's office

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I told you Mayor Opie was dopey. But you didn't listen. Nobody listens to me. They think I have some personal grudge against the child. I've never even met the infant, they say.

Well, I haven't met George W. Bush, either. But from the first time I saw him on the tube, it was obvious that he's a mental midget with a frat-boy mentality. Such is also the case with the prematurely promoted Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, a.k.a. Mayor Opie. He may not be dumb, but he's not smart enough. And he's not qualified.

The latest evidence of the chaos and old-school chicanery in Opie's administration came in the case of Pittsburgh Police Commander Cathy McNeilly. She's the cop who was demoted for e-mailing city council last October, trying to warn them about O'Connor administration thugmeister Dennis Regan.

Regan was retained by Opie after Mayor Bob O'Connor died, and Opie did a particularly dopey thing: He nominated Regan for Public Safety Director. Among other things, that would have made Regan the boss of the cops.

Why is this particularly dopey? First, Regan didn't have what could remotely be described as a whit of qualifications. Second, everybody knows Regan was an old-school fixer who might be useful somewhere, but not as boss of the cops. Police work is too serious to be supervised by a political heavy from central casting.

Commander Cathy's e-mail contended that Regan tried to prevent the disciplining of a cop named Frank Rende, who had been calling in sick so he could work side jobs. In fact, according to court documents, Regan tried to promote Rende. Former police chief Dom Costa told city investigators that Regan told him to make Rende a detective: "It was no question, it was an order to do it," Costa said.

First of all, Regan had no authority over the police bureau, so he shouldn't have been ordering anyone to do anything. Secondly, is it a coincidence that Rende -- whom Regan tried to shield from discipline, and whom Regan wanted to be promoted -- is the brother of Regan's live-in girlfriend?

Now here's the kicker. Last fall's so-called investigation of whether Regan did anything wrong, which supposedly found no "conclusive" proof of wrongdoing, was bogus. How do I know? Because the investigation was handled by the Law Department, headed by acting city solicitor George Specter.

If Specter was an independent guy who had nothing to do with this whole mess, he might be a good person to investigate. But according to court documents, Costa says that when Regan tried to strongarm him, Specter was in the room.

If you're not a political junkie, your eyes might be glazing over at the twists and turns of Badyinzergovermentgate. But if you can absorb this much, you've pretty much got it. Regan was the guy ordering cops to promote other cops ... even though he had no authority to do so. And when that guy tried to throw his weight around, the guy next to him was the city lawyer. And when the guy got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, who was in charge of the investigation? A guy Costa says saw the whole thing, but who supposedly found no "conclusive" proof of anything wrong. ("[T]here is no absolute way in which to determine whether Mr. Regan or Chief Costa is telling the truth," Specter wrote in his memo -- even though one of them claimed Specter was there.)

It's old school you-cover-my-ass, I'll-scratch-yours politics. And it stinks.

In the aftermath, Ravenstahl has even thrown the dear departed O'Connor under the bus, by pointing out that he inherited Regan. True. And many allegations against Regan happened before Ravenstahl became mayor. But it's Ravenstahl who nominated a guy with no qualifications and a dubious track record to be boss of the cops. That's inexperience and bad judgment rearing their ugly heads.

The thing about Opie is, he doesn't have an ugly head: As a former member of the Murphy administration told me, "He's such a nice boy, and he's got a nice face, and a nice blonde wife who wants to have a baby." When I exclaimed that that's a lousy reason to make someone a mayor, the ex-Murphyite said, "This is Pittsburgh."

But thanks to Commander McNeilly, Opie's dopiness is coming to the fore. And soon-to-announce mayoral candidate Bill Peduto has at least one emerging scandal on which to hang his hat. Or hang Opie.

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