The day before his inauguration Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he was looking forward to a "low-key" event. Apparently that memo never made it to the desk of Police Chief Nate Harper.
After the Pittsburgh Organizing Group announced plans to march outside the inauguration in protest, the police turned out in full force for the event. Upwards of 60 officers were dispatched to the Dec. 20 event at the Carnegie Music Hall. The POG contingent numbered only 15, and there was roughly one officer for every protester. The group marched without incident down Forbes Avenue to the front of the Carnegie auditorium where they were greeted by a contingent of officers.
Calls to the police about the size of the police presence were not returned for comment, so it's not clear how many police were detailed as a result of the protest. But protesters say the security detail was absurdly large.
"I understand this is a public mayoral inauguration," said POG member Ryan Williams, "but they brought out 60 cops," and part of that was in connection to POG coming out.
While there have been altercations between police and protesters before, Williams contended that "no violence occurs at POG events that would necessitate bringing 60 policemen out here. Especially when there's all this talk about not having the funding to do certain things in the community. It's arrogant."
Motorcycle officers lined the sidewalk in front of the hall and uniformed officers were placed intermittently around the front of the venue from Schenley Drive Extension down to South Bellefield. A police-department photographer also took several pictures of the protesters as they stood with signs and handed out flyers.
When the protesters first arrived, they were approached by a plain-clothes officer, who would only identify himself as "George" (but whom CP later identified as Zone 2 Police Commander George Trosky.) Trosky asked the protesters if they had a permit; POG member Patrick Young responded that they were told by the American Civil Liberties Union that they did not need one. He then walked away. The only other interaction took place when a uniformed officer told one protester to return to the curb when the marcher crossed the sidewalk to speak to a City Paper reporter.
"We're protesting Mayor Ravenstahl's inauguration because after 250 years of local city government, we think the people of Pittsburgh can do better on our own," Young said. "We've seen city government fail through the era of industrialization, and now as Pittsburgh is growing smaller, we're seeing it again with these failed development plans that are really attacking low-income communities."
Williams said his main problem with the mayor is that he doesn't seem genuine.
"He pretends, like most politicians, that he cares about the community while at the same time, he's skipping out on public meetings to go play golf," Williams says. "And that wasn't an aberration. It seems like he's done things like this systematically."
Ravenstahl was delivering a much more upbeat message inside the Carnegie, where police officers lined the second-level balcony.
"Together, you and I are not simply part of Pittsburgh's majestic history," Ravenstahl said. "We are defining its future. Together, we are following in the courageous steps of our predecessors, who gave us much to build upon. And we're running with the ball."
Ravenstahl outlined his administration's victories during his first 15 months in office. He was quick to tout the Pittsburgh Promise and the financial support of UPMC of up to $100 million for college scholarships over the next 10 years. Absent from the speech, however, was any mention of the controversy over the fact that in exchange for the scholarship funding, UPMC would no longer contribute to the city's tax coffers.
Ravenstahl also boasted of a city surplus of almost $100 million, and claimed that 2007 was the "safest year for our citizens in more than 40 years."
"We have more police on the street, in your neighborhood, and working with better technology than ever before," he said. The mayor also touted the improvements he'd made in promoting diversity in hiring.
"For the first time in our city's history we have both an African-American police and fire chief. We have been diligent in our outreach to find qualified people for our government, boards and authorities. As a result, we have the most diverse leadership in our city's history.
"As we meet here tonight, to mark the official inauguration of our city's 59th mayor," Ravenstahl said, "we must join together in our understanding that the wishes and decisions we make today -- at this crucial time in our history -- will have the power to change the future."
But not everyone is sure that the future benefits Ravenstahl speaks of will be available to everyone.
The city has so far been unable to broker a Community Benefits Agreement to govern the construction of a new Penguins arena. The agreement is intended to ensure that Hill District residents will benefit with jobs and additional investment from the arena being built next door. But just last week, as neighborhood groups sought funding for their development initiatives, Ravenstahl told a group of residents that he did not support "cash payments" to those organizations.
Williams says there needs to be a change in the quality of service that all city residents are getting from their government. In the end, he said, it doesn't really matter who becomes mayor, because the culture of city politics doesn't change.
"Look at the transit situation," Williams said, citing a service that is provided at the county level. "As of next month, I can't even afford to buy a bus pass to get to work.
"People know that elected officials aren't going to do what's best for the people that actually live here. They're looking out for those that want to take over, and gentrify our neighborhoods. Everyone else just gets left behind."
- Charlie Deitch
- Members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group are flanked by Pittsburgh Police officers outside of the Dec. 20 inauguration of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. More than 60 police officers were on hand; only 15 POG members turned out to demonstrate.