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Wrench in the Machine

Finally ... an election to cheer about

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There may be hope for this stupid-ass town yet.

Pardon my negativity, but when the boy king, Mayor Luke "Opie" Ravenstahl, was handed a guaranteed election win on a silver platter, I got pretty pessimistic about Pittsburgh politics. And I frankly thought the Democratic machine, which involves all the committeemen and women lining up like sheep to do whatever Dan Onorato and party chair Jim Burn tell them to do, was firmly in control.

But here's the funny thing. Nobody told the voters. Apparently nobody informed them that they had to march in lockstep with the old-school yinzer hacks. Because the results of the just-concluded Pittsburgh City Council primary election were amazing.

Reformers: 3. Old-school hacks: 0.

Twanda Carlisle, the District 9 city councilor who is under indictment for allegedly running a kickback scheme, is gone. Don't let the door smack you in the butt on the way out, dear. You can't give your mother's boyfriend taxpayer money to produce a bogus report and retain any credibility with voters. The Rev. Ricky Burgess is now destined to capture your seat in November.

Nobody outside District 9 seems to know much about Burgess. But they do know he's not Twanda. And that's big.

It gets better. Patrick Dowd beat Lenny Bodack Jr. Lenny Bodack Sr. was a four-time state senator, and that name was supposed to mean something. Being city councilor is the best job Junior ever had. But he got it based on name recognition and his dad's connections, and that's about it. Dowd was an excellent school-board member and will be an excellent councilman. And there is definitely a shortage of excellent councilmen. Lenny Jr. came within a few dozen votes of beating Dowd, but "close" only counts in horseshoes. And presidential elections where your party controls the Supreme Court.

My favorite election result was the defeat of Jeff Koch -- pronounced "cook," as in "too many Kochs spoil the political process." He ran a despicable campaign against challenger Bruce Kraus.

I can't be sure whether his campaign was responsible when bricks got thrown through the windows of Kraus supporters on the South Side. But somebody did throw those bricks. And somebody reportedly did hand out hate literature at Catholic churches, saying if you were really Catholic you couldn't vote for Kraus, because he's gay.

Then of course there was the celebrated incident -- which got mucho inko and TV coverage -- in which city workers known as the Redd Up Crew were wearing "Re-Elect Jeff Koch" T-shirts while working in the district.

Actual citizens of Pittsburgh figured out that these guys were just lame. But since they haven't figured that out regarding the mayor yet, I had my doubts about whether it would happen. Koch, after all, was the machine candidate. But as previously mentioned, the machine wasn't well oiled on Primary Day.

By the way, Kraus actually is gay. Openly gay. Sue Kerr, of the sometimes political blog www.pghlesbian.com, is totally psyched about having a homo on council, and declared as much on her blog:

"First," wrote Kerr, "it means that Pittsburghers are more progressive and open minded than the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and others would have you believe. A progressive gay man defeated the incumbent, party-endorsed candidate. Change can happen. Second, it means that the rest of the elected officials are going to have to interact with a real live homosexual on a regular basis. I relish this because, in my experience, this kind of personal interaction is the best vehicle to break down prejudice and build understanding."

Now, hopefully, these guys will align themselves with Councilor Bill Peduto. That way, there will be an actual block of councilmen that will provide some checks and balances on that steamroller known as Mayor Opie. Perhaps they can get rid of "walking around" money and tighten spending controls, so the next Twanda doesn't get away with throwing taxpayer money down the toilet to hire her friends.

Maybe this town isn't so stupid-ass after all. Maybe.

Goodbye, Jeffrey and Lenny. So long, Twanda. Now go somewhere and get real jobs. If you can.

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