Politically Savvy Friends

Saturday, June 30, 2007

When Presidents-to-Be Come to Town

Dear Politically Savvy Friend,

This week I met former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani when he campaigned in Pittsburgh’s Strip District (for out-of-towners, that’s a funky old-fashioned market place, not what the name suggests), and I must admit I was impressed with the guy.

Forget his political positions for the moment. In person, Giuliani comes across as a regular guy, not one of those stiff politicians who look over your shoulder to see whom else they should ignore. Maybe it was the venue – for an Italian American like Rudy, visiting Jimmy and Nino Sunseri’s Italian market to sample the cheese, the pasta, and the pizza must have been a bit like heaven.

Giuliani was relaxed, shaking hands with the locals, joking with kids about being off school, kissing a 10-month old baby who had the most gorgeous smile, sharing family history with another Giuliani (who spells her maiden name Guiliani), and walking the Strip to feel the ambience of Pittsburgh’s old-country market district.

Giuliani was in Pittsburgh to raise money at two separate fund raising events, but kudos to the Giuliani campaign for scheduling this hour-long effort to meet real Pittsburgh folks and make himself available to the local media for Q&A. Contrast that to Senator Barack Obama’s quick visit to Pittsburgh a week earlier, where the goal was solely to raise money, not to meet ordinary schleps or talk to the press. But thanks to some very smart Obama supporters here in Pittsburgh – kudos to them – Barack did stop by a gaggle of reporters for at least 120 seconds. Still, it was not particularly satisfying when, after opening comments, he would not take any questions.

The irony is that, on the central issue of our time – the war in Iraq – Obama’s message will resonate with more Americans than Giuliani’s. Obama has opposed the war from the beginning, while Giuliani is absolutely certain that Iraq is where we need to confront the terrorists. But as we learned in 2000 and 2004 in the race for the White House, personality will trump issues almost all the time. When candidates come to Pittsburgh and fail to mix it up with average folks, they miss a tremendous opportunity to show us what they’re like.

You can watch what we capture of the presidential candidates by looking through the “Recent News Stories” link on this page.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Luke at Oakmont

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

The big story locally this week has been the U.S. Open out at the exclusive Oakmont Country Club, fifteen miles north of the City of Pittsburgh. So maybe it’s no surprise that the top story, politically, has been Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s successful effort to get into an invitation-only private event to watch Tiger Woods practice on the challenging course back in late April.

Afficionados of this story have had a field day on radio talk shows and in the blogosphere, dissecting Luke’s every move and motive. The story developed “legs” when the mayor decided to go on radio with WDVE’s Jimmy Krenn and Randy Baumann and KDKA’s Fred Honsberger and Dom Giordano (sitting in for Marty Griffin), followed on Thursday with an on-camera interview with WTAE’s Bob Mayo.

Now, as Luke has been quick to tell everybody, KDKA-TV was the first to break the story on Monday night. His repeated use of KDKA and my name in subsequent media appearances [“I have great respect for Jon Delano but . . . .”] made this a little awkward, since I am a journalist and the messenger of the story, not the source of the facts. Still, he has every right to state his version of events. In fact [see below], I wish he had done that on Monday so I could have included them in my story. Nonetheless, by consistently referencing KDKA in his response, I found myself getting invited by responsible journalists to restate the facts as KDKA learned them – thus prolonging the story beyond its normal life cycle.

First off, I really didn’t break this news story.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review first broke the story back on May 6 in its “Whispers” column. Under the headline, “Luke Crashes Tiger’s Party,” the anonymous columnist wrote: “The story making the rounds in political circles has Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl getting the folks at the Oakmont Country Club upset recently after Tiger Woods played a round of golf there. Seems that after Woods was done practicing for next month's U.S. Open at Oakmont he attended a private party sponsored by American Express. Political insiders say Ravenstahl showed up at the event uninvited and angered folks by worming his way into pictures with Woods and others. Country club officials would neither confirm nor deny they were perturbed at the young mayor. Nor would they comment on whether Ravenstahl was able to secure Woods' autograph.”

As far as I know, the mayor never responded publicly to the Trib’s story, although I understand that some of the investigative reporters (print and broadcast) in town may have pursued the mayor on this. I was not among them, and the story was largely dropped by the MSM (mainstream media).

That changed on Monday when the first practice rounds of the U.S. Open began and everybody was looking for Open-related stories. At KDKA, the “crash” story was recalled, and I was assigned by the news managers to see what I could find out. This assignment would have probably fallen to KDKA’s two investigative reporters, not me, except one was on vacation and the other was already assigned. No problem. That’s the way it works in TV-land. You do what the boss says!

It did not take long to confirm the basics of the story. When Mayor Ravenstahl learned that Tiger Woods was going to be out at the Oakmont Country Club, he tried to secure an invitation to see him. His staff called out there, and later on radio, Luke said he himself also called. KDKA sources told me that Luke was told that this was a private event, and, as the mayor later acknowledged on radio, his subsequent appearance did “anger” some at the Club.

American Express officials told me that Ravenstahl was not on the list of 82 people attending their special luncheon and golf outing scheduled for the same day that Tiger Woods was practicing on the links. The event, for which AmEx charged $900 a head, included a surprise: Woods would appear at the private luncheon and give some golf tips out on the course for the participants.

Even though he was not on the AmEx list or a member of the Oakmont County Club, Ravenstahl and two body guards drove out to the Club in hopes of fulfilling “a life long dream” of meeting the golfing great. Once out there, Luke insists he was “welcomed.” I guess that depends on whom you talk to, as both the company and the club were put in a very awkward position. Kick the mayor off the property and risk adverse publicity and whatever other consequences might follow – or let him in and try to contain the situation.

As KDKA reported Monday night, Ravenstahl got into the club and was invited to dine with members of the club’s board of directors. KDKA sources also reported that the mayor was again told that the AmEx event was a private affair. What exactly happened next is unclear. KDKA reported Monday that Luke “got his hands on an American Express golf shirt.” That was true. In subsequent interviews, Ravenstahl says the company, perhaps like the club, decided to “welcome” him and gave him the shirt (along with shirts for his body guards). I have no reason to disbelieve the mayor on this, but American Express won’t confirm or deny that.

Again, as KDKA correctly reported Monday night and now confirmed by Ravenstahl, the mayor was, however, told not to approach or interfere with Tiger on the links. He says that he respected that warning, but that an ESPN anchor volunteered to introduce him to Tiger and, ultimately, Ravenstahl got a minute or two with Woods, who, sources tell me, was in a great mood that day and friendly with everyone. In a DVD released by American Express out at their hospitality tent this week, you can see brief pictures of the mayor among the crowd, clearly enjoying himself. Who wouldn’t? It must have been a great experience.

I will leave the analysis of the mayor’s behavior to the radio talk show hosts, sports commentators, and bloggers. As for me, I do regret that Luke himself was not part of the initial story on Monday night. But as a journalist, I did try to get his take shortly after I was assigned the story late Monday morning. I called his office and requested time to talk to the mayor. At the same time, his office was pitching their own story, a follow-up on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s piece about Luke’s billboards and using the U.S. Open to promote Pittsburgh – all quite legitimate and of interest to me. But I was also clear that I wanted to talk about the Oakmont incident. Their response – the mayor was not available on Monday because he was spending the day with the mayor of San Diego, although he could talk to me the next day. When the news managers decided to run the piece on Monday with or without Luke, I did the next best thing. I got a statement from his office and used it, accurately, in my tag.

Throughout the week, KDKA continued to offer Luke time to give his version of events. As I always do, I would have posted the entire unedited, uncut Q&A of that interview on the KDKA website. I do that so people will know that I do not engage in selective editing to make a politician look bad, and it also protects the politician from being taken out of context. The mayor and I had a private telephone conversation on Wednesday, which I will keep private, except to say that he thought he had said everything there was to say on this subject on radio and that it was time to end the story. [Luke and I have known each other since before he was elected to city council. I believe I was the first local TV reporter to put him on television, and we share a mutual respect, even if on this story we “agree to disagree” on the facts].

As I said above, in my view, this story was never more than a 24-hour piece, but as late as Friday, I was still hearing snippets on radio about it. Some are suggesting that the mayor’s announcement of another shake-up at City Hall was timed to get off the Oakmont story. I don’t really believe that because the story was over anyways.

Finally, despite what some radio talk show hosts and bloggers may have opined, this was never Luke versus KDKA. It was about the facts. I laid them out as best I could, and the mayor disagrees. Okay, that’s cool by me. I have been in this business a long time – on both sides as an aide to an elected official doing damage control and pitching stories – as well as on the media side seeking to get the truth out to the public.

Nobody is perfect, and we -- politicians and journalists alike -- all make mistakes. I work hard to be accurate in everything I report, but if I make a substantive error, I will be the first to correct it. This story relied on “sources” because, especially during the U.S. Open, people in the know, including those present on April 23 at the club, were not willing to go on camera. That doesn’t make their statement of the facts wrong, any more than someone on camera always speaks the truth. And, so far, I’ve seen no evidence that contradicts the basic story.

I am deeply grateful for the many emails, phone calls, and expressions of support that I received from my colleagues in the media and many others in the community. But I was only doing my job – like most of you do – albeit in a somewhat more visible way. And unless someone has something more to add, the “Luke at Oakmont” story is over. Now let’s move on.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Immigration -- Legalizing Illegals

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

When Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem for the 1886 dedication of the Statue of Liberty, nobody quite envisioned the current debate over illegal aliens. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This idyllic view of America as the great refuge for those from other lands has always been a bit overstated and hardly reality. After all, the USA has had substantial quotas on immigrants for decades, and even when a respectful concern for human rights might have dictated otherwise, we denied refugee entry to many Asians, Jews, and now Iraqis.

Still, Americans are conflicted on immigration. We (almost all of us) are descendant from immigrants, and we know it’s only fair to treat current would-be immigrants the same way our grandparents were retreated. The problem, of course, is that President Bush and the Congress are wrestling with a different kind of problem – illegal immigrants who did not follow the rules to get into this country.

A recent CBS/NYTimes poll highlights how schizophrenic Americans are on this issue. When asked if illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay if they pay a $5,000 fine, have a clean work record, and pass a criminal background check, some 67% say yes while only 28% say deport them – and a similar number support the proposed guest worker program. But if asked directly if illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported home, 69% say deport them and only 24% would not.

Because these people are illegals – not traditional immigrants -- the government really has no idea of how many people we’re talking about. U.S. immigration officials think the illegal influx amounts to about 500,000 people a year, and they estimate about 9 to 10 million illegals in the USA. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the number at 11.5 million to 12.0 million. Others put the number of illegals closer to 20 million.

Even if the number is closer to 10 million than 20 million, how can the United States realistically capture and deport that many men, women, and children? And is that really the best solution when many (but obviously not all) of these individuals work hard and contribute to the American economy?

Congress is wrestling with a solution amidst a political cacophony from those who think any form of recognition of illegals constitutes amnesty and those who think these illegals, mostly Hispanics, should be given all the rights of traditional immigrants. In my view, both are wrong.

Here’s my proposal. First, anyone who entered this country illegally should be permanently barred from ever becoming a citizen of this nation. They broke the law, and that should mean something. Second, it’s in the best interest of this nation to encourage illegals to step forward, register as guest workers, pay some sort of restitution, and be allowed to stay (without forcing them go back home for one year or some other back-and-forth scheme) – so long as they are employed, have no crime record, and learn to speak English. Those who fail to step forward should remain subject to capture and deportation under the law.

Third, we should crack down hard on companies that hire illegal aliens, driving them out of business if need be because they are the catalyst that attracts illegals to this country. Fourth, border security is an important priority. While I am skeptical that building fences will really secure the border, we should not short-change law enforcement at the borders, as we do today. The last report I saw we had 11,000 border patrol agents monitoring the nation’s 19,000 miles of border. Sounds pretty spotty to me. Fifth, we should adopt a sensible immigration system that welcomes all those with something to offer without some artificial (and inherently racist or ethnically biased) nation-by-nation quota system. And those who enter lawfully should be encouraged to earn American citizenship.

Who knows what will come out of the Congress on this issue. My hunch is that the issue may still be too hot for a reasonable compromise to be enacted.

This "blog" was part of a much larger PSF newsletter I sent out the other day to my Politically Savvy Friends. If you would like to get that free newsletter, just click on the subscriber button found on this page. I would welcome you as a PSFer.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

PSFs Return

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

It has been months since I took fingers to keyboard to send you one of my periodic e-newsletters. Many of you have wondered what happened to that PSF (“Politically Savvy Friend”) missive that I sent out every couple of weeks, while a few of you are receiving this PSF for the very first time. So an explanation is in order.

Computer problems (what else!) plagued my life at the end of last year. That, coupled with a PSF list that has grown into the thousands, made the process of sending PSFs a nightmare. Today, thanks to an upgraded home computer system and the help of one of my Carnegie Mellon graduate students, we are inaugurating a better way to communicate with you.

First, those of you on this special PSF list will receive an occasional e-mail from me about all things political and governmental at the national, state, and local level from the perspective of someone who spent years inside the Capitol Beltway as well as time out where “real” Americans work and live. As one of my Politically Savvy Friends, I welcome your personal (and off-the-record) insights and comments back, along with any hot tips you have.

Second, you can now visit my web blog called Delano’s Den where I will post publicly (1) an abbreviated version of the PSFs, (2) links to some of my TV news stories and interviews (which you can watch) and print articles, (3) the audio podcasts that I will be renewing at TalkShoe (which I hope you will participate in or listen to later), (4) links to blogs, websites, and candidate homepages, and (5) the obligatory bio of yours truly. I hope you will check all this out and add Delano’s Den to your favorites.

Third, as many of you know, I do all this for fun at my own expense without charging my PSFers for anything. I don’t expect us to agree about everything. Indeed, my PSFers come from all political stripes – super conservative to very liberal – while most of the time I am a “flaming” moderate. My point is to share news, information, and perspective, not to persuade you. As you will hear me say often, this is a great country because of the diversity of our viewpoints. We need to respect that more often.

So, welcome back, PSFers!