Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

On Allegheny County Council, the Rubber Stamp Rules

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

On Allegheny County Council, the Rubber Stamp Rules

Article excerpt

Allegheny Council Council doesn't want to be known as a rubber stamp. Council President John DeFazio hates, hates, hates being accused of that.

Yet he gave a textbook lesson Tuesday night on how it's just that, and everything is pretty much decided before the meeting even starts.

The show began about an hour into the meeting. A motion was made to appoint five white guys from the suburbs to a special committee to study the structure of county government.

That's not how it was worded, of course, but in a county that's only 48 percent male, the five council members who were asked to make nominations chose five men, all white.

I'm often uncomfortable with identity politics. As an old white dude myself, it angers me when I hear that used as a pejorative. But this was decidedly weird: five names, no biographies or resumes, thrown in a package for one very sudden up-or-down vote.

Councilwoman Amanda Green Hawkins from Stanton Heights spoke up after several of her male colleagues praised the picks in various ways.

"I noticed as each of you were speaking, you mentioned 'he,' 'he,' 'he,' 'he' and 'he,' " Ms. Hawkins said, and someone laughed, but it wasn't her.

Mr. DeFazio, a fellow Democrat, said, "Look, I could have picked all of them."

But he'd asked three suburban Democrats to each pick someone and two suburban Republicans to do the same and he figured that should be OK. Republican Jan Rea, of McCandless, absent from this meeting, gave her pick to fellow Republican Ed Kress of Shaler, who made two choices.

The process, not the picks, should be the concern for any fan of democracy. Mrs. Hawkins, a city Democrat, said she'd been given no notice of this motion and hadn't seen the names until that night. Her frustration was bipartisan, as Heather Heidelbaugh and Sue Means, two of council's five Republicans, joined in the critique.

Mr. DeFazio, a Democrate from Shaler, was having none of it. When Ms. Heidelbaugh, of Mt. Lebanon, said, "I assume what's going to happen is we're going to ramrod this through without a -," Mr. DeFazio's gavel came down, making her point for her. …

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