Pittsburgh — Rumors are swirling in the Steel City today and over a dozen Democratic sources indicate to PoliticsPA that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will not seek re-election.
From campaign aides to city insiders to Pa. Democratic Chair Jim Burn, many expect an announcement at a press conference Thursday. Reporters are camped out at City Hall. Some have even suggested Ravenstahl will resign.
PoliticsPA will update this story after the Mayor’s remarks. So far his office has neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.
He has been notably absent from important campaign events in recent days, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a close Ravenstahl ally told supporters that he was having family issues. His campaign cited his mother’s illness as the reason his missed an event earlier this week.
He kicked off his re-election campaignjust a week ago and recently reported nearly $1 million in his campaign account.
In addition to his mother’s health concerns, several insiders PoliticsPA spoke with cited to barrage of political attacks and tough press coverage as a major incentive for him to step out of the public eye.
Ravenstahl has been battered in the press for weeks. First, it came to light that Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper and several officers were running a security business full time on the side. Ravenstahl vouched for Harper even as the FBI began to investigate; Harper resigned a few days later.
Then came allegations that police officers were putting in unusually high numbers of overtime hours for personal security for the mayor. They were equipped with debit cards illicitly linked to a police credit union bank account rather than a city one. On Friday, WXPI aired a photograph of Ravenstahl in a compromising position with a young woman at a sports bar. The tie in: one of the security officers in question was present.
The Mayor has insisted throughout that he’s done nothing wrong and that he won’t face charges. But even having to answer such questions is an unfavorable sign for any candidate.
Ravenstahl, 33, became one of the nation’s youngest mayors in 2006 when he took over for the late Bob O’Connor (he was City Council President at the time). He easily won a special election in 2007 and a regular election in 2009.
If Ravenstahl gets out, the two remaining candidates in the race would be City Controller Michael Lamb and City Councilman Bill Peduto. Debate is already ongoing in Pittsburgh political circles about who benefits the most.
Lamb stands a better chance of picking up the working class voters who constituted Ravenstahl’s base. And he’s all but guaranteed to get the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement; their deadline has passed and Peduto declined to be considered.
Peduto, the progressive hopeful, built his campaign to a great extent as the anti-Ravenstahl. He’s been a critic of the Mayor for years. Now he’ll need to re-tool. His edge comes with his strong support from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has the resources to make a strong and immediate push into the vacuum. He can also help bring the Mayor’s donors into the fold.
A big question is: what does Jack Wagner do? The former Pa. Auditor General, state Senator and City Councilman had widely been viewed as a potential candidate in the fall, running as an independent had Ravenstahl won the primary. That strategy makes far less sense now. Does he decide to jump into the Democratic primary?
His track record for fundraising is less than impressive and he doesn’t have an active campaign structure, but he’d start off on day 1 with strong name ID. Wagner would pull from both candidates, but would help Peduto by splitting Lamb’s southside base.
Candidates have been circulating petitions since Feb. 19. The final day to collect them is March 12. Mayoral hopefuls only need 250 signatures.
If Ravenstahl resigns, City Council President Darlene Harris would become Mayor.