Ravenstahl lashes out at media over his whereabouts

Mayor says he was making a point by not releasing where he was

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl rejected this afternoon any notion that he needed to sign a request to extend the declaration of a snow emergency, and lashed out at media for asking this morning for information on his whereabouts.

The mayor appeared at a 3:45 p.m. press conference after his administration had declined, since 9 a.m., to provide specific information on his whereabouts or activities, other than to say he was in the city.

"I was here," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I did three things today. I responded to your ridiculous inquiries. I drove around the city of Pittsburgh and did an evaluation of the streets and how they looked. And I spent the majority of my time with the public safety director" discussing the death of a Hazelwood man whose companion repeatedly called for an ambulance during the snow emergency.

Asked why his staff did not disclose his whereabouts, the mayor said the information was withheld "just to kind of prove a point, that you all need to be more responsible.

"It's unfortunate that when we're talking about somebody that died," he said, "that I'm worried about responding to you, and you, and you, and you, about me being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras."

He said he was not in New Orleans, and never planned to go to Mardi Gras.

Pittsburgh Councilman William Peduto said today that a request by the mayor to extend a declaration of emergency driven by last week's snow may not be valid, because the mayor hasn't signed it. It was signed by Director of Public Safety Michael Huss.

"We'll need that letter from the mayor today," said Mr. Peduto. "We'll need his signature requesting this."

An emergency declaration allows the city to enter into contracts without lengthy bidding processes. Council is scheduled to vote on the request on Wednesday.

Last week the mayor took criticism for being in the Laurel Highlands celebrating his birthday, while the city was hit with a near-record snowstorm. He said then that he could not get back to the city, and his absence was not an issue, because he could communicate electronically with public safety and public works staff.

The mayor's office issued a statement today saying that Mr. Ravenstahl spent that Seven Springs weekend at a condominium owned by James Scalo, a developer, which he rented. "That's wholly appropriate, legal and ethical," Mr. Ravenstahl said in the statement. "Any assertion otherwise is nothing more than flat out wrong or sensationalism.

Asked at the news conference how much he paid to rent the condominium, the mayor would not answer.

"I'm offended by that question, I really am," he said, adding that simply by asking the question, a reporter was "suggesting that it wasn't rented" when it was.

Mr. Scalo's firm, Burns & Scalo Real Estate Services, does not have city contracts and does not appear to have been the beneficiary of any recent Urban Redevelopment Authority board action. The firm recently bought South Side property owned by Goodwill Industries and plans to transform it into housing.

Mr. Scalo could not be reached for comment.

The city code bars officials from accepting "anything of value" from any "interested party," including those seeking contracts or aid from the city or its authorities, and anyone "with an interest that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the official duties of the public official."

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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