Mayor Ravenstahl didn't like job but seems good at goodbyes
March 3, 2013 3:00 PM
Friday, March 1: The mayor bows out
By Brian O'Neill Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The most telling moment of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's press conference announcing he wouldn't seek re-election came when someone asked if his younger brother Adam might run.
"No,'' said their mother Cindy.
With that one syllable she made it clear, if her older son already hadn't with his answers to countless questions, the Ravenstahls were all done with mayoring.
Mrs. Ravenstahl had stood silently with her husband Robert a couple of steps from the podium until then, but the very idea of another of her sons taking this job in the media glare prompted her to pipe up.
As political as the family is -- dad's a district judge, Adam's a state rep and Luke may still be the youngest big-city mayor in the country -- the singular rigors of the mayoralty are just too much for Luke Ravenstahl to want to continue.
He never seemed entirely comfortable in this job. Though he'd been re-elected twice since having the office thrust upon him with the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor in September 2006, Mr. Ravenstahl often had the look of a guy who'd like to be anywhere but in a suit and tie answering questions from City Council members or media or anyone else.
Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is showing up. Just be where you're supposed to be, do what you're supposed to do, and you're most of the way there. This mayor has timidly ducked questions about topics as benign as how he likes his new neighborhood, and in a week's time he had not shown up for a "mayor's mixer,'' a candidates' night and a one-year anniversary show for WESA public radio.
The mayor wasn't sending mixed signals. He was sending no signals. That allowed every kind of rumor to fly, most of them involving your standard unoriginal sins, and virtual mobs formed in reader commentary lines beneath every online story. (You could almost smell the torches and make out the pitchforks if you squinted.)
This was fueled not just by the ol' "Where's Lukey?" game, but by federal investigators hauling away boxes of paper from police headquarters and the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union. That soon led to the mayor asking for and getting Police Chief Nate Harper's resignation. All this was tied to the debit cards the mayor's bodyguards were using, and the where and how of their use have been at the center of public questions and conjecture.
That's no way to begin a re-election campaign -- even in Pittsburgh, where incumbents don't lose Democratic primaries. But as insulated as Mr. Ravenstahl, 33, had kept himself in the past, he was forthright in facing a room packed with cameras and questioners. Perhaps the strength of his voice came from the size of the relief he felt as the end of the public part of his life came into view.
"I finally made the decision that I probably should have made three months ago. ... This is not a somber day. This is a day that I'm excited about.''
This isn't his last chapter. He has 10 months to go. Asked about his legacy, he named foremost the Pittsburgh Promise, the college scholarship program for city high school students that former schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt brought to the mayor. It has been used by 3,800 students and counting. (In a phone conversation after the press conference, Mr. Roosevelt credited Mr. Ravenstahl for giving the mayor's imprimatur to the Promise in its critical early stages.)
As much as the mayor spoke of, and was visibly worn down by, what he called "the grueling demands of this office,'' he could also say, "I got a chance to live a dream.
"Many will speculate about my motives and will conclude that the investigation [of police finances] is the reason for my decision today. It's not. Because I've done nothing wrong. That will be proven over time."
He didn't blame the media for his troubles and said, "I'm not going to get into regrets.'' He never considered resigning, he said, and there's a candidate he'd like to see get into the mayor's race, but he wouldn't say who.
Whether Mr. Ravenstahl's endorsement would help a mayoral candidate in the May 21 primary is debatable, but he's clearly relieved to let winning that race be someone else's problem.