If you want to understand Pittsburgh politics, watch "The Godfather."
Some might find that comparison unfair. I'll concede at the outset that the movie's plot is easier to follow. But if we're to make any sense of this mayor's race, it might be helpful to see it in cinematic terms.
As all Pittsburghers know, one-party politics means no-party politics. Alliances shift. Deals are broken. Grudges are nursed. Betrayal haunts the City-County Building. Yet even by Pittsburgh standards, the home stretch of this mayoral primary is getting freaky.
Start with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, now as reclusive as Don Vito Corleone immediately after the attempt on his life. He has been harder to find than people who liked "The Godfather: Part III." Yet he is finding the time to make pouting paranoiac posts on the Internet.
Yes, the man with the most prominent platform in the city has eschewed that for one that might have been favored by Fredo Corleone, the Godfather's dimmest son, had the technology been available.
"I'm smart and I want respect!" Fredo said.
"I have personally been the Chairman of this committee since its inception,'' the mayor posted beneath a story on the Post-Gazette's website Tuesday. "It's actually laughable that you print your newspaper everyday with a straight face."
He had more to say in his 300-word rant, but you only need to know that his post was in response to a story that noted the mayor chairs a committee that's behind the attack ads on Councilman Bill Peduto, one of the two principal contenders in the mayoral race.
In other words, the North Side mayor has thrown in with Jack Wagner, longtime leader among the families of the city's southern neighborhoods, to better take on their common enemy, East End Billy Peduto.
That's interesting because Mr. Wagner would no more give up a kind word for Mr. Ravenstahl on the campaign trail than Clemenza would give up cannoli. But this is politics. The enemy of your enemy is your friend.
Mr. Wagner, 65, might be seen as this drama's Sal Tessio character, the wise old hand who never quite assumed the top post. Over the past quarter-century, he's been a city council president, a state senator and state auditor general -- underbosses all.
Crushed 20 years ago in a run for mayor, Mr. Wagner had plans to run as an independent in November after all the other Democrats beat themselves silly in the May 21 primary. Then the mayor bagged out of the race and Mr. Wagner leaped into the void. That's "the smart move,'' as Michael Corleone said of Tessio -- just before he had him killed.
Michael Corleone famously said his father told him, "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.'' (I believe that's the same advice Ward Cleaver less famously gave the Beav about Eddie Haskell.) We can see that Machiavellian wisdom playing out now. Distance himself as he might, Mr. Wagner seems to be in an unspoken alliance with the Ravenstahl camp, even as Mr. Wagner plays the wise adult in the Peduto-Ravenstahl feud, saying the two men are "childish'' and "need to grow up.''
A lot of the mayor's lead contributors are backing Mr. Wagner, too. Call that Fredo's revenge. For the past six years, Mr. Peduto, 48, has given Mr. Ravenstahl no respect -- and received none in return. Unlike the mantra in "The Godfather,'' this is more than just business. This is very personal.
I'm not sure if anyone could be compared to Michael Corleone, the flawed, relentless hero of the Godfather trilogy, but Mr. Peduto has taken some cues from the movie. Late last month he released the first negative ad of the campaign, saying Mr. Wagner as auditor general "sided with the Republicans when they cut Meals on Wheels for seniors.'' This past week, the Peduto campaign claimed Mr. Wagner "still refuses to explain his ties to prominent Republicans.''
Yeah, talking to Republicans is kind of like what the Don said: Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking.
Meantime, with 16 days to go, voters have yet to hear an offer they can't refuse.
Brian O'Neill: email@example.com or 412-263-1947.