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Margins of Error

Oct. 29, 2007

A KDKA online poll asking whether the media has been picking on Pittsburgh's mayor last week, showing the public as heavily sympathetic to Democrat Luke Ravenstahl, was the subject of a technological trick play, the Mayor's Office confirmed today.

An employee of the City Information Systems department, where the municipal government's top techies work, wrote a short program that defeated KDKA's defenses against repeat poll voters. He then had it bombard the site with votes favoring Mr. Ravenstahl's position that the media has picked on him, mayoral spokeswoman Alecia Sirk confirmed.

"It was a crazy tactic for supporting the mayor," said Ms. Sirk. She said that the employee may have noticed the poll on work time, since the city monitors the major news organizations' Web sites constantly, but did the programming and repeat voting while at home watching football.

Mr. Ravenstahl faces Republican Mark DeSantis in what is turning into the most spirited November mayor's race in decades.

KDKA Radio host and reporter Marty Griffin explored rumors that former interim mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven may have put the unnamed techie up to it, but Ms. Sirk said that didn't happen. "He told Joanna he had done it," she said. "But he didn't do it at the behest of Joanna Doven."

Ms. Sirk said no discipline will be meted out because nothing improper occurred. "He did it as a private citizen," she said. "He's within his rights as a person. ... People do this all the time for American Idol."

Blogger Admiral Richard K. Turner, commenting on The Burgh Report, has a lengthy account.

Challenging Murtha

It's a daunting task, but William T. Russell says he's up to it. The career soldier has moved from Washington, D.C., to Johnstown to challenge Rep. John Murtha, an 18-term incumbent, in next year's election, the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat reported last week.

"I recognize this is an uphill battle," Mr. Russell, a Republican and first-time candidate, told the paper. "But it's one that must be fought."

Mr. Russell, who was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, is sharply critical of Mr. Murtha's stance on the war in Iraq, calling the powerful Democrat "flat-out wrong" for supporting a troop withdrawal.

Any Murtha challenger faces an uphill battle. The Johnstown native last year easily defeated Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey, and he will have a vast campaign war chest for 2008.