No one has been a bigger recipient of the benefit of the doubt than Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
The tragic circumstances surrounding his rise to the mayor's office engendered sympathy in many city residents. The instinct to give him a fair shake as he undertook the job eventually morphed into powerful political support.
Mr. Ravenstahl's status as the youngest mayor of a major American city generates both hometown pride and national media interest. But our indulgence of the 27-year-old city executive has just expired.
Luke Ravenstahl took a free ride to New York on the private jet of Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle only hours after announcing a deal that builds a new arena and keeps the hockey franchise in town. The mayor then accepted an offer to dine at the billionaire's expense in Manhattan. Yet the city's code of conduct says, with very limited exceptions, that an elected official "shall not solicit or accept from an interested party ... anything of value ... ."
Taking such handsome perks from a principal in the company that not only cut a 30-year arena deal but also has the development rights to some prime Pittsburgh real estate was bad enough.
After admitting to the trip, the mayor tried to obfuscate: "Nothing that I did was illegal, nothing I did cost the city taxpayers a dime," he said. That misses the point. This isn't about blowing taxpayer money; it's about violating the public trust. For a politician, stonewalling in answering questions, or even telling outright falsehoods, is not technically illegal.
Accepting a free trip and dinner in New York from Mr. Burkle violates the ethical spirit of public service as stipulated by the city's code of conduct. The fact that Mayor Ravenstahl sought to minimize it is a worrisome sign and may show something even more disturbing than bad judgment and naivete.
This is more than youthful indiscretion. It's a window into a politician's character. The last thing Pittsburgh needs is another pol -- young or old -- who doesn't understand that public service should not be a shortcut to personal enrichment.
We're disappointed in Mayor Ravenstahl. His older, wiser political friends should give him better advice.