Lesson unlearned: The mayor should keep political functions separate

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So many Pennsylvania elected officials have gotten into trouble for improperly mixing political and governmental functions that all office holders should have a heightened sense of responsibility to keep things separate.

Hints that Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl just doesn't get it came in a review of his travel records by reporters for the Post-Gazette. As recently as November, Mr. Ravenstahl had his mayoral office staff booking political trips for him. Even now, his campaign attorney is making the assertion that using city staff members to book campaign-paid flights for Mr. Ravenstahl is no problem and that that's how an administrative staff controls the boss' schedule.

The activity in the mayor's office reflects a lack of sensitivity to the need to be scrupulous in keeping political and public resources completely separate. That is problematic even though it may not approach in magnitude the wrongdoing conducted by the numerous state officials who now make up a veritable lawmakers' row in the state prison system.

Former state senators Jane Orie and Robert Mellow and former state House speakers Bill DeWeese and John Perzel all were convicted of using taxpayer money, sometimes in the form of employee work time, on political duties. Using employees who are paid by city taxpayers to schedule campaign travel is a step down that dangerous path.

Most elected officials have learned how to separate their political and governmental roles.

Call just about any member of the Legislature today and ask a political campaign question. It's a rare office where the answer won't be to immediately refer the caller to the lawmaker's campaign staff or a personal telephone number. No elected officials are absolved of that responsibility, not even the president of the United States, who can't use the White House telephone to solicit campaign contributions.

The lesson seems to have been lost on Mayor Ravenstahl. Any other elected official who hasn't learned it yet had better start studying.



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