Peduto launches his second drive to be mayor

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By Rich Lord
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Telling some 300 supporters that they should believe in Pittsburgh's future and in his chances of unseating the mayor, City Councilman William Peduto last night launched his second campaign for the city's top post.

Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
City Councilman William Peduto is embraced after announcing his candidacy for mayor last night.
   
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"Folks, we all know that this is the people's campaign," he said, calling scores of supporters to join him on the stage at his campaign kickoff at the Union Project in Highland Park. "I still have the new ideas, the heartfelt conviction and the determination to build a new Pittsburgh."

He appears likely to be the only well-known challenger to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Observers of local politics, speaking before the campaign kickoff, took different views of his odds yesterday.

"Bill Peduto, even though he's relatively young, has significant experience -- probably, it can be argued, as significant experience as the mayor does," said John Brabender, a South Side-based political consultant. "You do have to look at it as a legitimate race."

Mr. Ravenstahl has made a generally good impression and "has the incumbency," countered Robin Bernstein, a former Squirrel Hill political consultant. "I think it's his to lose."

Mr. Peduto, a 42-year-old Point Breeze resident who was elected to council in 2001, finished second in the 2005 mayor's race with one-quarter of the vote, while simultaneously defending his council seat.

The mayoral race winner, Bob O'Connor, died Sept. 1, and Mr. Ravenstahl ascended from the council presidency to the mayor's office, after nearly three years on City Council.

Mr. Peduto yesterday promised "a lot of substance," and a clean campaign.

As mayoral candidates have long done, he pledged to "empower people to make a difference in their own neighborhood. Decisions that are made about neighborhood revitalization should happen on Main Street, not on Grant Street."

That effort would be driven, he said, by "a neighborhoods-first alliance, so that no neighborhood is left behind."

He also said he'd work with mayors of other cities to promote "a new urban agenda, to solve Pennsylvania's problems, not just Pittsburgh's."

Prior to announcing, he argued that this race would play out differently than the 2005 campaign.

"What we didn't have last time was a citywide base," he said. He's also running against an opponent making his first citywide bid, unlike Mr. O'Connor, who won on his third try.

"The strangest part has been going from the fresh young voice in city government to its elder statesman," Mr. Peduto said. "I feel comfortable in that role."

He did not criticize the mayor by name, but revealed themes he will try to use to draw a contrast.

He emphasized the need for "independent, responsible, experienced leadership," and said that the city "needs independent leadership to dismantle the political machine."

That line drew cheers from a crowd that seemed skeptical of Mr. Ravenstahl's handling of the controversy surrounding former city Operations Director Dennis Regan, who was accused of interfering in police matters.

He said he doesn't come from a political family, another obvious contrast with Mr. Ravenstahl, whose father is a district judge and whose grandfather was a state representative.

Mr. Ravenstahl announced his bid Dec. 4, joined only by his wife Erin, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

Mr. Peduto surrounded himself with people from outside of politics, like Omar Abdul, a 31-year-old event coordinator from the Central North Side. Mr. Abdul donated his disc jockeying skills to the event and spun the theme from "Rocky" upon the candidate's entrance.

"His interest is in a Pittsburgh that serves the entire population of Pittsburgh as best as it can," Mr. Abdul said.

"He's policy driven, he's knowledgeable, and it's his time," said Michelle Frangos, a Shadyside entrepreneur.

Also included in the hodgepodge of political veterans and neophytes were former city police Chief Dominic J. Costa, 2005 mayoral candidate Louis "Hop" Kendrick, League of Young Voters Pittsburgh Regional Director Khari Mosley, and several Democratic Committee members and labor representatives.

The big questions for Mr. Peduto, analysts said, are whether he can make a run at the Democratic committee endorsement, raise money and overcome the advantages of incumbency.

The mayor "can do ribbon cuttings and make announcements and get on TV without having to pay for it," noted Mr. Brabender.

Mr. Peduto is "going after the endorsement aggressively," said veteran political analyst William J. Green. "This could be a very close endorsement process."

Before his announcement, Mr. Peduto ticked off recent accomplishments, including legislation encouraging diversity on city boards and commissions, incentives for environmentally friendly construction, rules for hillside development, and involvement in the creation of a Downtown wireless Internet system. He was the first city official to call for state oversight of the budget, and has backed cost-cutting measures.

The primary is May 15.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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