Rudiak, Lavelle take City Council seats

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Two candidates who campaigned as reformers appear to be headed to City Council in the fall, all but ensuring that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will face a more challenging set of city legislators when they take office next year.

Natalia Rudiak narrowly won the Democratic nomination for the South Hills District 4 seat, benefiting from a divided field that included two rivals allied with warring political factions, one of whom was strongly backed by Mr. Ravenstahl.

And in District 6, Daniel Lavelle staged an upset of incumbent Councilwoman Tonya Payne, who also was supported by the mayor.

In a city that has not sent a Republican to City Council since the 1930s, last night's primary results represent all but a foregone conclusion that the nominees will go to council next year. In only one of the four districts up for grabs last night did anyone file for the Republican nomination.

Mr. Lavelle, a real estate agent from Schenley Heights and a former staff member for state Rep. Jake Wheatley, defeated Ms. Payne of Uptown. Former Pittsburgh School Director Mark Brentley, of the North Side, was running third.

The district, which encompasses the city's Downtown and the Hill District, provided possibly the night's biggest surprise -- although Mr. Lavelle didn't agree.

"I don't consider it that much of a surprise," Mr. Lavelle said of his victory while celebrating with supporters at Palate Bistro, Downtown. "I think it may represent a rebuke to politics as usual in City Council, to the traditional old boys network about getting things done in this city.

"We now have an opportunity to do a lot of good on City Council," he added. "We are going to have members on City Council who are very progressive. There will be opportunities to work with the mayor but only if they move the community forward and line up with the progressive agenda we've outlined."

Throughout the race, there were hints of an ongoing political feud. Ms. Payne had criticized Mr. Lavelle as a political stalking horse for their old boss, Councilman Sala Udin, whom she defeated in 2005, as well as an agent of Mr. Wheatley. Mr. Lavelle rejected those assertions and criticized her as inaccessible and the sponsor of little legislation on council.

"Those are divisions she tried to play up because she couldn't stand on her record," he said.

In council District 2, Theresa Smith, who won a special election to replace departing councilman Dan Deasy, won a rematch against Georgia Blotzer, whom she defeated in the Feb. 3 vote. Robert Vincent Frank, a newcomer from Mount Washington, rounded out the field.

In District 8, incumbent councilman William Peduto was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. The sole Republican to file for council in Pittsburgh this year was Greg Neugebauer, a law student at the University of Pittsburgh who lives in Shadyside. He will face Mr. Peduto in November.

Ms. Rudiak, a 29-year-old technology consultant, now joins Ms. Smith and District 1's Darlene Harris, who was not up for re-election, to become the third woman on City Council.

While Ms. Rudiak raised more money than her challengers and benefited from support by unions and many South Hills community organizations, voters also cited her gender as a factor in their support -- along with disgust with the infighting between two other candidates, Anthony Coghill and Patrick Reilly.

"I think it's good to have a woman's perspective on City Council," said Judy Nebel, a teacher who had just cast a vote at Moore Park in Brookline. "That pushes forward the cause of women."

Ms. Rudiak said that her victory "means that the folks in the South Hills will finally be getting the investments they deserve, whether it's economic development, infrastructure or social programs. We've been completely neglected."

While acknowledging that she benefited from feuding between the other candidates, she noted that her longtime civic involvement in South Hills community groups was a major factor.

Ms. Rudiak's election may alter the balance of power on City Council, as she replaces Jim Motznik, who was a reliable vote for Mr. Ravenstahl -- something she's not likely to be, although she declined to say so.

"Anybody who is interested in working to bring investments in our southern neighborhoods will find an ally in me," she said.

Mr. Coghill, who has run for council twice before and who owns a roofing company, was a part-time liaison for state Sen. Wayne Fontana and was openly backed by the mayor, who declined to support the endorsed Democratic candidate, Mr. Reilly. A former hotel sales revenue manager and community liaison for state Rep. Chelsa Wagner, Mr. Reilly was supported by Ms. Wagner's father, Pete Wagner, chairman of the district's 19th Ward and member of a powerful political family who has been at odds with Mr. Fontana, Mr. Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.

Ms. Rudiak also benefited from the support of Mr. Peduto, a sometime mayoral foe, who helped her bring in at least $55,000 in campaign money, including big checks from unions like the Service Employees International Union.


Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949. Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965. Rich Lord also contributed to this story.


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