Kevin Acklin stepped out of the shadows and up to the microphone at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside last night to officially announce his campaign for mayor as an independent.
The shadows, however, still loom large.
Not only must he overcome incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who last month swept aside two challengers in the Democratic primary, he must run his campaign while the president of the United States is holding up Pittsburgh as an example of a model city for all the world to see.
Yet Mr. Acklin says he is undaunted.
"I'm running a campaign that says we can do better," he said before last night's campaign kick-off a few blocks from his home. "The G-20 summit is an excellent opportunity to showcase where we are as a city. ... I'm not somebody who's going to talk this city down, because I love this city. And I don't want to see us squander an opportunity."
Mr. Acklin, 33, who studied law at Harvard and Georgetown universities and is a business attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was brought up in a Democratic household in South Oakland. But the practicing Republican worked in Washington for former Gov. Tom Ridge and, during his first foray into politics two years ago, was defeated by Chuck McCullough in a bid for an at-large seat on County Council.
He said he decided to run for mayor as an independent because the answers to the city's problems can't be found in politics.
"Is there a Republican way or Democratic way to fix that pothole?" he asked. "No, there's an effective way, there's an honest way.
"I'm a Pittsburgher first. I didn't want to be accused of running for any political ideology, any political party," he said. "In talking to people, I find they're hungry for independent leadership. They don't want just another partisan hack."
History, the odds and the money are against him. Speaking before last night's fundraiser, attended by 300 people, he said he expects to need at least "a half-million dollars" to take on Mr. Ravenstahl and the city's Democratic establishment. He's also hoping the mayor will meet him in debates.
"We don't have a machine with us, we don't have a party with us, so we're going to have to rely on the regular people in the city," he said.
Mr. Acklin, who is married with two children, said the campaign he takes door to door will focus on integrity, schools, public safety, taxes and growth.
"We have the demographics, we have the work ethic to achieve excellence," he said. "All I'm asking is, 'Pittsburgh, let's hold our mayor to the same standards that we hold our quarterbacks.' Let's strive for excellence.
"There's a silent majority of Pittsburghers out there. This campaign will be about going out, knocking on doors and finding that silent majority that wants to see better leadership in the mayor's office."
Dan Majors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.