Pittsburgh Mayoral field wide open as others ponder joining Lamb and Peduto in race

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What now? And who now?

After an extraordinary day in Pittsburgh politics, candidates and potential candidates were sorting through new scenarios of a mayor's race that suddenly lost its favorite -- an incumbent in a city where no incumbent had lost in modern political memory. With Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's surprise exit, the field is at least temporarily smaller. But the vacuum left by his absence has the potential to pull in new contenders for the Democratic nomination.

The mayor underscored that possibility during his news conference as he suggested that he had a candidate in mind as a late addition to the roster of those who would like to succeed him. He declined to identify his choice, but in the wake of his stunning news conference Democrats assessed the altered dynamics of the competition between the declared contenders, city Councilman Bill Peduto and city Controller Michael Lamb, while speculating on the possibility of new candidacies -- their own or others.

Two senior Democrats, one a close associate of the mayor, said the mystery favorite of the outgoing incumbent was former county Executive Dan Onorato. Mr. Onorato did not respond to multiple requests for comment on that possibility. He would have the advantage of an established name and fundraising ability. But several other Democrats discounted the possibility, noting that after his 2010 defeat for governor, he chose not to run for another term as county executive, and that he would have to give up the lucrative government relations post he landed with Highmark after he left office.

One apparently certain product of Mr. Ravenstahl's decision was the coronation of Mr. Lamb as the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party's rank-and-file committee members. At a time, only weeks ago, when the mayor seemed the prohibitive favorite for the endorsement, Mr. Peduto decided not to enter the preliminary competition.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, an ally of the mayor, said he was eying the race himself, but emphasized he was urging others to consider jumping in, noting that it would be particularly healthy for the party if a woman or an African-American were to emerge as a leading candidate.

Mr. Ferlo also argued that the unprecedented and unanticipated situation created by Mr. Ravenstahl's withdrawal should force the party to reconsider the now-automatic designation of Mr. Lamb as the party workers' choice. He contended that they should instead vote to have an open primary with no endorsed candidate.

Nancy Mills, chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democratic Party, said that wasn't going to happen. She said the committee rules were clear that the party would issue an endorsement and that no one who had not met the Feb. 1 filing deadline would be eligible to be considered.

"Lamb, by default, or however they want to say it, will be the endorsed candidate," she said.

Among some of the other new names mentioned as potential late entrants were city council members Darlene Harris and Ricky Burgess. For both, one possible attraction of the race is that they are midway through their council terms so they would not have to give up their seats to seek the higher office.

Ms. Harris, who had toyed with the idea of running earlier, said she would weigh her options over the weekend. The council president could have the advantage of being the only woman in an expanded field. Assuming that Mr. Onorato did not try to return to public life, she also would be the only candidate drawing from the North Side base left up for grabs by the mayor's departure as a candidate.

Mr. Burgess, who represents Homewood, could appeal to the city's black community. Asked about that possibility Friday, he said, "Call me in two weeks."

By that time, the door on a new primary candidate will have closed. The deadline to submit nominating petitions is March 12.

Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner has said for the last two years that he was considering a bid for the office he first sought in an unsuccessful 1993 primary run against former Mayor Tom Murphy. But Mr. Wagner's focus in recent weeks has been on the possibility of running not in the Democratic primary, but in a bid as an independent in the November election. The calculation behind that scenario was that his likely opponent would be bloodied by a primary battle.

Whether he might switch his sights to the Democratic primary is unclear. Mr. Wagner, who has also acknowledged an interest in the 2014 race for governor, was traveling in Israel Friday and could not be reached for comment.

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Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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