City mayoral race still an evolving contest


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The shifting Pittsburgh mayor's race continued to churn Wednesday as the only woman in the Democratic primary, city Council President Darlene Harris, dropped her bid while influential city workers' unions joined state Sen. Jim Ferlo in endorsing former state auditor general Jack Wagner.

And another Harrisburg lawmaker, Rep. Ed Gainey, threw his support behind Councilman Bill Peduto for mayor.

Less than two months before the May 21 primary, that left a wide-open and still-evolving contest.

Mr. Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze, appeared to have at least a temporary lead in money and organization, and -- according to his own and at least one public poll -- the early support of a plurality of likely Democratic voters.

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Another mayoral candidate, city Controller Michael Lamb, 50, of Mount Washington has the endorsement of the Democratic Party's committee members and the benefit of having been the only contender besides Mr. Peduto who established the groundwork for a campaign months before Mayor Luke Ravenstahl opted not to seek re-election.

Mr. Wagner, 65, of Beechview, also a former city councilman and state senator, has the longest political resume and, now, the support of much of the city's workforce.

The decision by firefighters, police and other city unions to back Mr. Wagner gave his late-starting campaign a needed boost. In a morning news conference at the City-County Building, Downtown, Mr. Wagner stood with his onetime city council colleague, Mr. Ferlo, and leaders of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, the Operating Engineers Local 66, and Teamsters Local 249.

Mr. Ferlo, D-Highland Park, who had just withdrawn from the Democratic nomination himself, recalled working with Mr. Wagner on city council and in state government as he said, "We need a hands-on manager of the public trust and someone who has the skills to leverage limited resources, hold [our] work force and everyone involved in city government to a high standard of performance and accountability ... basically, Grant Street needs a new sheriff in town."

Mr. Ferlo, a member of the board of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority, was also an ally of the old sheriff, Mr. Ravenstahl, as were some of the union officials who had been poised to back the incumbent.

The joint union endorsement, as with anything that lifts the Wagner campaign, is a particular challenge for Mr. Lamb, who shares his political base in the city's southern neighborhoods. He and Mr. Wagner are the only remaining candidates who have run and won citywide -- Mr. Lamb as controller and Mr. Wagner as one of the last council members elected at-large and later in his runs for the statewide office of auditor general.

Before Wednesday's news conference, Mr. Ferlo said he was an admirer of Mr. Lamb and had considered supporting the controller but opted for Mr. Wagner because he viewed him as the more electable candidate.

Later in the day, Mr. Gainey made official his support for his ally Mr. Peduto. The two East End politicians have been campaigning together for months. To pave the way for the endorsement, Mr. Gainey resigned his post as chairman of the city's Democratic Party committee in deference to the group's uncontested vote to endorse Mr. Lamb who was the only candidate to seek their support.

Of the remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, D-Hill District, has a solid base in the city's African-American community. A.J. Richardson, 36, is a community organizer and political newcomer.

Josh Wander is the only candidate on the GOP ballot.

Mrs. Harris, 60, of Spring Hill, said she got out of the race because of her elderly mother, who lives with her.

"We've had some medical issues, and I'm taking care of her," Mrs. Harris said. "It just seemed to be a little much."

She said a mayoral candidate must pour heart and soul into the race. "When you have other issues you're dealing with, it's a little hard to do," she said.

Mrs. Harris denied that she had been pressured to withdraw, saying, "My arm has not been twisted at all."

"Nobody pressured me. Nobody ever pressures me," she said, although a campaign aide said she had received a variety of calls urging her to take her name off the ballot.

She said she likely would endorse another candidate next week.

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Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com. Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com. First Published March 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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