Darlene Harris lets deadline pass to file for Pittsburgh mayor


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City council President Darlene Harris has been telling people for months that she was keeping her options open on an independent run for mayor, but that option closed at 5 p.m. Thursday when the deadline passed for filing nominating petitions for the general election ballot.

Serial candidate and activist Lester F. Ludwig did appear to have gathered the 895 signatures required to get on the ballot, meaning the Pittsburgh mayor's race will be a three-way contest among him, Republican nominee Josh Wander, who is a Squirrel Hill businessman, and Democratic nominee Bill Peduto. Mr. Peduto is the prohibitive favorite to succeed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who decided not to seek another term.

Ms. Harris could not be reached for comment on her decision, which follows months of questions about her political plans. In early March, after Mr. Ravenstahl's decision not to run jumbled the city's political expectations, Ms. Harris filed nomination papers to seek the Democratic nomination for mayor, but she withdrew the filing at the last moment. Then, she quietly changed her registration from Democratic to independent just before the deadline to preserve the option for an independent candidacy. Had she remained a registered Democrat through the primary election, she would not have been eligible to pursue an independent bid.

The unusual maneuvering promoted widespread speculation about her plans, but she declined to elaborate, telling questioners consistently that she was just preserving her options. To do so, she had to step down from her Democratic party post as a North Side ward chairman. She formed a campaign committee and sought contributions for a potential run, but otherwise took no visible steps toward an actual candidacy.

Now, she has the likely option of reverting to her longtime Democratic registration status.

Had she sought a place on the November ballot, under current circumstances, it is unlikely that she would have posed much of a threat to Mr. Peduto, who won the Democratic nomination with a comfortable majority in a four-person field and goes into the general election with the considerable asset of a 5-to-1 Democratic registration edge. Months ago, however, when Ms. Harris switched her registration, the city's political vistas were murky.

Mr. Ravenstahl's surprise decision not to seek re-election, coupled with the continuing federal grand jury investigation into his administration, prompted speculation that he might resign his office before the year-end close of his term. Under that potential scenario, Ms. Harris, as council president, would have been first in line to succeed him, and the potential prospect of running for mayor as an incumbent was a clear factor in Ms. Harris' on-again, off-again deliberations on becoming a candidate.

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Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. First Published August 1, 2013 10:30 PM


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