Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl tweets of work from off-site

Social media drive a campaign to build his legacy

With just 2 1/2 months remaining in office, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced last week that he planned to use the remainder of his term to build his legacy with an aggressive media campaign, starting with the revival of his mostly dormant official Twitter account, @mayorluke, and his Facebook account.

"I plan to tell my story there," he told a group of reporters. "This new approach is one where I can speak directly to people."

Among his enthusiastic messages about his legacy -- which he tagged with #7YearsofSuccesses -- are two tweets about the more mundane aspects of the job: staff meetings.

Ravenstahl touts record as mayor

Luke Ravenstahl talks about the accomplishents that he says define his tenure as mayor of Pittsburgh. (Video by Nate Guidry; 10/24/2013)

But on both occasions, Twitter's own location services -- which a user can set to broadcast where the tweet originated -- showed they were sent from far outside the City-County Building. On one occasion, Twitter showed the tweet was sent from near the mayor's home in the middle of the day. In the second, Twitter showed the message was sent from a country club, again, during the workday.

On Friday afternoon, he tweeted "Friday staff mtg. Our success is a result of so many dedicated City employees! #7yearsofsuccesses." His tweet included a photo of his conference room, with nine staff members, including public safety director Mike Huss, chief of staff Yarone Zober and spokeswoman Marissa Doyle.

Ms. Doyle said the meeting lasted from 11:30 a.m. until about 12:30 p.m. His tweet came about 20 minutes later and indicates that he sent it while he was just a few doors down from his Fineview home.

And on Tuesday, shortly before 2 p.m., he sent a message about a budget meeting, attaching a link to a document in which he listed his "Top 10 Financial Accomplishments" on official letterhead. He also included a photo of himself sitting at his desk with members of his finance team and Mr. Zober.

"One of my last budget meetings. Proud of our work!" the tweet read.

The meeting had actually occurred around 24 hours prior -- on Monday. On Tuesday, when he sent the message, Twitter put him not in his office, but at Shannopin Country Club in Ben Avon Heights.

Ms. Doyle provided information about the times of the meetings but did not answer any other questions about what the mayor was doing or if he was engaged in city business while he was out of the office in the middle of a workday. She also would not say if Friday staff meetings are regularly scheduled.

Department heads have described the mayor as hands-off and have said he does not meet with them on a regular basis.

Mr. Ravenstahl couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday and didn't respond to messages left on his Twitter account and Facebook page.

Last week, though he declined to provide details, he claimed to be still engaged in city business. He likened his job to "pushing a rock up a hill every single day."

His lack of public appearances in recent months make it difficult to discern how much he's actually working, and he declined to say how often he shows up at the City-County Building.

Over his seven years in office, Mr. Ravenstahl has been criticized for being unavailable or not taking a public leadership role in incidents such as recovery from a major snowfall in February 2010 and flash flooding in August 2011 that killed four people on Washington Boulevard. He also has been criticized for taking a city vehicle to a country music concert and finding time to golf at Oakmont Country Club when it hosted a major professional tournament.

In early October, the mayor also tweeted that he was headed to St. Louis to watch the Pirates face off against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. He tagged his message #wheresluke, an apparent retort to the criticism that he was often not to be found. The Oct. 7 message was the sole tweet he sent between his announcement that he would drop his bid for re-election and his reappearance last week.

But Ms. Doyle said the mayor was not actually headed to St. Louis. When asked why he tweeted that he was going, or if his plans had changed, she wrote "I can't speak to that."

Last Wednesday, the mayor said he planned to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate more directly with the public. Although he has been known as a deeply private public official, he's tweeted not just about city business, but also photos of his 4-year-old son, Cooper, tagging it #coop, and about his unabashed love for North Catholic High School football, where he was once quarterback.

The tweets come as part of a larger campaign -- which includes a new Web page dedicated to the mayor's successes -- to combat the cloud that hangs over city hall amid a federal investigation and lingering questions about the mayor's extended absences from the public eye. In recent months, the mayor's secretary, chief of staff and men who served as his police bodyguards have been called before a federal grand jury.

Last week, the mayor compared himself to an athlete who was past his prime.

"When you look at professional athletes, very few of them get to retire at their highest moments," he said. "Perhaps that'll be a case with my administration."

He said he hoped people looked at his entire body of work rather than focusing on the last tumultuous year. He points to accomplishments such as the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund, the construction of Consol Energy Center and strengthening of city finances.

"I think when we take a step back and look -- and objectively look at the entire body of work -- I think people will conclude that the city of Pittsburgh is a much better city today than it was when I took over," he said. "To me, that's a signal of success."

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.

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