Adam Ravenstahl faces challenge in Democratic primary

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State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, D-Summer Hill, got a new challenger Wednesday and met the threat with a show of solidarity from his House colleagues.

Tom Michalow, a public school teacher and former member of Avalon council, launched his bid for the Democratic nomination for the 20th legislative seat that Mr. Ravenstahl, the brother of former mayor Luke Ravenstahl, has held since 2010. While it’s a heavily Democratic district, the winner of the Democratic primary will face opposition in the general election.

Tom Fodi, the pastor of a Brighton Heights church and Bellevue resident, announced earlier this week that he would seek the GOP nomination for the district.

Mr. Michalow said he was entering the race because, “My primary motivation is that I’m an educator. I see first hand the damage of the policies out of Harrisburg.’’

Mr. Ravenstahl insisted that he had fought some of those same policies.

“I think I’ve done a good job in my tenure, coming up on four years. I’ve fought against the education cuts, but, obviously, with Republicans in control … a lot of what I’ve been doing is playing defense against the Corbett administration.’’

On the same day that his Democratic challenger emerged, Mr. Ravenstahl showcased a roster of support from his Democratic House colleagues. The incumbent pointed to his backing from the House minority leader, Rep. Frank Dermody, of Oakmont, along with other Allegheny County lawmakers, including state Reps. Joe Markosek, of Monroeville; Dan Frankel, of Squirrel Hill; Dan Deasy of Westwood, Rob Matzie of Ambridge; Jake Wheatley of the Hill District; and Dom Costa of Stanton Heights.

His statement quoted Mr. Dermody as saying that, “[Mr. Ravenstahl’s] work ethic and ability to bring a new perspective have been great additions to Harrisburg.”

Mr. Michalow’s campaign is drawing on the expertise of Ampersand Consulting, the firm headed by Matt Merriman-Preston, a longtime associate of Mayor Bill Peduto, and a strategist in his mayoral campaign last year along with those of several of his council allies.

Given that, and the incumbent’s name, the match-up inevitably conjures echoes of the decade-long political battle between Mr. Peduto and his predecessor. But while that perspective is likely to influence some voters, it is also true that some of the supporters who lined up behind Mr. Ravenstahl Wednesday are allies of Mr. Peduto.

Redistricting altered the district to include more suburban communities, including Mr. Michalow’s hometown of Avalon, and Bellevue, where Mr. Fodi lives. Overall, the district is divided roughly evenly between the suburbs and the city. After redistricting, about a quarter of the district’s voters are new to Mr. Ravenstahl, who first won the seat in a special election after his predecessor, Don Walko, resigned to take a seat on Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Like his brother, Mr. Ravenstahl has deep roots in North Side politics. The new district still overlaps some of the communities once represented by his grandfather, former state Rep. Robert Ravenstahl. His father, Robert Ravenstahl Jr., is a district judge on the North Side.

Mr. Michalow ran unsuccessfully for county council in a 2009, losing a general election race to former Councilman Matt Drozd. Both he and the prospective GOP challenger, Mr. Fodi, contended that Mr. Ravenstahl had not been visible in the district and had not communicated well with his constituents.

The incumbent dismissed the criticism.

“I pride myself on my constituent service,’’ he said. “I take this job seriously and I have the voting record to prove it.’’

Politics editor James O’Toole: or 412-263-1562.

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