Mayor Ravenstahl changes key posts, targets budget

Asks for quick court decision on election question

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Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, center, listens to Andy Masich, president and chief executive officer of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, after his first official public appearance yesterday since taking office following the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor.
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

New Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has asked city lawyers to seek a quick court decision on when he should face voters, he said yesterday.

"When the election will be held is out of my control," he said. "It's not a city decision. It's not a city solicitor's decision. It will be a decision ultimately that will be made by the courts."

His comments came in an interview and then in the first news conference of his new administration, which started a week earlier upon Mayor Bob O'Connor's death from central nervous system lymphoma. After ascending from the post of City Council president, Mr. Ravenstahl kept a low profile for six days in deference to Mr. O'Connor's family.

He ended his silence in a big way, weighing in on the election controversy, reshuffling staff and helping to launch a regional marketing campaign.

Language in the city's charter on electing a new mayor is vague and fraught with contradictions.

The Law Department had previously taken the position that the mayor's post need not be on the ballot until 2009, at the end of the term won last year by Mr. O'Connor. The city's former solicitor, Jacqueline Morrow, countered that it should occur next year.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he would seek a decision, without taking a position. "We need to focus on functioning as a city government. Whether that's until 2006, 2007, 2008, that's of no consequence to me."

He said the Law Department has just begun reviewing the procedure for seeking a court decision but would move quickly.

"My intention is to do whatever it is in my power as mayor to make that [decision] happen as quickly as possible," he said. "The residents deserve to know the answer, one way or the other. The speculation does us no good."

He also outlined a modest staff shuffle that keeps Mr. O'Connor's administration intact.

He appointed Yarone Zober, formerly city director of general services and policy director, as chief of staff. During the last month of Mr. O'Connor's life, Mr. Zober served as deputy mayor, leading the government.

Dennis Regan, who temporarily filled the chief of staff post after the July firing of B.J. Leber, will now serve as director of operations, overseeing day-to-day city functions. He was a close friend of Mr. O'Connor.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he would seek candidates for positions left vacant by Mr. O'Connor, including solicitor, finance director and personnel director, and would build "a team as diverse as Pittsburgh itself."

Otherwise, he said he will keep existing administrators and department heads. "The core of the administration and the city departments will remain intact," he said.

He said he would not veer far from the mayor's "playbook" of clean, safe streets, professional government and honest budgeting.

Still, he will have an agenda "unique to the Ravenstahl administration," which he'll unveil with the city's 2007 budget on Sept. 21.

He challenged anyone who might say that his age of 26 years, and his less than three years in office, reflect a lack of experience.

"To me, age is just a number. It's good for political fodder," he said. "I'm confident that I have shown my ability to lead over the past 21/2 years in city government. My decision-making has been forthright. I've made decisions, and I've stuck with those decisions."

Mr. Ravenstahl's first public appearance as mayor was the morning kickoff of a marketing plan focused on the 250th anniversary of the region, which is two years off. The plan is a project of a consortium of business, civic and government leaders, and was co-chaired by Mr. O'Connor and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

The project "was dear to [Mr. O'Connor's] heart," the new mayor said. "I look forward to making it happen, and offering my support any way I can."

The young mayor could be an asset to the effort, said Michele Fabrizi, president and CEO of Marc USA, which helped craft the marketing push.

"What his youth represents is the energy and the forward-thinking vitality that is coming from this region. I think it'll help people understand that it is no longer the old steel town."

Mr. Onorato said he has long known Mr. Ravenstahl, thanks to relationships between their North Side families, and expects to work closely with him.

"He and I are going to be partners, just as Bob and I were partners," he said.

Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, left, speaks with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl during Mr. Ravenstahl's first public appearance as the new mayor of Pittsburgh at an Allegheny Conference presentation of a new marketing campaign for Pittsburgh and the region.
Click photo for larger image.
MORE COVERAGE

Text of Luke Ravenstahl's first speech as Pittsburgh mayor

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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