Ravenstahl finds Letterman's spotlight bittersweet

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NEW YORK -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Luke Ravenstahl to have "a couple of zingers" ready for David Letterman -- but it was the talk show host who zinged him first.

JP Filo, CBS Broadcasting Inc.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl talks with David Letterman during yesterday's taping of "The Late Show," which aired last night.
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After arriving in New York, Luke Ravenstahl talks about the bittersweet experience of becoming the mayor of Pittsburgh.

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Transcript of press conference at New York City Hall by mayors Luke Ravenstahl and Michael Bloomberg

With the younger mayor appearing as the first guest on "The Late Show" last night, Mr. Letterman kindly asked him a number of sober civics class questions about being the nation's youngest big-city mayor, only to set him up at the end of their talk.

"An appearance like this -- does it interfere with your homework?" Mr. Letterman asked.

Mr. Ravenstahl hardly had a chance to reply before the host whisked him off the guest chair, with a gift to "beautify" Pittsburgh -- a potted plant.

"Just put it this way -- I don't think we're taking the gift home with us," the mayor said after taping the show, late in the afternoon.

Mr. Ravenstahl, 26, said it was a bittersweet day for him -- a chance to promote Pittsburgh before a national audience, but only two weeks after the late Mayor Bob O'Connor left it. Before going on the comedy talk show, he checked with the O'Connor family, then began the show with a message for them -- giving a genuine, close-knit Pittsburgh feel to a show watched by 4.2 million people nationwide.

"Before I begin tonight I wanted to extend my well-wishes and prayers to the O'Connor family. The late mayor Bob O'Connor's wife, Judy, who's at home watching this evening, I wanted to make sure to say hello to her and her family, Father Terry, Heidy and Corey. We send our best wishes here from New York," he said.

Mr. Letterman asked a series of serious questions about Mr. Ravenstahl's ascendancy to the job after Mr. O'Connor's death from cancer, how he became City Council president in January and what it's like to campaign in a "no-nonsense city."

Mr. Letterman asked if residents took him seriously when he showed up on their porches when he first campaigned for council at age 23.

"There were times, I'll be honest with you, that I got thrown off porches," Mr. Ravenstahl said, getting a good laugh from the audience. "People would tell me they had sons or daughters that were 23 years old and the last thing they'd ever want them to do was become a City Council member."

"There's a guy out here in a suit trick or treating -- what do we do?" Mr. Letterman said.

The mayor -- wearing a black Vestimenta suit and blue Eton of Sweden shirt that he bought Wednesday at Charles Spiegel in Squirrel Hill -- seemed a tad nervous at first, but warmed up while talking about the city.

"Mayor O'Connor had begun a lot of great things in the city. He had begun to institute a lot of initiatives, mainly Downtown housing, in the city of Pittsburgh. The city of Pittsburgh is a wonderful city. It's not what it was 10 or 15 years ago," he said.

Mr. Letterman asked the usual steel industry question, with the mayor responding "that's the image nationwide and perhaps you have that same image, Dave, of an old city, a smoky town, but that's not the case. Beautiful skyline, great rivers, hillsides, it's a great place to be and that's why I wanted to come out here tonight to talk about it."

Getting out that message was the main reason for going on "The Late Show" after all.

"I had mixed emotions on whether it was appropriate to do something like this," the mayor said early yesterday, en route to New York. The O'Connor family convinced him that "Bob was the city's biggest cheerleader and would have loved the opportunity to tell the story of Pittsburgh."

The New York Times ran a front-page story on Mr. Ravenstahl Saturday, leading to the call from Letterman's producers. He was also interviewed by CNN and GQ magazine is preparing a profile.

Local reporters crammed into his dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater yesterday afternoon to follow his every move. Roger Daltrey, lead singer for The Who, was in the room next door. At the airport, a duo of police officers walked him and his wife, Erin, to his gate, and even stood guard at the men's room door.

He joked about all the sudden attention, claiming it didn't affect him at all until about 15 minutes before hitting the stage.

"I'm starting to get butterflies now," the former college placekicker said. "It's like the big game -- only you don't have the first quarter to screw up and get loose."

At midday Mr. Ravenstahl joined New York's mayor to publicly sign an anti-illegal guns statement endorsed by dozens of American mayors since the spring. He and Mr. Bloomberg met privately for about 15 minutes.

"He said he had 300,000 employees, whereas I told him we have 300,000 residents," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "He has 40,000 police officers -- I told him we have 50,000 college students."

Before the show the Pittsburgh mayor -- who Mr. Letterman introduced as "from the Iron City, ladies and gentlemen, the 26-year-old Mayor Luke Ravenstahl" -- got a blase reception from "Late Show" audience members lining up outside the theater.

"I guess we'd rather see someone famous. Maybe he'll talk about the Steelers," said Steve Branca of Rochester, Minn. "I heard The Who's going to be on. I'm probably more interested in that."

"I don't know who he is," said Scott Jackson, 25, of Salt Lake City, Utah. "I'd probably prefer someone else though."

Being polite Pittsburghers from Summer Hill, Mr. and Mrs. Ravenstahl brought two Pittsburgh-themed gifts for Mr. Letterman's young son -- a stuffed T-Rex from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and a Mr. Rogers T-shirt -- only to be told the notoriously icy host did not like gifts. A "Late Night" staffer gave them two T-shirts and a mug -- which was unfortunate, since Erin had just bought a "Late Show" mug at the CBS Store downstairs.

Mr. Ravenstahl planned to spend time with a former grade school and North Catholic High School chum, Tom Baginski, before heading back to town last night to prepare for his next talk -- an 8 a.m. breakfast speech at Pittsburgh's African-American Chamber of Commerce.

Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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