Ravenstahl cruises past two rivals for Democratic nomination

Mayor wins handily

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It wasn't so much what Luke Ravenstahl's done as how he's handled himself that won over Megan Ayers -- and many of the other people who helped make him the Democratic nominee for Pittsburgh mayor yesterday.

"He brings a quality of charisma and optimism to the city," said Ms. Ayers, a service coordinator for behavioral health patients as she left her polling place at Ream Pool in Mount Washington. "I don't think his tenure has been anything spectacular ... Everyone wants a handsome man in charge."

They liked Luke in most city neighborhoods yesterday, and the relative few who voted gave the 29-year-old Summer Hill resident the nod of the dominant party and the inside track toward a four-year term.

Mayoral race
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won all wards except for wards 7 and 14 in the city's east end.
• See ward-by-ward results in our interactive map.    

His rivals were Councilman Patrick Dowd, 41, of Highland Park, and attorney Carmen Robinson, 40, of the Hill District. While both made inroads, neither could overcome initial low name recognition and general good feelings about the mayor.

Mr. Ravenstahl's primary totals were on pace to give him the biggest percentage of the mayoral primary vote since Tom Murphy walloped Jack Wagner in 1993, but his popularity didn't extend to his city council choices. That didn't seem to bother him.

"Just when I think I can't love the people in this city any more you continue to amaze me with an overwhelming victory here tonight," Mr. Ravenstahl told a crowd of around 250 at the Hofbrauhaus on the South Side, in a short victory speech. "Thanks, Pittsburgh!

"We heard a lot of things from certain of the candidates about grass roots and their efforts on the streets ... Well, guess what? We didn't talk about it. We did it. We got it done."

He did not mention Mr. Dowd in his speech, but said Ms. Robinson ran "a tremendous campaign."

He seems certain to face opposition in the Nov. 3 General Election -- independent Kevin Acklin filed nomination papers with the Allegheny County Board of Elections yesterday, while Franco "Dok" Harris has said he'll run and Republican Josh Wander was pushing a write-in campaign. Mr. Ravenstahl easily won a one-on-one against a Republican in a 2007 special election.

Neither Mr. Dowd nor Ms. Robinson raised or spent more than a fraction of what the mayor did in the primary, and voters yesterday didn't seem to know them well.

"I wasn't sure about Patrick Dowd," said Carole MacVicar, a secretary. And Ms. Robinson? "If she maybe ran for council first, and then ran for mayor, she would maybe get my vote."

Mr. Dowd suffered a defeat much like that of Mr. Wagner, now the state auditor general, that at least enhanced his profile. He didn't get the kind of vote total won in 1997 by Bob O'Connor -- then a councilman and mayoral challenger -- that made him the obvious formidable rival to Mayor Tom Murphy.

After conceding last night before supporters at the Church Brew Works, Mr. Dowd said, "My point was that the city deserves a conversation. The citizens were given a good choice.

"I think of it as a success, and I had a great time," he added.

Mr. Dowd estimated that he spend no more than $100,000 on his race and said that his late entry into the primary put him at a disadvantage against the better-organized and better-financed Mr. Ravenstahl. He predicted a challenge two years from now for his own council seat, likely from supporters of the mayor.

"There'll be people that will certainly want to challenge me because I spoke up. Look, I do not think that candidates should go uncontested."

He tore into the mayor throughout the process, calling him wasteful and corrupt, and won some converts.

"I voted for Dowd," said Tom Lerma, an office installer. "Too many people just got the ear of Ravenstahl. He goes whichever way the wind blows."

For others, Mr. Dowd's aggressive campaign was a turn-off.

"He's a little arrogant," said Judy Kielman, a retired schoolteacher, as she left the Sheraden Senior Center where she voted. "He doesn't even get along with his playmates" on council.

"I think the rap on him was, he doesn't stick around long enough in one job to establish himself," said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Communications, of the councilman who won that post in 2007 after one term on the school board. "I don't think this [result] is going to negate any possibilities of his candidacy for something else in the future -- maybe the state House."

Ms. Robinson's number three showing was the best for an African-American mayoral candidate in 20 years, perhaps in part because of her background as a former city police sergeant.

"She understands the benefits and value city employees bring to our community," said Michelle Jamison, a former Pittsburgh Police canine officer from Brighton Heights who voted for Ms. Robinson.

"I'm not going anywhere," Ms. Robinson said last night. "I certainly will add a voice and make sure that [city officials] do what they're supposed to do."

The sight of two challengers criticizing Mr. Ravenstahl rubbed some voters wrong. Some cited his controversial purchase of $1,000 trash cans as a plus, and recounted a moment in a televised debate when Mr. Dowd took him to task for that, only to have the mayor pull out an e-mail from the councilman's staff asking for new garbage receptacles for his district.

"When people criticize him, he answers back, but he just keeps moving forward," said Kay McCallan, a Brookline retiree, even adopting the mayor's "moving forward" mantra.

Mr. Ravenstahl ascended from the council presidency upon the death of the Mr. O'Connor in 2006. Still a relative newcomer after winning his first council race in 2003, he shows no sign of growing coattails.

His choice in the South Hills' District 4 race -- Anthony Coghill -- lost to Natalia Rudiak, a likely ally of Councilman William Peduto. Mayoral ally Councilwoman Tonya Payne, of the Hill District, was ousted by Daniel Lavelle in District 6.

Tammie Crowley, a 42-year-old "sandwich artist" from Brookline who voted for just the second time in her life yesterday, went for the mayor and Ms. Rudiak.

"We need more women in," she said. "Even though I want women in there, I wanted to stick with Luke."

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965. Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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