Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Tuesday lashed out at reporters who asked for an update on his whereabouts and a council member who balked at extending a snow emergency declaration without his signature.
Mr. Ravenstahl's harsh words came after he swept into a news conference on the death of a Hazelwood man who was waiting for an ambulance during the Feb. 6 snowstorm. That ended six-plus hours during which the mayor's staff would not specify his location, other than to say he was "in town." Talk show hosts and bloggers lit up with speculation about his whereabouts.
The outburst also came days after he was criticized for spending part of the snow emergency in the Laurel Highlands.
"It's unfortunate that when we're talking about somebody that died," he told reporters, "that I'm worried about responding to you, and you, and you, and you, about me being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras."
He said he was not in New Orleans, and never planned to go to Mardi Gras, debunking speculation that had been driven by the fact that several mayoral staff members are on vacation this week during the celebration.
"I don't have a responsibility to tell you where I am every second of the day," the mayor said. "I was in the city, I was working, and I was responding to a tragic situation." Asked why his staff did not disclose his whereabouts, the mayor said the information was withheld "just to kind of prove a point, that you all need to be more responsible."
Councilman William Peduto sparked some of the media interest by asking at a council meeting why the mayor hadn't personally signed a request to extend the emergency declaration, which suspends normal contracting procedures.
Mr. Ravenstahl said his sometime foil was "playing a game."
"Councilman Peduto has motive and reason for trying to do what he's trying to do," he said.
Mr. Peduto said his only motive was getting a properly executed extension of the emergency declaration, adding that any procedural error could hurt the city in its effort to get federal disaster aid. "I don't know that it is necessary for any public official for their location to be known 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Mr. Peduto said. But, he added, an emergency changes the rules. "When a president, governor or mayor declares a state of emergency, it is incumbent on them to be available."
On Monday, the mayor wasn't available to comment on snow removal or on prevailing wage legislation which became law without his signature. He attended a Hill District public meeting that evening.
On Tuesday, news media outlets, including the Post-Gazette, began asking about the mayor's schedule by 9 a.m. A meeting he had scheduled with Council President Darlene Harris was canceled. She said she couldn't reach him by cell phone to discuss the emergency extension.
Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven at noon said she did not know Mr. Ravenstahl's exact whereabouts, but said he was in Pittsburgh.
"I was here," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I did three things today. I responded to your ridiculous inquiries. I drove around the city of Pittsburgh and did an evaluation of the streets and how they looked. And I spent the majority of my time with the public safety director" discussing the death of a Hazelwood man whose companion repeatedly called for an ambulance during the snow emergency.
The mayor's office confirmed Tuesday that he spent Feb. 5 and 6 at a Seven Springs condominium he rented from its owner, James Scalo. Mr. Scalo's firm, Burns & Scalo Real Estate Services, does not have city contracts and does not appear to have received any recent Urban Redevelopment Authority assistance.
Mr. Scalo could not be reached for comment. The mayor would not say how much he paid in rent. The city code bars officials from accepting "anything of value" from any "interested party."
James Scalo made $6,000 in contributions last year to Mr. Ravenstahl's election campaign, as did John Scalo, co-president of the firm, according to disclosures filed with the Allegheny County Elections Division.
The mayor had freely disclosed that he was in the Laurel Highlands celebrating his 30th birthday from the evening of Feb. 5 through the morning of Feb. 7, as was Public Safety Director Michael Huss, adding they were able to perform their duties from there by phone and computer.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.