7 Democrats, 1 Republican want to run for Pittsburgh mayor

Campaign funds disputed for Wagner

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The Pittsburgh mayor's race, effectively under way for months, crossed its legal starting line Tuesday with an argument over campaign funding.

After filing his nominating petitions, former state Auditor General Jack Wagner said he plans to use the roughly $300,000 in his state campaign committee for the mayor's race. Just a few moments later, his rival, city Councilman Bill Peduto, said Mr. Wagner's plan to use past contributions would violate the city campaign finance ordinance that Mr. Peduto helped enact.

In an impromptu news conference after filing his nominating papers, Mr. Wagner said his lawyers had looked at the issue and given him the green light to use the funds as a down payment on a race that he said estimated would cost "north of $850,000 or $1 million."

Mr. Peduto disputed Mr. Wagner's interpretation of the law and said he would mount a legal challenge to it if Mr. Wagner tried to spend funds raised while he had been seeking state office.

Mr. Peduto's challenge of another candidate, city Controller Michael Lamb, on a similar issue is now before the Allegheny County Board of Elections. Depending on the outcome of the review, Mr. Peduto said, his campaign could end up pursuing the complaint in Common Pleas Court.

The mayoral candidates offered their competing interpretations of the law in news conferences outside the county elections office after each had met the filing deadline for the offices at stake in the May 21 primary.

By the time the Elections Division closed its doors, seven Democrats and one Republican had submitted mayoral petitions, along with hundreds of candidates for county and municipal councils, school boards and other local offices.

Rounding out the field for mayor of Pittsburgh were Mr. Lamb, city Council President Darlene Harris, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, and A.J. Richardson, who listed his occupation as school bus monitor. The sole Republican to file for mayor was Josh Wander of Squirrel Hill.

County Councilman Bill Robinson, a Democrat who had said as late as Tuesday morning that he planned to run, elected not to get into the primary but said that he would still weigh the option of running as an independent in the November election. Under the county charter, Mr. Robinson would have been required to resign his council seat if he had entered the race.

Another potential candidate, state Sen. Wayne Fontana, announced earlier Tuesday that he had decided against the race and later said that he was endorsing Mr. Peduto in the Democratic primary.

And while he met the filing deadline, Mr. Wheatley has said he was still making up his mind on whether to pursue a candidacy. He has until March 27 to withdraw his name from the primary ballot. After that, he or any other candidate would need a court order to withdraw.

Spurred by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's surprise decision not to seek re-election, the Democratic primary left the starting blocks with the largest roster of established political figures in recent memory, reminiscent of the wide-open 1989 primary in which Sophie Masloff, an unelected incumbent, prevailed over four Democratic challengers.

According to one of them, at least, this race starts its post-Ravenstahl phase with a new front-runner. After submitting petitions with more than 10 times the required 250 signatures, Mr. Peduto embraced that banner for himself, citing one public and one private poll that he said showed him with a double-digit lead.

"Our intention is to keep [that lead] and just keep the throttle down," the East End councilman said.

Mr. Wagner is just one of the contenders who would dispute that analysis, despite the fact that he and other late entrants are playing catch-up. Mr. Peduto and Mr. Lamb, the only candidates who declared before Mr. Ravenstahl's decision, have had months to lay the logistical foundations to the campaign while the others are scrambling to match them.

Mr. Wagner had been considering running as an independent in November but cut short a vacation in Israel just last week to launch his effort. Citing his "excellent professional and political credentials," he expressed confidence Tuesday. He said his experience in state and local government would equip him to lead the city where he had served as a councilman and state senator before moving on to statewide office.

Among other issues, he said he would emphasize the need to improve the city's schools and combat their high dropout rate. He said the mayor could be "a strong public advocate" for education. Noting his concern over the ongoing investigation of the city's police bureau, he said he believed a new chief should come from within the force and that the city might be better served if he or she reported directly to the mayor rather than to a public safety director.

There were few surprises in the filings for city council. Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith is unopposed in city Council District 2. In District 4, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is being challenged by Johnny Lee and Christopher Cicchitto, while Samuel Hurst is unopposed for the GOP nomination. Former Councilwoman Tonya Payne and Franco "Dok" Harris are attempting to oust Robert Daniel Lavelle in District 6. District 8, currently led by Mr. Peduto, offers a another three-person Democratic field -- Sam Hens-Greco, Jeanne Clark, and Dan Gilman -- and an unopposed Republican, Mordecai Treblow.

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Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com. First Published March 13, 2013 4:00 AM


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