Had significant edge in East End, held own on Wagner turf
May 23, 2013 8:00 AM
Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee for mayor, speaks during a news conference Wednesday at his campaign headquarters in East Liberty.
By James O'Toole and Joe Smydo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bill Peduto seized the city's Democratic mayoral nomination with a campaign that performed as planned, capitalizing on his strength in his East End base and throughout the wards between the rivers, battling Jack Wagner to a near draw in the neighborhoods north of the rivers and holding the councilman's losses to a minimum in the more Wagner-friendly territory south of the rivers.
The results made him the prohibitive favorite to capture the mayor's office in a race with Republican nominee Josh Wander in November. But there is still the possibility, however remote, that an independent candidate could emerge and secure enough signatures to add his or her name to the general election ballot.
One of Mr. Peduto's critics, city council President Darlene Harris, switched her registration from Democratic to independent a month before the primary. Beyond confirming her changed partisan status, however, Mrs. Harris would not elaborate on the switch.
Between mouthfuls of Doritos, the councilman discussed his long-sought victory Wednesday afternoon in his Highland Avenue headquarters. He noted that Tuesday's turnout had been somewhat lower than he expected, but otherwise the results had closely followed the expectations of an operation that had spent months identifying its supporters among the Democratic electorate.
"We had it pegged higher; we had assumed a 54,000 turnout," Mr. Peduto observed of a day when only about 44,000 city voters cast ballots. "That said, two years ago, the county executive race [turnout in the city] was about 38,000. We exceeded that by 20 percent. ... In the areas where turnout was higher the margin of victory for us was greater, and that's not a coincidence. We pushed that."
Mr. Peduto's winning total was also padded by his strong showing among African-American voters. He ran first in several heavily African-American wards, including the 12th and 13th, which include neighborhoods such as Homewood and Lincoln-Lemington. In the 13th, for example, he captured 46 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for Mr. Wagner and just 22 percent of the vote for state Rep. Jake Wheatley, one of two African-American candidates in the race. The other, A.J. Richardson, received only a smattering of votes citywide.
Mr. Wheatley won the black-majority wards in his Hill District base, but even in those communities Mr. Peduto ran a strong second. In the 5th Ward, which includes much of the Hill District, the legislator had 38 percent, or 500 votes, compared with 33 percent, or 442 votes, for Mr. Peduto.
The still-unofficial returns in those areas suggest that the underfunded Wheatley campaign failed to make real inroads among black voters outside of his legislative district. They also help explain why Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's anti-Peduto advertising took particular aim at undercutting his support among African-Americans.
Noting the critical barrage he faced from both Mr. Wagner and Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Peduto said, "I likened it to studio wrestling where two guys are in the ring, one is poking you in the eye, the other one is beating you with a chair and the referee is looking the other way."
The Peduto campaign aired its own ads targeting Mr. Wagner, which were, as Mr. Wagner frequently noted, the first negative ads of the campaign. But Mr. Peduto contended that the ratio of overall negative ads was more than 2-to-1 against him.
The relatively heavy turnout in the East End also boosted Mr. Peduto's bottom line. Just three wards -- the 11th in Highland Park, the 7th in Shadyside, and the 14th in Squirrel Hill -- accounted for roughly 25 percent of the votes cast citywide, and Mr. Peduto dominated each of them. He captured 67 percent in the 11th; 77 percent in the 7th, and 78 percent in the 14th, the largest ward in the city.
In his home ward, the 19th, Mr. Wagner collected 61 percent of the votes cast.
It remains unclear whether his supporter, Mrs. Harris, would try to challenge Mr. Peduto, a former council ally from whom she's become estranged in recent years.
She confirmed Wednesday that she temporarily changed her registration from Democrat to independent to keep her options open. She declined to say what those options might be.
"It's possible," Mr. Peduto said of the prospect of the Harris candidacy. "I wouldn't say it's likely, but it's definitely possible. She probably will be reaching out to the same elected officials and labor unions and Downtown business leaders that backed Luke and then Jack."
Mr. Ravenstahl declined to seek re-election but has said he plans to serve out his term. If Mr. Ravenstahl should step down before the end of his term, Mrs. Harris would be first in line to succeed him. She would have to give up her council seat to become mayor, however, meaning that running for the job as an independent would be the only way for her to stay in city government after the first of the year.
Mrs. Harris considered running for mayor in the Democratic primary after Mr. Ravenstahl's announcement that he was quitting the race. Her "Harris for Mayor" website is still up. But, citing family reasons, she backed out of the race on the last day to file nominating petitions.
Although a lifelong Democrat, former Mayor Richard Caliguiri won a full term by running as an independent against former county Commissioner Tom Foerster in 1977. To prevent the possibility of such maneuvering in the future, the Legislature changed state law to bar anyone from running as an independent in the fall who had not been an independent at least 30 days before the spring primary.
Mrs. Harris and Mr. Peduto, once members of the same anti-Ravenstahl team on council, had a parting of the ways in late 2011. After declining to run herself, she endorsed Mr. Wagner and missed no opportunity to criticize Mr. Peduto. She chairs the 26th Ward on the North Side. Mr. Wagner carried her ward, but not by much. He collected 679 votes there, compared with 598 for Mr. Peduto.
Mrs. Harris said she will resume her Democratic registration at some point. Eileen Kelly, the head of the city Democratic committee, said she was surprised to hear of the Harris move. Ms. Kelly said she would double-check the party by-laws but believed that the registration switch made Mrs. Harris ineligible to serve as ward chair or even as a Democratic committeewoman. Mrs. Harris said a vice chair could assume her duties during the period that she's an independent.