Pittsburgh City council President Darlene Harris has taken another critical step toward launching an independent bid for mayor by formally starting fundraising for a run.
Mrs. Harris' political team issued a letter earlier this month to contributors to candidates in the May 21 Democratic primary saying she is still exploring a run and will need funding to make a serious challenge in the fall.
"We all know that it takes money to win an election. I know you gave to several candidates this past May Primary, but the main election and final decision is the November General Election," the letter says. It goes on to say "the official announcement will be made in the near future as we try to feel out the voters and supporters," and in the meantime asks supporters to give to the Darlene Harris Election Committee.
She filed paperwork June 21 with the Allegheny County elections division authorizing the committee to take new donations.
In an interview, though, the council president said she has still not decided whether she will go forward with the bid. She has until next week to decide.
"All I've done from day one is keep my options open. No more, no less," she said.
Mrs. Harris briefly considered running in the Democratic primary for mayor this spring before becoming an ally of former Auditor General Jack Wagner and serving as his campaign's chief critic of his main opponent, councilman Bill Peduto. On April 22, a month before Mr. Peduto won the primary, she quietly changed her voter registration away from Democratic to allow for an independent run this fall.
She has until Aug. 1 to file the 485 petition signatures necessary to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot against Mr. Peduto and Republican nominee Josh Wander of Squirrel Hill.
It is difficult to wage an independent mayoral bid in the city, given the huge registration edge for Democrats. In the last mayor's race in 2009, incumbent Luke Ravenstahl took 55 percent of the vote while independent challengers Dok Harris and Kevin Acklin took 25 and 19 percent, respectively.
The Democratic establishment usually closes ranks, too: Even Mr. Ravenstahl, a bitter Peduto foe who spent more than $250,000 on ads targeting the councilman's mayoral bid, has publicly urged Mrs. Harris not to run against him.
But her campaign could benefit from a Common Pleas Court judge's decision in April waiving campaign finance limits for the duration of this year's race for mayor. After the high-cost May primary, Mr. Peduto's campaign was left with less than $22,000 in cash, so she could try to match him with a few big contributors.
Her campaign committee knows that. "There is no limit to the amount you can donate!" the fundraising letter says.
The Harris and Acklin campaigns each spent $200,000 on their losing independent mayoral bids in 2009.
A version of the letter was posted at darleneharrisformayor.com.
Tim McNulty: email@example.com or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns. First Published July 23, 2013 4:00 AM