Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was sworn in for half the usual term last night in a show of unity that nearly masked one, big, divisive question.
Should there be a mayor of Pittsburgh?
Joined on the podium by family members and some of the state's top officials, Mr. Ravenstahl told those in attendance at the half-full Carnegie Music Hall that they've "gotta believe" in a city whose very relevance may come into question during his term.
"You've gotta believe that we have a city worth fighting for," he said, "a city of great people, businesses, neighborhoods, bridges, rivers, traditions and history."
The Democrat who ascended from City Council president to mayor upon the Sept. 1, 2006, death of Mayor Bob O'Connor won the right to serve out the rest of that term at the ballot box Nov. 6, handily beating the most vigorous Republican challenge in decades.
He wasn't shy about outlining what he's achieved in nearly 16 months in office. He listed the partially funded Pittsburgh Promise to cover college tuition for city school graduates, a $100 million city bank balance, what he called a dip in crime, and diverse picks for top public safety jobs and board seats.
He said he'll now try to combine development and planning units and give each neighborhood "the tools to protect its heritage and welcome new residents."
He indirectly touched on the most elemental question surrounding city government: Should it continue to exist? That's the topic of a 14-month-old, highly secretive study group led by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, which is expected to issue in March a report suggesting folding the city into Allegheny County.
Mr. Ravenstahl offered a different vision.
"I will do everything in my power to continue to share services, reduce costs through the elimination of duplicative services, and partner with others to cooperatively approach services for the benefit of all," he said. He touted a 2006 deal that has the city collecting trash for Wilkinsburg Borough, saying that "expanding our services is a formula for success."
Is such expansion at odds with the intentions of many top local leaders? Not according to County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who spoke at the inauguration. "I heard [the mayor talk about] finding ways to be more efficient, eliminating duplicative services, working closely with the county," he said.
"Both of us ... are waiting for the [Nordenberg] report. The two of us will talk together on strategies, what it means, where we're going," he said. A full merger, he added, would create "a bigger city, whatever form it takes."
"It makes sense for it to happen," said County Council President Rich Fitzgerald. "We'll see what the city officials want to do."
Others shared the skepticism the mayor has often voiced.
"I have trouble envisioning" a full merger, said state Rep. Don Walko, a Democrat from Observatory Hill and one of the earliest backers of Mr. Ravenstahl's initial 2003 bid for council. He noted that the size and sophistication of the city's police and fire bureaus makes them dramatically different from anything the county or neighboring municipalities have.
"Why would we get rid of ourselves? They're not consolidating all of those other [municipalities]," said Barbara Ernsberger, chair of the city Democratic Committee. "He's going to have to fight that issue. That takes time and energy."
"They have been saying [consolidate] for 100 years, and it never came to pass," said former Mayor Sophie Masloff. "I don't think it will ever come to pass."
The Music Hall, which seats 2,000, was populated largely with the mayor's family and friends, city administrators, political supporters and operatives, and elected officials like state Sens. Jim Ferlo and Wayne Fontana, state Rep. Don Walko, and much of City Council. Joining the mayor and his family on stage were Ms. Masloff, Mr. Onorato, Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, and Philadelphia mayor-elect Michael Nutter.
Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare served as master of ceremonies. The Rev. Terrence O'Connor, son of the late mayor, conducted the benediction. The mayor's mother, Cynthia, and his brothers, Adam and Brad, presented the Certificate of Election, and his father, District Judge Robert P. Ravenstahl Jr., administered the oath of office.
Mr. Ravenstahl in his speech pledged to "leave it all on the field. You will get all I have to give. I will listen to, and genuinely care for, the people of Pittsburgh. I will be accessible, thoughtful and open-minded. I will not be the mayor, I will be your mayor."
He closed with a series of "you've gottas," including this one aimed at critics: "You've gotta believe that when some in our community look for bad, even in things that are good, that we are a people of ancestors who fought against negativity to make great things happen, that we have a Pittsburgh Pride that keeps us working each and every day for a brighter future."
Even the inauguration, though, attracted a few critics. Some 15 members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group protested outside. Patrick Young, a member of the group, said he doesn't believe current leadership represents "what Pittsburghers, especially poor and working class Pittsburghers, want and need." He said the focus is on arenas and casinos rather than on real needs, like preserving transit service.
"You always have people who want to look at the glass as half-empty rather than half-full," Mr. Ravenstahl said at a news conference earlier in the day. "There's just so much potential here, and I don't think we appreciate it enough."
Rich Lord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.