The race for Pittsburgh City Controller, and thus for presumptive 2009 mayoral challenger, looks like a thrill ride in the making.
A poll commissioned by Council President Doug Shields' campaign for controller (he's also running for reelection to council) suggests that he's nominally leading the tight race. The results of Garin Hart Yang's survey of 404 likely voters, conducted Feb. 17 through 19:
Mr. Shields 19 percent
Allegheny County Prothonotary Michael Lamb 18 percent
Former County Commissioner Mike Dawida 16 percent
Acting Controller Tony Pokora 8 percent
Highland Park Property Manager DaMon Macklin 1 percent
Undecided 38 percent
The polling memo goes on to say that Mr. Pokora suffers from lower name recognition than the three front-runners, with just 34 percent of those surveyed recognizing his name.
Mr. Pokora, though, is making a serious run at the Democratic Committee endorsement, which could improve his chances. Early Returns spoke with six committee ward chairs yesterday, and four said they supported Mr. Pokora. The other two were backing Mr. Lamb. It's only fair to note that none of the chairs surveyed were from areas adjacent to Mr. Shields' home base of Squirrel Hill.
The Peduto scenario
Of those six ward chairs, five said they're backing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl over challenger Councilman William Peduto in Sunday's endorsement vote. That would seem to validate the conventional wisdom that the mayor is likely to get the party nod, although some chairs cautioned that it isn't over.
"Luke has had it for such a short time, I don't think anyone can say it's definitely his," said Mary Lou Simon, 16th Ward chair. That said, he's "showed a lot of maturity for someone who's 27," she added, and she's supporting him.
For Mr. Peduto to win, insiders said, he has to count on some backlash against the Ravenstahl campaign's aggressive effort to line up votes. He also has to get some help from festering resentment against Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who some committee members say has hoarded too much power. Then wards 14 (Squirrel Hill) and 19 (Mount Washington to Beechview), the city's biggest, have to throw some 120 committee votes to the councilman. Wards 7 (Shadyside) and 11 (Highland Park), which tend to prefer wonks, would have to follow. He'd have to pull 45 votes in the North Side wards, where he has support from chairs Ben Woods and Khari Mosley. He'd need to split with the mayor in wards 4 (Oakland), 15 (Greenfield-Hazelwood), 20 (Banksville to Sheraden) and 29 (Carrick). It would probably still take some pick-ups in changing wards like 6 (Lower Lawrenceville) and 8 (Bloomfield) to put him over the top.
Possible? Sure. But most insiders surveyed by Early Returns think a sitting mayor, even one with just six months in office, who hasn't done anything to enrage the committee, is a pretty good bet to win his party's nod.
Council incumbents up and down
In the City Council races, it's notable that the aforementioned Ms. Simon says the endorsement fight between Councilman Jeff Koch and challenger Bruce Kraus "might be close." Each has a base in the South Side and hilltop neighborhoods.
Councilman Len Bodack seems to have a good shot at the party nod in his defense against Patrick Dowd and Tom Fallon. The district's ward chairs include Tony Ceoffe in Ward 6, who has worked closely with Mr. Bodack on public safety efforts; Ron Deutsch, who works for Mr. Bodack, in Ward 9; Mr. Bodack himself in Ward 10; and city Chief of Staff Yarone Zober in Ward 11, who is viewed as a supporter of the incumbent.
Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle's reelection bid may be off to a rocky start if the endorsement goes to Leah Kirkland, as some observers say could happen. Ms. Kirkland is the daughter of Ward 12 Chair Jacqueline Fielder, who was long a supporter of Ms. Carlisle. Blood is thicker than water, though, especially in Pittsburgh politics.
Who's paying the freight in the South Side?
A few weeks ago, Early Returns noted that Mr. Koch's campaign finance report didn't meet legal requirements, because it didn't list individual contributors. He still hasn't filed an amended report. But it turns out his challenger, Mr. Kraus, hasn't yet filed any reports showing where his funding is coming from. Yesterday Mr. Kraus said he hasn't submitted the annual finance report required of active candidates by Jan. 31 because he closed out one campaign committee last year and opened up a new one early this year. Sounds like he gets off the hook on a technicality.
A blog that's not anti-Ravenstahl
And finally, in response to Early Returns' call for information on any pro-Ravenstahl blogs, we've learned of this site, which at least seems somewhat sympathetic to the mayor:
Pittsburgh Jack's Place