Peduto quits Pittsburgh mayoral race

Councilman clears way for Ravenstahl, saying he wants to focus on issues, not negative tactics

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Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Councilman William Peduto announces he will withdraw from the Democratic primary for mayor at a news conference at his campaign headquarters in East Liberty yesterday.
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two months before the voting, the Pittsburgh mayor's race is already over.

The lone challenger to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl dropped out yesterday, virtually ensuring the incumbent of victory in the May 15 Democratic primary and making him the very heavy favorite to win the November election and serve through 2009.

Rebecca Droke photos, Post-Gazette
Audio slideshow: Bill Peduto talks about the issues and his political future in these audio excerpts from yesterday's press conference.
Click arrow icon to launch audio and additional pictures.

The official announcement

Councilman Peduto explains his reasons for withdrawing from the primary
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City Councilman William Peduto, who finished second to the late Bob O'Connor in the 2005 mayor's race, said he was abandoning his bid because residents didn't seem interested in the issues and he did not want to run a negative campaign.

"Pittsburgh deserves a political campaign based on ideas to reform our city," he said. "And I realized that running a victorious political campaign would require dividing a city still mourning the loss of Mayor Bob O'Connor."

Mr. O'Connor died of cancer Sept. 1, elevating former council president Ravenstahl to the post and leading to the early election.

"I thank Bill and look forward to working with him to move the city forward," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "This will just give me the opportunity now to focus more so on the future of the city, economic development, clean, safe streets, the financial situation. ... Quite candidly, the next two months would have been consumed by campaign-related activity."

Mr. Peduto did not, though, rule out a run as an independent in the November general election, and he said he'll keep core campaign staff on the payroll and go ahead with a fund-raising event set for next week. To run in November, he would have to change his registration from Democrat to some other affiliation by mid-April.

"That option is always there," he said. "This office will stay open and my staff will stay on to look at all options."

He said he would remain the leader of "a movement to reform Pittsburgh."

The mayoral campaign looked like a potential free-for-all last November, but by December the mayor had consolidated much of the political establishment behind his bid. Only Mr. Peduto stood publicly against him.

The challenger was far behind in the race for money and lost the Democratic Committee endorsement by a nearly four-to-one margin. Polls taken for Mr. Ravenstahl and for other campaigns showed a huge lead for the mayor.

But Mr. Peduto insisted that his decision wasn't based on numbers, but on a climate of negativity and a sense that the public wants to give the 27-year-old mayor, with three years in public office, some time to get his feet wet.

"I'm sought out more to discuss my opponent's missteps than to discuss the important issues facing our city," Mr. Peduto said.

"We feel stifled, so far, in this campaign, that [issues] haven't been the talking points," he said. "The talking points have been around stadium issues, or midnight flights to New York, or Denny Regan."

The mayor has, in recent months, withdrawn the nomination of former Operations Director Dennis Regan to the post of public safety director, and faced charges that Mr. Regan interfered in police discipline. He has admitted to being handcuffed by police outside a 2005 Steelers game. And on Tuesday he faced ethical questions related to a March 13 flight to New York on the private jet of Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle.

In recent weeks, Mr. Peduto has toned down criticisms of the mayor, but Internet blogs and anonymous online media producers supportive of him have turned up the volume of anti-Ravenstahl postings. Mr. Peduto's campaign never launched a promised array of position papers, and its Web site provides no detailed platform.

"The major issue that [residents] are looking at has nothing to do with what Luke's positions are," Mr. Peduto said. "It's 'give the kid a chance.'"

"I think, frankly, that the people of Pittsburgh are overwhelmingly concerned about the issues," countered Damon Andrews, campaign manager for Mr. Ravenstahl. "I think he has misinterpreted this 'give the kid a chance.' It's 'give this young man a chance to continue with the job he's doing.'"

He said the incumbent's campaign will "reshape what we're doing" but will not stop working the phones and distributing literature -- at least until after the mid-April deadline by which Mr. Peduto would have to change parties for a general election bid.

Outside the City-County Building, Downtown, most passers-by shrugged off the apparent end to the race, some indicating they didn't know the mayor faced a challenger, others saying they hadn't followed the campaign.

"I guess I would like to see a race," said Kelly Hollis, a Duquesne University law student who works at a Downtown law firm, "especially since the mayor is so young and inexperienced."

In the political world, though, the sudden evaporation of a contest that had just begun surprised seasoned observers.

"Someone who seemed like a very determined candidate dropped out," said city Democratic Committee Chair Barbara Ernsberger. "All I can say is, boy is Ravenstahl a lucky guy."

Mr. Peduto's withdrawal is "a disappointment," said Khari Mosley, regional director of the League of Young Voters. "I think the people of Pittsburgh really lose because they don't get a substantive debate on the issues and the problems facing our city."

Some political figures applauded Mr. Peduto's decision.

"He wanted to run a campaign on the issues and he didn't want to go negative," said Council President Doug Shields. "That's a testament to his character."


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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