Peduto wins Pittsburgh mayoral election in landslide



Bill Peduto has some immediate goals: cleaning out 19 years' worth of files from his city council office; attacking the clutter in his long-neglected Point Breeze home that looks as though "it could be on an episode of 'Hoarders.' "

And then there's that city he has to run.

Tuesday night, the 49-year-old Democrat brushed aside token opposition to become Pittsburgh's chief executive, officially capturing the mayoral post he first sought nearly a decade ago. In January, the veteran councilman will move to the opposite end of the fifth-floor hallway of the City-County Building, to the grand corner office about to be vacated by his longtime rival, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Bill Peduto elected Pittsburgh Mayor

Democrat Bill Peduto is elected the next mayor of Pittsburgh in a landslide victory. (Video by Rebecca Droke; 11/6/2013)

As expected, Mr. Peduto was able to declare victory against Republican Josh Wander and Les Ludwig, an independent, shortly after the polls closed.

The results also brought victories to city council candidates expected to be reliable allies of the new administration. Dan Gilman, Mr. Peduto's longtime aide, will succeed him in the East End District Mr. Peduto had represented since 2001. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak won re-election to her South Hills district. In a special election to fill the seat recently vacated by Patrick Dowd, Deb Gross won in a crowded field abetted by a turnout operation quarterbacked by the Peduto campaign team.

Two council incumbents, Theresa Smith and Daniel Lavelle, were unopposed for re-election.

After the polls closed, Mr. Peduto reveled in the cheers of hundreds crowded into the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum, which was decorated with giant blue and yellow balloons in the heart of Homewood. The crowd featured a swath of community leaders and public officials, including Councilman Ricky Burgess and state Rep. Ed Gainey, both of whom represent the community.

The thump and boom of the Westinghouse High School band snaked through the jubilant crowd, noisily announcing the mayor-elect's arrival.

Karl Edmonds, 39, grew up in this neighborhood, one that had come to be known for many of the things seen immediately outside this venue: blight and vacant storefronts.

Mr. Edmonds, who supported Mr. Peduto in the primary, said he was heartened that Mr. Peduto chose to host his election party in the heart of one of the city's most troubled neighborhoods. It symbolized, to him, that Mr. Peduto, "is not afraid, number one, to come into a community like this."

"He's going to put money back into the communities," Mr. Edmonds, a pastor and gospel entertainer said, adding that he believes he will bring the same kind of reinvestment communities like Downtown and East Liberty have seen. "It needs serious rehabilitation."

On stage for his victory speech, Mr. Peduto twirled a broom -- a campaign symbol he use to evoke his plans to clean up corrupt city government. His speech retraced history to the founding of the city and into the 21st century, weaving in his family's own story.

"We are the next great American city," he said. "It's about building the neighborhoods that have built this region."

He spoke, too, of Pittsburgh's highs and lows, of the early 1980s when the city's economy was brought to its knees. "We never gave up on Pittsburgh. We knew that it had something magical and we will use that to get to the next stage."

As the anticipated landslide rolled on, Mr. Peduto continued to mix with his supporters at the Homewood auditorium. The venue's choice offered a symbolic rebuttal to campaign attacks that clearly got under the mayor-elect's skin during a hard-fought primary battled. Ads aired both by former Auditor General Jack Wagner and a Ravenstahl political action committee had cited Mr. Peduto's votes in opposition to a senior center development in Homewood attempting to portray him as insensitive to the needs of communities beyond his relatively affluent district.

"We need a mayor for all of Pittsburgh, not just Bill Peduto's neighborhood," said one of the ads that so irked him.

They're all Mr. Peduto's neighborhoods now.

He will preside over a city that has fared better than many through the economic downturn, thriving in part due to the ripple effects of its educational and medical institutions. One of the new government's core decisions will be on how to pursue the city's long-standing quest for revenue from those nonprofits, an elusive goal that led Mr. Ravenstahl to file a suit against UPMC.

As he did on council, Mr. Peduto also will face the challenge of fully funding the pension and health care costs of a city that, until recently, had lost population steadily for more than half a century.

Mr. Peduto has already named Kevin Acklin, a Downtown attorney and former independent candidate for mayor, as his chief of staff. Mr. Peduto has said he plans to name a handful of other senior aides within the mayor's office shortly.

They, in turn, will work with a foundation-sponsored talent search for the few dozen senior departmental positions that will turn over with the new administration.

The mayoral returns punctuated a political year that defied prediction. Mr. Ravenstahl declared his plans to seek re-election early this year. Just weeks later, however, he called a dramatic news conference in which he reversed course and announced that he would not seek another term.

His startling decision came as his administration and its police bureau were the focus of a federal investigation, still apparently ongoing, that led to former police Chief Nate Harper's guilty plea on charges that he had siphoned police funds and failed to file federal tax returns.

Until then, the race for the Democratic nod had been shaping up as a three-person contest including city Controller Michael Lamb as well as Mr. Peduto and the incumbent. The Ravenstahl exit scrambled the field.

At one point, it seemed that as many as seven Democrats would vie for the suddenly open seat. After the filing deadline passed, the competition for the crucial Democratic nomination ended up a four-way contest including Mr. Peduto, Mr. Wagner, state Rep. Jake Wheatley and A.J. Richardson, a little-known community activist.

While there were few disagreements on specific policy issues, the competition between the two chief contenders, Mr. Peduto and Mr. Wagner, offered a clear contrast in personal style and governing culture. Mr. Wagner pointed to his long record as a local and state office-holder while Mr. Peduto portrayed himself as a proponent of a "new Pittsburgh," where development would be guided by grass-roots community involvement rather than traditional political and business establishments.

Despite being outspent by Mr. Wagner and facing an onslaught of negative ads from a political action committee controlled by Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Peduto won easily, capturing a majority of the votes amid a low turnout.

Mr. Wander, an unsuccessful candidate for city council in the past, was unopposed for the Republican nomination. The security consultant's campaign was less than robust, however, as he spent much of the summer and fall in Israel.

He did return to Pittsburgh just before the election, while launching a last-minute round of robocalls. How much he spent on them is unclear, however, as his campaign failed to file a campaign expense report.

Despite his almost certain victory,  Mr. Peduto aired television commercials in the last weeks before the general election, hoping to boost the typically low off-year election turnout.


Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published November 5, 2013 9:34 PM

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