Mayoral candidates in flurry of campaigning

ELECTION 2007

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Mark DeSantis and Luke Ravenstahl targeted the same two sections of Pittsburgh -- neighborhoods in the north and south of the city -- in the final run-up to today's special election for mayor.

Campaigners for the pair also focused on tailgating Steelers fans on the North Side, with Mr. DeSantis, who is seeking to be the first Republican elected mayor since 1929, throwing an "Immaculate Election" party in a Heinz Field parking lot.

Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign focused on get-out-the-vote efforts, hoping for a large turnout among Democrats on a bad-weather day with the season's first chance for snow.

The longtime head of Allegheny County's elections division, Mark Wolosik, predicted a 40 percent countywide turnout for the election, based on turnouts of registered voters for the last five municipal elections. In the last two Pittsburgh mayoral election years, 2005 and 2001, the turnout was 30.6 percent and 28.2 percent respectively. Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

But this contest is for a special two-year term only to fill out the term of late Mayor Bob O'Connor. He died in September 2006, whereupon Mr. Ravenstahl, then City Council president, took over. This is the first time either he or Mr. DeSantis -- a consultant and college instructor who runs a South Side technology firm -- has run for mayor.

Other mayoral candidates include Libertarian Tony Oliva and Ryan Scott of the Socialist Workers Party.

The city's home rule charter states the winner of today's race will officially become mayor as soon as the county certifies the election, which Mr. Wolosik said should happen in 20 days -- possibly on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

There are also races for state and county courts, and county, municipal and school board offices.

Both of the main Pittsburgh mayoral candidates said they were surprised by the 40 percent turnout prediction, though neither could say how that would affect today's results.

"It's higher than expected and I do not know how to interpret that," said Mr. DeSantis, 48, of Downtown. "There are two sides to every argument, with turnout as good or bad for us. We figured it was going to hover around 34 or 35 percent by our math."

Mr. Ravenstahl, 27, of Summer Hill, said he would be "shocked" by that many voters.

"If 40 percent turned out, I'd like to think that was a result of our get-out-the-vote efforts, so I think that would be good news," he said.

The Democrat said campaign staffers began focusing on boosting turnout a week ago, after seeing predictions of bad weather for today and finding some voters did not know about the election.

"It might sound odd, but there are a lot of people out there that don't realize that [today] will be Election Day, so the campaign will be doing everything it can to reinforce that message, and make sure my voters get out to vote," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

Democrats have a 5-1 edge over Republicans in the city, with 164,692 registered voters to the GOP's 32,886. Another 30,063 are registered independents or with other parties.

The Ravenstahl campaign taped an endorsement message from Mr. O'Connor's widow, Judy, that was phoned to Democrats yesterday. Mr. DeSantis took a page from the O'Connor playbook, waving to morning commuters in Squirrel Hill and other city neighborhoods yesterday.

The Republican's campaign made pit stops the past few days in Brighton Heights, Brookline, Beechview and Overbrook, neighborhoods also targeted by Mr. Ravenstahl. Mr. DeSantis said that was mostly a coincidence, as his campaign was going to every city neighborhood to get out his message.

"I continue to be impressed by the number of people who tell me 'I'm voting for you and it's the first time. I've never voted for a Republican.' I get that refrain a lot," he said yesterday.

"Another thing is a lot of Pittsburghers really watched this race carefully. Countless times people have told me they saw the debates, they thought about the issues, they talked articulately about their concerns for the city. We've captured people's attention."

While the DeSantis campaign has paid for television commercials to attract voters, the Ravenstahl camp has relied almost exclusively on direct mailings to Democrats, criticizing Mr. DeSantis' support of President Bush, touting Mr. Ravenstahl's record and listing his endorsements from county Chief Executive Dan Onorato and other Democrats.

He did not run television ads, despite having $500,000 more in his campaign chest than Mr. DeSantis.

"We feel comfortable with where we are as a campaign," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "We still believe firmly that our grass-roots campaign, our direct mail campaign, is what was necessary to be successful -- and I feel we will continue with that plan the next 48 hours and that will lead to victory."


Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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