Pittsburgh mayoral candidates reaching out to core voters

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Nearing the last week of the mayoral primary, the main candidates for Pittsburgh's top job focused on getting their core voters to the May 21 polls, while racing to multiple events across the city.

Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner held a rally on the North Side with other fellow veterans in a bid to contact 10,000 military voters and their families. City Councilman Bill Peduto hopscotched from the East End to the South Hills and back, meeting voters and pushing back against attack ads funded by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Fellow Democrat and state Rep. Jake Wheatley had a full day of voter outreach scheduled.

Mr. Wagner, 65, has for the first time made his Vietnam War service central to his campaign, featuring it in a television ad and a citywide mailer. On Saturday about 60 veterans joined him for a rally at the hibiscus-shaped Vietnam Veterans Monument on the North Shore, which Mr. Wagner helped dedicate while a city councilman in November 1987.

Speakers from former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier to the president of the monument fund, T.J. McGarvey, extolled Mr. Wagner's military time and said it, plus two decades working in Harrisburg, prepared him to best lead the city. "Yes, Jack was in the service, but I would strongly suggest he never left the service," Mr. McGarvey said.

Mr. Wagner has long been rather stiff in public but was remarkably at ease -- and at times passionate -- addressing his fellow veterans, some of whom he had known since joining the Marine Corps as a teenager. He said he wished to follow the example of other former Vietnam vets -- naming Tom Ridge, the former Republican governor, and Jack Murtha, the late Democratic congressman -- in bringing the lessons of war back to government.

Being in the military, he said, teaches one how to "do things and do them right, do them with integrity, do them with professionalism and do them working together. That's what leadership is about and that's what the opportunity is here today in terms of electing a mayor."

Dan Pultz of Allegheny West, chairman of the Veterans for Wagner committee, is overseeing efforts to distribute 200 packets to fellow vets, each containing 50 phone numbers of city voters with military ties, with hopes of reaching 10,000 voters before primary day.

The Peduto campaign has long been data-driven -- in its policy proposals, its interaction with voters and its get-out-the-vote efforts -- and the last several days of the primary race are no different.

After attending a Mother's Day rally against gun violence at a Baptist church in East Liberty and a street fair in Friendship, he and a campaign staffer scrambled across the city to Carrick to knock on prospective voter doors. But not just any doors: Ten days away from an election is a bit late to start courting all voters, so his campaign had lists of addresses known to be either supporting him or undecided. Even though most houses on hilly Kirk Avenue are owned by Democrats, if they were judged to be firmly supporting Wagner or Wheatley, their doors were skipped.

The primary is expected to be a close one and Mr. Peduto, 48, underscored that in his messages to voters, urging them to call him personally if they had questions about attacks on his record aired in commercials by Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Wagner.

"All this stuff on TV is the goofiness of politics," he told a young mother of four. "Give me a chance to address it. All of it is factually incorrect."

To another woman he said, "If you're thinking 'I would have voted for you but' [the negative ads], give me an opportunity to talk to you directly and earn your vote."

He was accompanied on his walk by District 4 city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak -- who is also on the May 21 ballot against challenger Johnny Lee, a high school sports radio announcer and retired postal worker -- and Kirk Avenue block watch captain Donna Williams.

She is supporting the councilman for mayor, Ms. Williams said, because "we don't need somebody who is a yes-man or owes anybody any favors. We need somebody who cares about us as much as we care about our streets too."

Mr. Peduto would then travel to Lincoln-Lemington, back south to a car cruise in Beechview, back to a football banquet in Homewood and then to a "DJs for Peduto" rally in East Liberty.

Mr. Wheatley had a similar schedule, going to a run in Mount Washington, the anti-gun rally in East Liberty, a senior center in the Hill District and a Black Political Empowerment Project event in the North Side. Efforts to join him on the trail were unsuccessful.

Polls and fundraising showed Mr. Wheatley running third among the three main Democrats in the race but his fundraising got a boost early this month when Mr. Ravenstahl donated him $10,000.

Sheraden activist A.J. Richardson is also on the ballot.

After his veterans rally, Mr. Wagner ended the day with a fundraiser in the South Side.

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Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.post-gazette.com or Twitter at @EarlyReturns.


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