Wagner: No regrets after Pittsburgh primary loss

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Jack Wagner has time now for all those chores he ignored through a tumultuous spring -- around the house, the yard, the deck he's been meaning to refinish.

"I was cleaning out the gutters this weekend, all the debris that gets in there," he noted.

But the former auditor general says he doesn't have time for recriminations or regrets after the being rebuffed for the second time in two decades in a bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor of Pittsburgh.

"It's been two weeks, you gain a little bit of perspective with a little bit of time ... and you move on," he said. "You do your best to learn from it, which I have done, but I'm ready to move on."

In the four-person Democratic field, Mr. Wagner finished a distant second behind Councilman Bill Peduto, but he said that the loss wouldn't deter him from considering another run for public office. Before his decision to leap into a race transformed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's decision not to seek re-election, his name regularly appeared in the roster of speculation in the 2014 governor's race. His failed mayoral bid muted that speculation, but when asked last week about the possibility of another statewide bid, he said, "I've never ruled it out."

"Obviously, if I would have won the mayor's race, my focus would have been on being the best mayor I could be," he said. "In losing the mayor's race my options are still open. Obviously, I ran for governor three years ago, I learned a lot in that race. I'm passionate about Pennsylvania. I'm proud of my record as auditor general. I understand state government extremely well."

But he emphasized that he's not ready to make any decisions about his professional future in the private or public sectors.

"I'm still wide open," Mr. Wagner said. "I can assure you that I am not retiring, I'm very open to opportunities in the private sector, the nonprofit sector or the public sector.

"I have not ruled our seeking public office, but it's premature for me to even think through those options at this time. We're two weeks from an election. I'm still busy tying up loose ends."

Asked to critique his effort, Mr. Wagner said that he was never able to overcome the challenge of entering the race so late and having to put a campaign together in weeks against a Peduto effort that had been developed over years.

"Realistically, for any political race, you've got to prepare for more than a year," he said.

Mr. Wagner said that his moderate record wasn't as strong an asset among the more liberal universe of city Democrats as it might be in a general election. In a long political career his losses have all come in primaries -- against Tom Murphy for mayor in 1993, in the 2000 race for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and in his 2010 bid for governor against former county executive Dan Onorato.

"My greatest strength in an election is in a general election," he said. "Every campaign is different, every campaign has a dynamic of its own, [but] my strength is as a candidate in a general election, and sometimes a moderate Democrat has trouble winning in the primary."

Still, he said of his effort, "It was a positive experience and I don't regret doing it even though it wasn't successful. We have a tremendous city, and its best days are going forward.

"You wouldn't be human if your didn't critique yourself," he said. "There are things I could have done differently and made different decisions. I'm not the kind of person who sweats over those kinds of things. Believe me, I'm fine in life."

The Vietnam veteran said his chief public focus right now is the July golf outing he organizes annually to benefit hospitalized veterans.

And that deck is waiting, too.

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Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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