Peduto keeps foot on the gas

Mayoral candidate promises full campaign

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With music, applause, and all the trappings of an old-fashioned campaign rally, supporters of Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Bill Peduto gathered on the South Side on Saturday to kick off their drive to the general election Saturday.

A skeptic might ask: Why?

History suggests that the Democrat is the prohibitive favorite Nov. 5 in a city that hasn't elected a Republican in decades. Pursuing his career as a security consultant, his chief opponent, Republican nominee Josh Wander, isn't even in the country, although he says he will return at some point before the election.

But Mr. Peduto says he isn't resting on the laurels of a landslide victory in a sharply contested May primary. He and his allies are knocking on doors, raising money, and, soon, will be advertising on television as though they faced a genuine challenge. And in Mr. Peduto's analysis, they do, although it's not one that will be resolved on Election Day.

After beginning his day speaking at a Seven Springs gathering of municipal officials from the region, an ebullient Mr. Peduto spoke to a crowd of several hundred gathered in the South Side headquarters of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. While dominated by his longtime supporters, there were some surprising faces in the audience, such as council members Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris, both of whom had endorsed his opponent, former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, in the May primary. Ms. Harris, who toyed with the idea of running for the nomination herself, had been a particularly caustic critic of Mr. Peduto.

As trains passed on the riverbank tracks next door, Mr. Peduto urged his partisans to work for a big turnout on Nov. 6, before a shout from the crowd reminded him that election day was actually Nov. 5. At times during his remarks, he sounded as though he were mayor already, offering the crowd an inventory of progress on development issues ranging from the Penguins' plans for the Hill District site adjoining the Consol Energy Center to the Buncher Corp.'s Strip District proposal.

Through the summer as for the next six weeks, the campaign has been laying the groundwork not just for Mr. Peduto's immediate election prospects, but for what the nominee hopes will be an enduring governing coalition. Their efforts include support for three allies bidding for seats on the city council that will help shape the next administration's agenda. More broadly, Saturday's rally was designed as part of an ongoing effort to engage financial and grass-roots support for future policy battles and elections at a variety of levels.

"Any candidate who takes times off loses support," Mr. Peduto said. "If you don't keep your troops engaged, if you don't have events and rallies, people have others things they can do ... as long as people feel they are part of a team, they're going to stay involved."

Despite his unthreatening opposition, the Democratic nominee said his campaign had a general election budget of between $500,000 and $600,000. He plans a major fundraising event in two weeks to support that spending and more.

"This is a full campaign," Mr. Peduto said. "We will put up TV ads; we'll do direct mail. We'll put the full effort in -- not looking to coast until Election Day. ... We intend to raise a significant amount of money that will then be a war chest for the future and to help allies in their campaigns."

Mr. Peduto styles himself as a champion of campaign finance overhaul. He sponsored legislation designed to impose contribution limits on city campaigns. But he's enough of a practical politician to continue to capitalize on a court ruling that suspended those limits for this election.

"Judge [Joseph] James' ruling has lifted all campaign limits, so we have the opportunity between now and the election to raise a significant amount of money, and we intend to do so."

He referred to one of the subplots of the primary election, in which city controller and then mayoral candidate Michael Lamb was found to have exceeded a limit on contributions to his own campaign. Judge James ruled that that fact had triggered a provision of the city ordinance that voided contribution limits for the course of the current campaign. Those limits will presumably be in force once again, when the next election cycle starts after Nov. 5 -- hence Mr. Peduto's eagerness to raise money unfettered by limits while he still can.

The Peduto field organization has also been working as though a competitive contest loomed, and dovetailing its efforts with those of allied council candidates. Mr. Peduto said that through the summer and particularly in the last two weeks, his organizers had been knocking on doors and making phone calls, many of them targeted to voters in the contested council races in districts 4, 7 and 8.

"The priority since Labor Day has been to help our allies," Mr. Peduto said.

"In the past two weeks, we have either door-knocked or called 11,000 households," he added. "A lot of that has been in the area of Council District 7, where we have a strong ally we're supporting in Deb Gross. We also have a strong ally in District 8 in Dan Gilman, and in council District 4 with [incumbent Councilwoman] Natalia Rudiak. They're all on the ballot and they all have opposition."

In the crowded special election in District 7, Ms. Gross, the Democratic nominee, faces independents Tony Ceoffe, Tom Fallon, Jim Wudarczyk, and Libertarian Dave Powell. Ms. Rudiak is being challenged by the GOP's Samuel J. Hurst. And in District 8, Mr. Peduto's current seat, Mr. Gilman, his longtime aide, faces Republican Mordecai D. Treblow.

Mr. Peduto said that in the next few weeks, his grass-roots priority would shift from the contested council seats to areas of the city that he lost in the primary -- principally the South Hills and the West End and parts of the North Side -- before refocusing on the contested council seats in the final weeks of the campaign.

"We need to get through this election with the highest possible positive profile because if you really want to do tough things in the next four years ... those won't be as popular," he said. "If you're going to get knocked down, start from a high point."

Mr. Peduto predicted that the grass-roots database his campaign has assembled through this campaign would be an asset not just in this and future campaigns but in the policy battles to come.

"We've broken every one of our volunteers into their ward and council district and state legislative district and so when there's a bill before council and we need votes, we know who we can turn to within those different council districts -- to lobby their council member directly and to get them involved all the way from committee votes through the presidential election."

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Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com.


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