In a major changing of the guard in Pittsburgh's Democratic politics, longtime chairman Pete Wagner stepped down from the helm of of the 19th Ward tonight in the face of a challenge from his recent adversary, and onetime ally, Anthony Coghill.
Mr. Wagner, the father of Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, and brother of former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, had led the South Hills ward, one of the city's largest, for 28 years. He held off a challenge from Mr. Coghill four years ago, but confided just before the meeting began in a Brookline American Legion hall, that his head count showed that he would end up a few votes short.
Mr. Coghill supported Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto against the ward chair's brother, Jack, in last year's Democratic mayoral primary, one of many times they had clashed in the sometimes Byzantine world of Brookline politics. He recruited new faces to run for committee seats in the May primary, arguing that Mr. Wagner's leadership lacked energy and effectiveness.
Mr. Wagner opened the reorganization meeting still wielding the figurative gavel he had held for nearly three decades. He defended his record and criticized Mr. Coghill's ambitions, contending that they were rooted in a personal feud over Mr. Wagner's refusal to back his former ally, Mr. Coghill, in a city council race. Then he surprised many in the room by announcing that he would not seek another term. "A lot of young people feel I'm a dinosaur after 28 years,“ he said. "I don't agree with that.''
But Mr Wagner played one more card in his dispute with Mr. Coghill before leaving the stage. He distributed copies of a Twitter message in which the author, identified as @pittsburghpolitical, claimed that Mr. Coghill had used a homophobic slur in referring to Mr. Wagner. Jim Sheppard, who would unsuccessfully run against Mr. Coghill in the ward balloting a few moments later, claimed that Mr. Coghill had used the the words in a conversation about Mr. Wagner.
Mr. Coghill heatedly denied the charge in just one of a series of raucous exchanges that preceded the voting. After Mr. Wagner left the Brookline Boulevard hall, Mr. Coghill easily won the ward leadership with 46 votes. Mr. Sheppard, a former employee of former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl who said he now works for Ms. Wagner, received 28 votes while one of the ward's elected committee members held out and voted for Mr. Wagner.