Mayor winds up in an unlikely spot

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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has moved to Westwood, making him the first mayor to live "south of the rivers'' in more than 50 years.

In another city, this might not be news. But Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods. As anyone looking up at those little blue street signs knows, you can drive five minutes and change neighborhoods six times.

There are somewhere around 90 neighborhoods in just a 55-square-mile city but, for whatever reason, the mayors always have rested their heads in one of two general locations: the East End or the North Side. So to have Mayor Luke rent a home in Westwood, a nice residential neighborhood that at least half the city's residents couldn't find if you gave them a map, is downright historic.

I spent the better part of last week trying to reach the mayor on this, but a spokeswoman finally left this message on my voice mail Friday afternoon: "He's not interested in talking about where he lives. He considers that his private life.''

Taking a vow of silence on why you might like where you live seems a funny stance for any mayor, particularly one who just launched a new website, pittsburghcityliving.com, designed to guide would-be Pittsburghers to the streets that suit them best.

By the time I got the message, I'd already gotten a nice walking tour of Westwood from a 15-year resident, so I guess it's OK if the mayor wants to treat his job as if it were under the Witness Protection Program.

Thousands of people drive through Westwood every day and never stop. It is, as linguists might guess, among the city's most western neighborhoods, and if you take that long and winding Noblestown Road out of the city toward Crafton and Green Tree, you'll drive right through the neighborhood's heart.

About 3,000 people live in this "suburb in the city,'' as the city classifies it on the new website. Among them is Mark Foley, 40, an auto mechanic and a married father of two. He grew up on the North Side, and though he sometimes misses the way neighbors so often seemed to be on their stoops and ready to chat on the other side of the Ohio River, he's come to prefer the peacefulness of his current home.

"The only time you hear sirens, they're on Noblestown Road going to somewhere else,'' he said.

We walked down the main road past a big Shop 'n' Save, a fire station, and Sammy's Pizza, a place that's both a neighborhood gathering place and a critical supporter of local youth athletics. We wound our way back into the neighborhood on the gently sloping side streets -- though how gently you think they're sloping may depend on how much you like walking.

I told Mr. Foley that I hear occasional complaints from residents of the city's western and southern neighborhoods about how they feel ignored by the powers on Grant Street and the media. He agreed there could be something to that, but added, "I kind of would like to keep it a secret, to be honest.''

We passed well-tended lawns fronting two- and three-bedroom homes, and then crossed Noblestown and climbed the steps to Westwood Elementary. His son and daughter, 9 and 6, go there and his wife, Christina, is president of the Parents Teachers Organization. It's a public school that requires uniforms, and behind it are a couple of nice Little League diamonds, a playground and a swimming pool.

We then walked down to Crafton Boulevard and the hiking trail that's under development on what once had been a trolley line. Trees have been planted, and one day the path will descend all the way into the West End Valley,

It is, in short, a fine place to live. Mr. Foley said residents were pretty excited when they heard the mayor was moving in, and I mentioned that for most of the city's history, that wouldn't have been possible.

According to a neighborhood history, disgruntled homeowners broke away from Green Tree in 1913 in a road maintenance dispute and formed Westwood borough. In 1927, Westwood joined the city when Pittsburgh also annexed Carrick and Knoxville.

By the way, the only other south-of-the-rivers mayor of Pittsburgh I've been able to find, Thomas Gallagher, lived in Brookline. He served only nine months in 1959, though he did get to meet Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev at the airport that September.

That had nothing to do with his short term. Like Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Gallagher had been the City Council president, and after Mayor Davey Lawrence was elected governor, Mr. Gallagher filled the mayor's post until Joseph Barr's election and succession.

The mayor's post has bounced between the East End and the North Side ever since, until now. But hey, mum's the word.

brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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