Door is shut tight on queries about Mayor Ravenstahl's new home

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I often wonder if Mayor Luke Ravenstahl likes his job much.

I'm left to guess. He doesn't want to talk about it.

It's too bad. I thought I had a news peg for the discussion. The aging mayor -- could he be 32 already? -- just bought a house on the North Side, where he was born and raised. It's tucked along a winding, woodsy back street so far off the beaten path that I had trouble finding it despite having lived on the North Side for more than two decades.

That's probably the point. Mr. Ravenstahl is the most private of public figures. A couple of years ago, when he moved to Westwood and became the first mayor to live "south of the rivers'' in more than 50 years, I called the mayor's office with what I thought was the ultimate softball question:

How does the mayor like his new neighborhood?

"He's not interested in talking about where he lives,'' a spokeswoman said into my voice mail some days later. "He considers that his private life.''

This at a time when the city had just launched PittsburghCityLiving.com, a website designed to guide would-be Pittsburghers to streets that suit them. Could there have been anything simpler than saying, "Oh, my new neighbors are great,'' and then sliding into a quick promo of that site?

"No comment" is faster, I guess. It's just odd.

Flash forward two years. The neighborhood's new but the story isn't. Mr. Ravenstahl bought a house in August on a sloping street where the back side of Fineview slides quietly into Perry Hilltop. There are no sidewalks, and homes are spaced well apart. The mayor's is a modest three-bedroom contemporary sitting high off the road.

I figured I'd ask why Mr. Ravenstahl chose this quasi-rural slice of the city, and then we could get into what he likes and doesn't like about being mayor.

"He is not interested,'' his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, reported by email.

Yet a few nights later at the premiere of that new Tom Cruise movie filmed in Pittsburgh, Mr. Ravenstahl said this is a great city in which to live and "any chance we get to tell that story is a good one.''

Excepting a chance to talk about his own neighborhood, that is. How can a mayor promote a city if he balks at questions that would be icebreakers at a PTA coffee klatsch?

We're not used to this in Pittsburgh. We like to talk about our neighborhoods here. Mr. Ravenstahl's immediate predecessor, the late Bob O'Connor, was easily found as a Squirrel Hill councilman and then in his eight months as mayor. Everyone knew Mr. O'Connor lived on Phillips Avenue.

Before him, Mayor Tom Murphy was alleged by some to spend too much time at his Butler County retreat, but the confirmed North Sider was forever jogging the city's streets. Before Mr. Murphy there were Sophie Masloff and Richard Caliguiri, two warm, forthcoming souls who never would have treated their East End homes as realms of the Witness Protection Program.

Mr. Ravenstahl's reticence might have something to do with the way he became mayor six years ago. He didn't initially seek the office; he inherited the job at 26 because he was city council president when Mr. O'Connor died of brain cancer. Mr. Ravenstahl has since withstood electoral challenges in 2007 and 2009 and will seek re-election next year, but there's been a personal toll.

He married his high school sweetheart in 2004, but he and his wife Erin separated a year after the birth of their son and three weeks after his November 2009 re-election. He told KDKA at the time that she didn't like the limelight of being the mayor's wife. She filed for divorce in 2011.

Pittsburgh media are not the prying type. We know there's no crime in being intensely private. I've even kept the name of the mayor's street out of this column. Not everyone has to be New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, riding the subway to work with the hoi polloi. But there can't be many big-city politicians this withdrawn.

Every mayor has questions he fears. Ours alone has drawn the line at "So how do you like the neighborhood?"

brianoneill

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


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