20th House District: Democrats should stick with Ravenstahl

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Name recognition can be a blessing and a curse.

Adam Ravenstahl, the Democratic state representative for the 20th District, knows that. Sharing a surname with his brother Luke helped him win his first election in 2010, but the former Pittsburgh mayor has since fallen from political grace and left office under a cloud.

Rep. Ravenstahl, 29, of the city’s Summer Hill neighborhood, wants to be judged on his own performance in the House, where he is hardly a firebrand but where he has been a reliable Democratic vote in the Republican-led Legislature. His support comes mainly from the traditional elements within the party, where his challenger, Thomas Michalow, 43, of Avalon, is drawing support from more progressive groups.

Mr. Michalow, who teaches German and history in the Northgate School District, has a background in municipal governance; he is a former member of Avalon Council and its planning commission. Unfortunately, that practical experience has not led to very practical ideas for improving Pennsylvania. For example, he is naive in asserting that he could author a gun-control measure that would pass muster in a Legislature that long has shown fealty to the National Rifle Association.

Perhaps most telling is that the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers have endorsed the incumbent, not the teacher on the ballot. Mr. Michalow says this is more about the process the unions follow in making an endorsement rather than any lack of confidence in him. Nonetheless, it is a cause for concern.

The 20th District was changed by reapportionment, and it now includes more suburban territory than before. It represents Avalon, Bellevue, West View and part of Ross, as well as city neighborhoods including Brighton Heights, Northview Heights, Observatory Hill, Polish Hill, Spring Garden, Spring Hill, Summer Hill, Troy Hill, the Strip District and parts of East Allegheny and Lawrenceville.

The Democrat who wins will face Republican Tom Fodi of Bellevue in the fall.

In this year’s primary, Mr. Ravenstahl faces a credible challenger, but there is little difference between his views and those of Mr. Michalow. Given the challenger’s unrealistic expectations and the incumbent’s experience in the House, where he has demonstrated a willingness to learn and adapt, the Post-Gazette endorses Adam Ravenstahl for the Democratic nomination.

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