For mayor: Pittsburgh voters should stick with the incumbent

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Elections are all about choices, and this fall's race for Pittsburgh mayor offers voters three candidates. For a city too often characterized as "old," each of the contenders is young and each approaches the office from a different perspective.

But once the public scrutinizes the campaigns and the candidates, it's clear that only one can handle the job.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who was not endorsed by the Post-Gazette in the Democratic primary, is being challenged by two independents: Franco Dok Harris of Shadyside and Kevin Acklin of Squirrel Hill.

Mr. Harris, 30, is a businessman and the son of the famous former Pittsburgh Steeler. After working for Capital One, he joined his father's business, Super Foods, which markets the Super Donut, an enriched confection. He pledges to foster local independent businesses, rather than lure "big box" stores to the city, and find $10 million to help 100 startups.

He also believes that establishing new business is a key to helping city neighborhoods. The city needs to expedite permits, put new businesses in touch with pro bono legal services and offer the owners city redevelopment properties at low or no rent. He'd put more police on the streets and try to free Pittsburgh from state financial oversight to pay officers more.

Mr. Acklin, 33, first took a job with a business law firm in Boston, then returned to Pittsburgh in 2003 and is now an attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Although he grew up in a Democratic household, he ran unsuccessfully in 2007 as a Republican for County Council. This year, he switched his registration to run for mayor as an independent. With that political pedigree, he sees himself as a coalition builder.

With a record of community service, Mr. Acklin wants to put more dollars and energy into neighborhood cleanup and development. He would use all federal stimulus money on such projects and find money in the budget for an extra 200 police officers. He'd take half the assets of the redevelopment authority and deposit it in the city's pension fund.

Both Dok Harris and Kevin Acklin are informed, committed Pittsburghers. While they could have an impact as City Council members, it's hard to argue that either has a shot at winning the mayor's office and the ability to take charge of the city's $453 million budget and 3,500 employees.

That leaves the incumbent, with whom we have had our differences. After three years as mayor, he has yet to articulate a vision for the future. He does not have a reputation for working with the state legislative delegation. And he needs to put some distance between himself and the party machine, to generate independent thinking for Pittsburgh's growth and progress.

Even so, Mr. Ravenstahl, 29, has shown growth in the job. Despite a bumpy start including a few ethical lapses after taking office upon the death of Bob O'Connor, the Summer Hill resident has proved that a smart staff can focus an administration on key priorities.

The Ravenstahl administration has been fiscally conservative at a time when the city has had to live within strict spending limits. It has kept a lid on taxes and adhered to state-ordered fiscal discipline. The mayor has spoken out for city-county government consolidation and pushed a creative solution to fix the pension fund without burdening the taxpayers.

The mayor has sought to reverse the city's population loss with the Pittsburgh Promise, funded not with tax dollars but donations, and he has argued for more general support from corporate nonprofits. Mr. Ravenstahl got tough on landlords and ordered cleanups of residential neighborhoods. He has enhanced Pittsburgh's credentials as a "green" city and maintained its reputation for recovery and quality of life to the point that President Barack Obama saw fit to bring in the G-20 summit.

In this weak field of candidates, Luke Ravenstahl is the obvious choice on Nov. 3. Like any other officeholder, though, he should not view the job as an entitlement because other elections will bring more substantial opposition.

While his service as mayor remains a work in progress and his growth in office must continue, Mr. Ravenstahl has been well served by various aides in his administration, including a capable chief of staff. It is incumbent on the mayor to assemble more top talent on the city's behalf, for this is a pivotal time and nothing less than the future is at stake.



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