DeSantis gains nod from GOP for mayor

His write-in effort wins with 910 votes; he'll face Ravenstahl

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will have to face a Republican challenger in November, but Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato will be unopposed, according to an unofficial count of write-in votes completed yesterday.

Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Mark DeSantis

Although no candidates appeared on the Republican ballot for mayor in the May 15 primary, the Republican Committee of Allegheny County got behind an effort to encourage write-in votes for Downtown businessman Mark DeSantis, 47. As a result of the 910 votes he received, Mr. DeSantis will face Mr. Ravenstahl in a race for the two years remaining on the term of late Mayor Bob O'Connor.

Mr. Ravenstahl was unopposed for the nomination on the Democratic ticket and received 294 write-in votes on the Republican ballot. A minimum of 250 is needed to win the party's nomination.

The unofficial count was tabulated by the Allegheny County Department of Elections. The results won't be certified, and official, until late this week at the earliest.

Mr. DeSantis, head of a business consulting firm, had been reticent about a possible campaign before the primary.

Yesterday, he answered the question of whether he was running by saying "I'm a candidate. Absolutely."

In the campaign for county chief executive, Mr. Onorato, in addition to winning the Democratic nomination, also won the Republican ballot spot with 1,844 write-in votes. County Councilman Matt Drozd had launched a late effort encouraging voters to write in the name of his son, Matthew Drozd Jr. He received 623 votes.

Mr. Onorato had commissioned an automatic "robo-call" the night before the primary that targeted Republicans who were most likely to vote.

"We did one round of calls saying if you like the job I've done, one way to show your support is by writing in my name," he said.

The last major politician in the region running for non-judicial office to be nominated by both parties was Pete Flaherty in the 1973 Mayoral primary. Mr. Flaherty actually defeated a candidate with a ballot position, Thomas A. Livingston, with his write-in campaign.

Mayor Richard Caliguiri unsuccessfully tried to repeat the feat in 1981 by asking Republicans to write in his name to defeat Fred Goehringer.

"I'm pleased and appreciative of the people who wrote my name in," Mr. Onorato said yesterday. "I'm excited about going into the fall with broad support."

At 25, Mr. Drozd, of Ross, said he never planned to govern the county. He said the idea was to get his name on the ballot to hold the position so that later in the summer the county Republican Party leaders could nominate someone to take his place.

He said the voters deserved a campaign between Mr. Onorato and someone who could raise issues about the needs in county government.

Mr. Ravenstahl, 27, said he is prepared to face a Republican opponent in November.

"I look forward to continuing to govern the city of Pittsburgh, which ultimately, in my opinion, good government translates to good politics, so that's what the focus will be."

He said it is too early to tell whether he will rebuild a campaign staff that he dismantled in April, after Councilman William Peduto dropped a Democratic primary challenge. He had $695,905 left in his campaign fund at the end of April.

"We'll do whatever is necessary, do whatever we feel we have to, to win the election," he said. "My goal will be to win the election in November, and to whatever extent I have to run a viable campaign, I am willing to do so, both with manpower and financially."

He said he was gratified that several hundred Republicans wrote his name in, adding that he made no effort to encourage GOP members to take that step in the May 15 primary.

Mr. DeSantis, who was born in Pittsburgh but moved to Sharpsville, Mercer County, at the age of 4, said he is running because of the city's entrenched financial problems, "those financial problems, which have accumulated over decades, affect everything we do."

He also wants more transparency in local government.

"We need to bring back the spirit of public service and excellence to government," Mr. DeSantis said. "This is just a great wonderful city and it's not fulfilling its potential."

He said he was humbled that he had won the nomination for mayor when his name was not on the ballot. "I think that speaks to folks who want reform, who want something better. It would be a privilege to serve this city."

He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Dayton in Ohio, a master's degree in Business Administration from the University of Dayton, a master of science degree in technology management from American University in Washington, D.C., and a doctorate in public policy and economics from George Mason University in Virginia.

He is the chief executive officer and president of Formation3, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in business development and strategic planning. Before coming to Pittsburgh in 1997, he spent 15 years in Washington, D.C., He worked for two years for U.S. Sen. John Heinz and as a science adviser in the administration of President George H.W. Bush during the early 1990s.

Mr. DeSantis then was the director of government relations for Texas Instruments.

Now that he is on the ballot, he said, he will put together a professional campaign for mayor to pull together those people who have offered their support for his campaign.

Yesterday, he said he was still absorbing the news that he had won the primary: "I'm just really overwhelmed."

Ann Belser can be reached at or 412-263-1699.


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