Trail to Pittsburgh Democratic mayoral primary began with a twist

Pittsburgh mayors don't lose elections. That's been the unbroken rule for more than half a century. As Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced his bid for another term in mid-February, his chances of continuing that tradition seemed strong despite energetic opposition from two city hall veterans, Councilman Bill Peduto and Controller Michael Lamb.

Less than two weeks later, in an unprecedented news conference, the man who became mayor at the age of 26 announced that he would not seek another term. The stunning decision launched a chain of events that would draw some candidates into the race and drive others out.

By virtue of his own surprising decision, he's not on the ballot, but Mr. Ravenstahl remains a significant influence in the race. Part of that is through his own continuing political maneuvering, but mainly it's because his administration set the context for the campaign that will culminate with Tuesday's primary election. The day of the vote is the climactic point in any campaign, as it will be in this one. But in another sense it will be the sequel to that Friday when Mr. Ravenstahl stood, his parents at his side, to announce his long goodbye to an administration that began and ended in surprise.

For years, Bill Peduto had been setting the foundation for his challenge to the mayor he had feuded with since they were council colleagues. Now his meticulously prepared campaign would have to pivot to new opponents and challenges. Mr. Lamb suddenly seemed vindicated in his decision to resist pressure to get out of the race. Jack Wagner, on vacation in Israel, cut his trip short to return to Pittsburgh to pounce on the unanticipated opportunity. State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, who had been for the past decade forging an increasingly influential role in the Legislature, emerged as the most significant African-American mayoral candidate in a generation.

In a frantic few weeks in March, those hopefuls, along with a shifting cast of characters that included state Sens. Jim Ferlo and Wayne Fontana, city council members Darlene Harris and Ricky Burgess and county Councilman Bill Robinson, considered their chances in the suddenly wide-open Democratic primary (which, in a heavily Democratic city, is the crucial race). Mr. Lamb, reluctantly concluding that the political landscape had shifted against him, would drop out and endorse Mr. Wagner. And in one more surprise, A.J. Richardson of Sheraden, a political neophyte, would join the field.

Along the way, a team of Post-Gazette photographers followed the Democratic contenders, documenting the images of this unlikely saga. See our News Interactive right here:

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First Published May 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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