His work abroad is limiting Wander's Pittsburgh mayoral campaign
September 26, 2013 8:00 AM
By James O'Toole Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The odds against any Republican candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh are steep -- tougher still when he's campaigning from a continent or two away.
Rather than knocking on doors, making speeches or seeking out babies to kiss, in recent weeks Josh Wander has been traveling the world in his role as a security consultant. He also recently sold his house in Squirrel Hill, but says he has rented another residence nearby and remains ready and eligible to assume the duties of mayor should he manage to pull off what would be remembered as an epochal upset.
City Councilman Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee, is the overwhelming favorite in a city that hasn't elected a Republican in more than half a century. Les Ludwig, an independent, is the only other name on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Mr. Wander, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, was reticent about the details or clients of his security assignment but said he plans to return to the city for the four mayoral debates. He also said he is confident of his eligibility to serve as mayor.
"Due to the sensitive nature of my work, I cannot provide details," he wrote in a recent email exchange. "All I can tell you is that I've spent a considerable amount of time in Moscow and on the Syrian border in the last 2 weeks."
In a separate email, sent last week, he said that he had sold his house on Hobart Street but had rented a home on Phillips Avenue. He said the timing of the sale was related to the improving real estate market.
"I don't have any plans to move out of Pittsburgh at this time," he added.
In another message, he said, "Unlike my opponent who is a career politician, I have to work for a living and the precarious security situation over here has required me to be in the region during this time."
Bob Hillen, the city Republican chairman, professed to be unconcerned about his peripatetic candidate.
"The man can't commute from Israel," Mr. Hillen said. "He hasn't been gone that long. He'll be back."
Mr. Hillen said that in the meantime, the low-key campaign would go on through the efforts of party volunteers. But Nathan Catalano won't be one of them.
Mr. Catalano, a University of Pittsburgh law student, had been serving as the volunteer press secretary for the Wander campaign. He said in an email Wednesday that he was leaving the campaign.
He could not be reached for further comment on whether his departure was related to the GOP candidate's wandering ways.
The city's home rule charter specifies that a mayor must have been a resident of the city for three years and live in the city during his term of office. Mr. Wander, who previously ran for city council, seems to have met at least the first part of that test.
Mark Wolosik, the elections director for Allegheny County, said the time to challenge his nominating petitions had passed. If he were to be elected, any citizen could ask Common Pleas Court to rule on his eligibility to serve.
But history suggests that situation isn't very likely to arise. Since the Democratic Party, back in the Great Depression, broke a decades-long streak of GOP rule in the city, every mayoral winner has been a Democrat. The only footnote to that record is Mayor Richard Caliguiri's win in 1977. Mr. Caliguiri was a Democrat but ran as an independent against the late Tom Foerster to win his first full term in the office.
While the GOP hierarchy may see no bar to eligibility for Mr. Wander, the party does have recent experience with a mayoral nominee with a politically inconvenient residence.
In 1997, Pittsburgh Republicans nominated Harry Frost, a businessman who had owned a condominium in Shadyside. In the course of the campaign, he lost his residence in a bank foreclosure and moved to the suburbs.
Mr. Frost ended up with just 21 percent of the general election vote total, leaving any legal challenge to his residency resoundingly moot.