Ravenstahl wins re-election easily
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Luke Ravenstahl has won a four-year term as mayor of Pittsburgh.
With votes still being counted, the incumbent has built an apparently insurmountable lead over Independent challengers Kevin Acklin of Squirrel Hill and Franco Dok Harris of Shadyside. Mr. Acklin has conceded. Mr. Harris, who appeared headed for a distant second-place finish with 88 percent of the votes counted, had not conceded as of 9:30 p.m., and did not plan to do so until all of the votes were counted.
Why did voters like Luke?
"He's young. He's fresh. He's trying to get things together for us," said Darlene Davis, a school parent coordinator, as she left the Hill House after voting there.
Gone now, politics watchers said, should be any sense that Pittsburgh has a fill-in mayor who can refer to inexperience, an unplanned ascent, and inherited staff when trouble strikes, as Mr. Ravenstahl did early in his tenure.
"He can't be perceived as young Luke anymore," said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Communications. "He's got to prove that this city has some problems, he is attempting solutions, and he has to bring results."
Elected to council in 2003, Mr. Ravenstahl rose from that body's presidency to the city's top office upon the Sept. 1, 2006, death of Mayor Bob O'Connor. He beat Republican Mark DeSantis in a 2007 special election, fellow Democrats Patrick Dowd and Carmen Robinson in May, and now a son-of-a-Steeler Mr. Harris, 30, and second-time political barnstormer Mr. Acklin, 33, a lawyer.
Mr. Harris used his famed running back father, an upbeat emphasis on neighborhoods and small businesses, and a late-in-the-game accusation that Mr. Ravenstahl was a frequent no-show at events. Mr. Acklin, who waged an insurgent Republican bid for Allegheny County Council against Chuck McCullough in 2007, focused on public safety and accused the mayor of an unhealthy coziness with developers.
Mr. Ravenstahl largely ignored the election during the run-up to the Sept. 24-25 G-20 summit of world leaders. Viewed as a high-risk event at the time because of the inevitability of protests, it apparently paid off politically. Some voters yesterday said the relatively smooth handling of the summit bolstered the mayor's standing in their eyes.
"I think he kept his head with that," said Judy Nebel, a Brookline teacher, after leaving the Moore Recreation Center polling place.
The mayor then re-used upbeat commercials from the primary, parried his opponents in three debates and focused his public agenda on neighborhoods and development.
"I just think he's brought Pittsburgh into prominence," said Phillip Vansach, a South Side maintenance man.
"Luke is an incumbent mayor, has been here three years, and I think in general people perceive that he's done a fairly good job and have no cause to be upset," said political analyst William J. Green.
Potentially polarizing challenges await.
Next week, Mr. Ravenstahl must present a $452.8 million budget to council that, he has said, may include new taxes on college tuition bills and hospital bills. Educational and medical institutions have said they will defend their mostly-tax-exempt status, meaning a court fight might ensue.
Most of that hoped-for revenue, plus the proceeds from a long-term lease of public parking garages, will be needed to restore a pension fund that at last count had around one-third of the $899 million needed to cover its obligations. Mr. Ravenstahl was able to convince the General Assembly to give the city a two-year reprieve from legislation that would otherwise have prompted state seizure of the fund. The garage lease, though, would almost certainly boost parking rates.
"Certainly, the next four years are going to be tougher than the last two, from the financial perspective," said city Controller Michael Lamb. "Somewhere down the line, he's got to be considering some expenditure cuts" and potentially consolidation of some functions with the county.
Any big moves would have to win passage from a city council that was feisty for the last two years, and stands to be more challenging with the departure of at least one, and maybe two, mayoral allies.
Council is "going to be more independent. Nobody's beholden to too many people," said Council President Doug Shields. But that doesn't mean it has to be acrimonious. "My hope is that there's a newer level of cooperation here."
"My sense is, if [the mayor] would reach out the right way, he could have a very strong, positive relationship with council," said Mr. Lamb.
First Published November 3, 2009 9:29 pm