Ravenstahl must run next year
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Pittsburgh's next mayor will be chosen next year.
The three-member Allegheny County Board of Elections, meeting in special session yesterday, sought by unanimous decision to provide clarity to what has been a murky situation since Luke Ravenstahl succeeded Bob O'Connor upon the latter's death Sept. 1. Mr. O'Connor was less than one year into a term that was to run through the end of 2009.
While it was automatic that Mr. Ravenstahl, as president of City Council, would inherit the mayor's office, there was nothing certain about how long he would keep it. One possibility, based on an initial opinion offered by the city's Law Department, was that he could have remained mayor through 2009 without facing voters before then.
Yesterday's board decision, however, holds that he and any other candidates to fill out the remainder of Mr. O'Connor's term should compete in 2007 in the May 15 primary election and Nov. 6 general election. The Nov. 6 winner will take office as soon as the results are certified, probably within a week, and hold the position until a winner is chosen in the regular 2009 mayoral election.
Legal challenges from individuals backing mayoral alternatives to Mr. Ravenstahl had seemed likely if the board delayed the mayoral election until 2009, or even if it sought a 2007 special election that bypassed the traditional process of each party's registered voters choosing their nominee. While individuals could still file a court case if they don't like yesterday's decision, they may lack incentive to do so.
"I think the board made the right decision, giving the people of Pittsburgh an opportunity to elect their mayor," said City Councilman William Peduto, who is considering a second run for mayor. "Both legally and for the democratic process, I see [no basis to question the decision] at all."
Mr. Ravenstahl sought for the past six weeks to stay out of public debate over when he should face voters for the first time as a citywide candidate. He could not be reached last evening, but said before the board met that he would be pleased if they decided next year was appropriate for the mayoral election.
"I'm prepared to run," he said.
The elections board is made up of county Chief Executive Dan Onorato and the two at-large county councilmen, Democrat John DeFazio and Republican Dave Fawcett. They said they each agreed independently that next year's timing was proper, and they were supported by advice from county Solicitor Michael Wojcik.
The board members said they sought simply to interpret what was proper under both local and state law, not assess what impact their decision could have on potential candidates.
"We decided to act now rather than wait," Mr. Fawcett said. "We think there should be certainty about the election."
One unusual aspect of the decision is it puts the two most prestigious elected positions in the region on the ballot in the same year, as Mr. Onorato faces re-election himself in 2007 if he wants to continue running the county, as is expected. He said he did not consider that a relevant factor to consider.
The original possibility of postponing the race until 2009 was raised because the city controller's office is also up for election in 2007, and the city's Home Rule Charter declares that the controller should be chosen in a "non-mayoralty municipal election."
Mr. Wojcik's written opinion, echoed by the board members, stated that the provision was meant only to apply to normal election circumstances and should not dictate what happens after a mayor's death.
The officials also said it was clear the election should be held in an odd-numbered year, which is typical for municipal elections, and that there was no basis in either state or local law to select a mayor by onetime special election, in which the leaders of the political parties choose nominees instead of letting voters do so in a primary.
First Published October 13, 2006 12:00 am