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Burn: 'Extremely likely' Ravenstahl will drop re-election bid

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By Jeremy Boren and Bob Bauder
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 10:33 a.m.
 

An elusive Mayor Luke Ravenstahl kept Pittsburgh in suspense on Thursday, refusing to answer questions about his political future from frenzied politicians, reporters and people glued to social media.

Ravenstahl on Friday announced an 11 a.m. news conference but did not release further information.

“It's extremely likely” Ravenstahl will not seek re-election, said state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn of Millvale, who said he talked with people close to the mayor. He declined to guess why Ravenstahl might quit the three-way race.

Attorney Bill Goodrich of the North Side would not say whether he spoke with his friend but insisted: “The mayor is running for mayor. I would know if there was anything to the contrary.”

“The whole day was like watching everyone chase a ghost,” said Ray Bruder of Perry North. “No one really knows what is going on with the mayor.”

Ravenstahl, 33, and his staff did nothing to squelch talk. His absence from several recent events, word from his campaign that his mother is sick, and the office's silence fueled speculation amid a federal investigation of police spending seven weeks before the May 21 primary.

“Democrats in the city of Pittsburgh will make a choice between the two current candidates, and we'll go from there,” Burn said, referring to Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, and Controller Michael Lamb, 50.

Top staffers left Ravenstahl's office in silence, including Public Safety Director Michael Huss, Chief of Staff Yarone Zober and solicitor Dan Regan.

“I cannot tell you anything. I don't have any information,” said Operations Director Duane Ashley.

An exit from the race would mark a stunning turnabout for Ravenstahl, who has spent virtually his entire 10 years in the professional workforce as a politician buoyed by a family with two generations of political involvement.

Ravenstahl's mother, Cynthia, 57, had heart surgery in 2002. His father, Robert Ravenstahl Jr., is a district magistrate, and his grandfather, Robert Sr., was a state House member and Democratic ward leader.

In Harrisburg, chief of staff Brian O'Malley for state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, the mayor's brother, said simply: “We don't have any comment.”

Luke Ravenstahl became mayor by accident. City Council elected him as its president in December 2005 in a 5-2 compromise vote. Members said privately that he had the least political baggage. He became the city's youngest mayor on Sept. 1, 2006, when Mayor Bob O'Connor died of brain cancer.

The FBI investigation raises questions about Ravenstahl's spending while traveling with police bodyguards who had debit cards linked to secret credit union accounts. Last week, Ravenstahl emerged from a two-hour interview with FBI agents and forced police Chief Nate Harper to resign.

Prosecutors have charged nobody. Ravenstahl said investigators told him that he's not a target. He said that his bodyguards used the cards for legitimate expenses.

Questions intensified after a North Side candidates' forum on Wednesday in which Kevin Quigley, a Public Works assistant director and friend of the mayor, acknowledged the investigation but said Ravenstahl is dealing with personal issues and planning to hold a news conference.

That didn't happen.

“My understanding is there were some personal problems, but that's all I know,” Council President Darlene Harris said as she left the mayor's office in the morning.

Harris said she asked to speak with Ravenstahl or Zober but was unable to do so. As president, Harris would become mayor if he steps aside.

Members of the city Democratic Committee didn't know how to interpret his silence.

Former Councilman Jeff Koch, the 16th Ward committee chair, expected a large turnout for his mayoral candidate forum Thursday night.

“I don't know any more than you do,” Lamb said at the meeting, saying he expected Ravenstahl to make an announcement on Friday. “My thoughts are with the Ravenstahl family and whatever they're going through.”

Ravenstahl's campaign staff members sat quietly in a corner at an event organized by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, in Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville.

Campaign literature touting Ravenstahl and some of the candidates running for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court lay on tables.

Ferlo said the event was more subdued than anticipated. He said he remained a supporter of the mayor but did not know what Ravenstahl planned to do regarding his candidacy.

Bob Wilson, a committeeman from Spring Hill in the 24th Ward, said the mayor owes people answers.

“I'm just fed up,” Wilson said. “Luke Ravenstahl has breached his responsibility to the city of Pittsburgh, and for that reason alone he shouldn't be in office.”

Wilson, 60, said he supports Peduto, a Democrat who is not seeking the party's endorsement.

Ravenstahl's campaign appeared to continue.

Shannopin Country Club in Ross emailed members an invitation to a March 5 fundraiser at Rochester Inn for the mayor, who the email says is a club member.

Reporters glimpsed Ravenstahl about 4 p.m. Thursday when he walked behind the glass doors to his suite, out of earshot.

Zober, who refused interview requests, teased reporters. At one point, he carried a guitar into the mayor's office and then reappeared with a checkered flag on a pole. Staff members handed reporters three boxes of Papa John's pizza. Councilman Corey O'Connor distributed bottled water.

Among visitors to the office were Councilwoman Theresa Smith, a mayoral ally; Bureau of Building Inspection Chief John Jennings; and Joe King, president of International Association of Firefighters Local No. 1, which endorsed Ravenstahl.

“It's not totally unheard of for someone his age not to run for another term. He is young, and politics is a consuming profession,” said Daren Berringer, a Democratic strategist in Harrisburg.

Ravenstahl raised $910,000 for his campaign by the end of 2012, the last figure reported. Peduto held a narrow money advantage over Lamb: $261,000 to $212,000.

Jeremy Boren and Bob Bauderare staff writers for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Carl Prine, Mike Wereschagin, Salena Zito, Brad Bumsted and Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report.

 

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