Ravenstahl announces he will not seek re-election as Pittsburgh mayor

Bob Bauder
| Friday, March 1, 2013, 10:30 a.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl cited the “grueling demands” of the office and a heavy toll on his family in ending his bid for re-election on Friday.

“The recent events surrounding police and the many nasty and vicious allegations that have been levied against me and those closest to me have caused me to reflect a great deal and arrive at the decision I have made,” Ravenstahl told reporters, cabinet members and supporters packed into his conference room for an announcement observers predicted for days.

“It just became clear to me that the price was too high.”

Questions about Ravenstahl's political future surfaced all week, fueled by his absence from public events and an FBI investigation of the police bureau that raises questions about his spending and attendance at late-night parties with police bodyguards.

Ravenstahl, 33, of Summer Hill, once the nation's youngest big-city mayor, said he considered quitting for months. In a shaky voice at times, he bragged about improving the city and complained about constant media attention and “vicious allegations.”

“This success, however, comes at a cost,” he said.

The mayor did not rule out a return to politics.

The departure leaves Councilman Bill Peduto and Controller Michael Lamb chasing the Democratic mayoral nomination in the May 21 primary. Others might join; state Sen. Jim Ferlo and Council President Darlene Harris said they are considering runs.

“We started a new chapter today,” said Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington.

Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze thinks either candidate could benefit: “What we're doing now is opening the door for many of those who supported the mayor to be a part of our team.”

Ravenstahl said he would encourage a third person to join the race, but he declined to identify anyone. Asked about his brother, state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, the mayor and his mother simultaneously said, “No.”

His leadership of the city began somewhat accidentally when Mayor Bob O'Connor died in September 2006. As City Council president, Ravenstahl assumed the office and handily won two elections.

“Sometimes the job can get to you,” said Councilman Corey O'Connor, the late mayor's son. “If he wasn't looking forward to another four years, then I think he did himself a favor by not running.”

Reaction from supporters was split.

“This is the worst day I ever had in my life,” said Kevin Quigley, an assistant director of Public Works and North Side Democratic committee ward chairman who helped Ravenstahl win election to council in 2003. “I've been with this guy since day one. I'm thinking back to that 2003 election when we were going out, just him and me, knocking on 7,000 doors and working our way up the political ladder.”

Firefighters expressed shock, said Darrin Kelly, a trustee with Pittsburgh Firefighters Local No. 1, the first major union to endorse the mayor in November.

“We do not feel slighted at all,” Kelly said. “Each person has to make their own decisions. Apparently he made the best decision for him and his family.”

The FBI investigation centers on police spending of money the bureau collects for officers who moonlight and secret accounts at the Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union. Ravenstahl said former police Chief Nate Harper, whom he ousted last week, gave debit cards connected to the accounts to the mayor's bodyguards.

Ravenstahl denied allegations that he paid for booze with the cards or that bodyguards drove him to late-night partying excursions. He acknowledged visiting Rivers Casino in the North Side: “That's probably true that I was at the casino after midnight with bodyguards.”

The mayor denied wrongdoing and said he's not a target of the investigation.

“He was very straightforward,” said University of Pittsburgh political communication professor Gerald Shuster. “Some would characterize that as having a load lifted.”

Ravenstahl said no single issue — not his mother's breast cancer, pressure from party leaders, nor the investigation — persuaded him to drop out.

“It was honestly what I've been feeling for a long time.”

He promised to “do the best job that I possibly can” for the rest of his term and said it might be easier without the campaign's constraints. He would not specify goals.

“We may have the opportunity to do some things that we couldn't do otherwise, just because of the politics,” Ravenstahl said.

The mayor said he decided to quit on Wednesday and became emotional when asked how his staff reacted.

“I'm getting a little bit choked up now,” he said, praising the employees. “I think in a lot of ways they didn't want me to do what I'm doing now.”

Ravenstahl said he has not decided what he might do for work after December. He has a degree in business administration from Washington & Jefferson College and executive experience. He anticipates taking a vacation and spending time with his family and son Cooper, 4. He looks forward to coaching Cooper's T-ball team in April.

“This North Side boy has lived his dream,” Ravenstahl said. “I feel good. I feel really good. This is not a somber day. This is a day I'm excited about. … I'm at peace with my decision.”

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staffwriter. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com. Staff writersMike Wereschagin, Jeremy Boren andChris Togneri contributed to this report.

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