Pittsburgh City Council president, former state auditor general signal intent to run for mayor

Bob Bauder
| Monday, March 4, 2013, 3:06 p.m.

The campaign for Pittsburgh mayor changed over the weekend from a two-man race to one with at least five candidates vying for the Democratic nod in the May 21 primary.

On Monday, supporters of City Council President Darlene Harris, 60, of Summer Hill and retired state Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview began circulating nominating petitions required to get their names on ballots. State Sen. Jim Ferlo, 61, of Highland Park said he planned to begin gathering signatures Tuesday. The filing deadline is March 12.

They join City Controller Michael Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington and Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze, who announced campaigns weeks ago.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's announcement Friday that he was dropping out of the race opened it up to more candidates.

“Oh my God, are we hearing from candidates,” said Rich Stanizzo, business manager for the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council. “They're all throwing out feelers to see if they should run. ... There's lots of conversations going on right now.”

Stanizzo said union members also heard from Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District. Burgess declined comment, and Wheatley did not return a call.

Former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato ended speculation about a possible run with a short statement reading: “I am not a candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh. I enjoy being part of the Highmark senior management team promoting affordable, quality health care.”

County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who was mentioned as a possible candidate, said she would not run, but expects her uncle, Jack Wagner, to announce his candidacy on Friday after he returns from a trip to Israel.

“What he's been doing is calling people to tell them he's running in the primary,” she said. “I anticipate he'll have an announcement to that fact when he comes back.”

Harris, who captured Ravenstahl's council seat when he became mayor in 2006, said she feels she matured enough politically through 35 years as a councilwoman, school board member and community activist.

“I believe I have the leadership qualities to lead the city, and I think maybe it needs a woman's touch again,” she said, referring to former Mayor Sophie Masloff, the only female mayor in Pittsburgh history.

Ferlo, a longtime Ravenstahl ally, said he was qualified as a former city councilman and current member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority to continue the city's recent history of new development.

“I think what's unique right now is it's a wide-open field and certainly an historic and seismic shift based on Mayor Ravenstahl's withdrawal,” Ferlo said.

Democratic committee members say Peduto and Lamb have courted their support, but they've heard nothing from the latest candidates.

“I can tell you that I haven't had a call. It's been quiet,” said Jean Cianca, vice chair of the 19th Ward Committee. One of the city's largest voting districts, the 19th includes the South Hills neighborhoods of Beechview, Duquesne Heights and parts of Mt. Washington and Brookline.

“As far as I'm concerned, as of right now there are only two candidates,” said Albert Zangrilli Jr., who chairs the Fourth Ward Committee in Oakland.

Kevin Quigley, who chairs the 27th Ward Democratic Committee on the North Side, said the seven North Side committees united to identify and support a common candidate. They just haven't decided which one.

“There's strength in numbers,” said Quigley, a close Ravenstahl ally who works as an assistant director in Public Works. “We're eager and waiting for the candidates to come and speak to us.”

The Peduto and Lamb campaigns said they welcomed new challengers.

“Obviously, it will provide a lot of different viewpoints for the voters and the strategy for us is we feel it provides us an even better chance to win,” Peduto said.

Instead of attacking an incumbent, candidates will have to focus on plans for making the city better, said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh.

Wagner and Lamb will take votes from each other in the South Hills and Peduto and Lamb in the East End, Shuster said.

“It's now challenger against challenger,” he said. “The strength at this point likely falls to Peduto, but with Jack Wagner, who is a tried and tested candidate, it makes an entirely different race.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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