Pittsburgh Democrats endorse city Controller Lamb for mayor

Bob Bauder
| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

Pittsburgh Democrats endorsed city Controller Michael Lamb for mayor on Sunday, but political insiders say the party nod carries little weight in a wide-open race with multiple prominent candidates.

Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington was the only candidate up for the party's consideration once Mayor Luke Ravenstahl dropped out of the race. Only Lamb and Ravenstahl sought the endorsement. Ravenstahl, the apparent favorite, fractured the committee when he withdrew from the race Feb. 28 after the deadline for requesting party support passed, political insiders said.

“This will probably be the least observed endorsement that we've had in a long time because of the evolving circumstances of the mayor's (withdrawal),” said Marty Marks, a Democratic political operative.

Jim Burn, who chairs the state Democratic Committee, said members are bound by party rules to support endorsed candidates, but it doesn't always happen. The Allegheny County Democratic Committee and its Pittsburgh delegation also endorsed candidates for Pittsburgh City Council, Allegheny County judge, Pittsburgh Public Schools board and uncontested races for sheriff and district judge.

“The rule says the endorsement is binding, but it doesn't have any teeth in it,” Burn said. “It doesn't give you any instruction on what to do if somebody violates it.”

City Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze is the only other declared mayoral candidate, but five others are considering a run. Former Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview said he would likely declare his candidacy later this week. Other candidates include city Councilwoman Darlene Harris, 60, of the North Side, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, 61, of Highland Park, state Sen. Wayne Fontana, 62, of Brookline and Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson, 71, of Schenley Heights.

Candidates have until Tuesday to file nominating papers with the county election office for their names to appear on May 21 primary ballots. All of the candidates said they were seeking a required 250 signatures of registered city voters.

Lamb said the endorsement will help his campaign considerably.

“In a Democratic primary, there are few endorsements that are more helpful and meaningful than the endorsement of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Insiders said Ravenstahl's withdrawal left committee members scrambling to throw their support behind a candidate they think can win.

“When the mayor left this race, the dynamic changed completely,” said Darrin Kelly, who chairs the Pittsburgh firefighters union's political action committee, which endorsed Ravenstahl. “This is a very unusual situation in that there's only one candidate here for the endorsement.”

Fitzgerald, who supports Peduto, said an endorsement is not always a deciding factor.

“Two years ago, four city council members were not endorsed, and all four candidates still won,” he said. “Tom Flaherty was the endorsed candidate for mayor in 1989 with five people in the race. He came in fifth.”

The scene outside the IBEW Local 5 union hall in the South Side where Democrats voted resembled a Steelers tailgate party, with recreational vehicles and large, smoky barbecue grills in parking lots. Candidates and their sign-carrying supporters passed out soft drinks, chicken, ribs and other barbecued goodies.

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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