Pittsburgh mayor's race features a crowded field

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 10:09 a.m.

The nominating petitions for Pittsburgh mayor were still warm when the squabbling began.

Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner said on Tuesday that he had attorneys looking into whether he could use $300,000 left over from his candidacy for governor in 2010 for the mayor's race. Wagner said he believed he could use the majority “if not all” of the money.

City Councilman Bill Peduto, another mayoral candidate, said he is “vehemently” against Wagner spending money from another race and would not rule out going to court to keep him from doing so. Last month, he filed a complaint with the Allegheny County Elections Division over city Controller Michael Lamb's attempt to use money left over from another race.

Seven Democrats and one Republican filed their nominating petitions with the Elections Division for the May 21 primary, ending nearly two weeks of conjecture over who would run for the city's top job after Mayor Luke Ravenstahl unexpectedly quit the race on March 1.

The fields is a crowded one and includes some last-minute additions and dropouts.

Josh Wander, 42, of Squirrel Hill was the lone Republican to file, joining seven Democrats: state Sen. Jim Ferlo, 65, of Highland Park; Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington; City Council President Darlene Harris, 60, of Spring Hill; state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District; Wagner, 65, of Beechview; Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze; and A.J. Richardson, age unavailable, an unknown from Sheraden who works as a school bus monitor.

“There's a geographic analysis here that's pretty interesting,” said Joe Mistick, a political analyst and law professor at Duquesne University. “They each have a geographic base in which they have been quite successful in the past.”

Out of the race are Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson and state Sen. Wayne Fontana.

Peduto said he had “butterflies” as he stood in the elections office, Downtown, filing his petitions.

“We had approximately 2,700 signatures — we needed 250. The important thing is we got signatures from all 90 neighborhoods.”

Peduto called himself the frontrunner based on two recent surveys taken by private and public pollsters. “According to those polls, we have a double-digit lead. We intend to keep it and keep the throttle down,” he said.

Wagner, who also served in the state Senate and on City Council, said he wants the seven-way Democrat primary to be a “positive” campaign.

Harris pointed to her lifetime of public service.

“I started at the ground up,” she said.

Ferlo said he is still mulling his run. Candidates have until March 27 to withdraw.

“I wanted to make the means test. I'm still trying to talk to folks about resources and other things that would go into someone preparing a very abrupt campaign,” he said.

Wander said he's not necessarily on the ballot to win, but to give voters an option outside the Democratic Party. A Republican has not been mayor since John S. Herron left office in 1934.

“I think it's important to have a two-party system,” Wander said. “Part of the reason our city is in trouble is due to the single-party rule here.”

Lamb and Wheatley did not return calls for comment. Richardson could not be reached.

Robinson, 71, of Schenley Heights, said he decided staying in his County Council seat was the best way to serve his constituents.

Fontana, 63, of Brookline dropped out of the race early Tuesday, saying he can “best help the city by continuing my support and advocacy in my role in leadership within the state Senate Democratic Caucus.”

Fontana also resigned as the vice chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, saying philosophical differences entered into his decision. He said he intends to support Peduto for mayor.

“I have assurances from him that he'll be a voice for the South Hills folks.”

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this report. Adam Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com. Salena Zito can be reached at 412-320-7879 or szito@tribweb.com.

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