Lamb bows out of Pittsburgh mayoral race, throws support to Wagner
Jack Wagner's bid to become Pittsburgh's next mayor gained significant momentum on Monday with a surprise withdrawal from the campaign and endorsement from City Controller Michael Lamb.
“Momentum is clearly going toward Wagner,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh. “It's not that Jack Wagner is the clear favorite now, but he has the edge.”
Political analysts favor Wagner, 65, a former state auditor general from Beechview, and city Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze for the Democratic nomination in the May 21 primary.
Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington said he quit to bring clarity to the race. Others seeking the nomination are state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District and community organizer Abdula Jamal Richardson, 36, of Sheraden.
“I think a crowded field really muddies the debate,” Lamb said. “I think Jack can beat Peduto. We're going to work to make that happen.”
Lamb said Wagner is the best person to lead Pittsburgh because he has the most experience as an executive and the closest ties to the city's business community. Wagner, who finished two terms as auditor general in December, served as a city councilman and state senator.
Political insiders said they couldn't remember a mayoral primary with more twists and turns.
What began as a three-man race among Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Lamb and Peduto ballooned to eight after Ravenstahl dropped out on March 1. It reached another milestone last week when Wagner garnered a rare dual endorsement from city firefighter and police unions.
Now, the Democrats' endorsed candidate — Lamb — is out.
“This is the first time that I know of that there (might) not be an endorsed candidate for mayor,” said Eileen Kelly, who chairs the Pittsburgh Democratic Committee. She is reviewing committee rules to see if another endorsement vote is permissible.
Lamb's announcement was made after Wednesday's deadline for candidates to withdraw from the election. He must ask an Allegheny County judge for a court order to remove his name from the ballot, according to the county elections office.
Wagner said he did not ask Lamb to bow out, and both candidates denied a quid pro quo.
“This certainly helps the campaign going forward,” Wagner said.
Lamb had raised $212,000 for his campaign, trailing Wagner and Peduto. Lamb and Wagner each draw their political strength from the South Hills, and observers said Lamb supporters would likely jump to Wagner.
“I think it makes it easier for Jack Wagner to consolidate his base in the South Hills,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist.
Mikus said Wagner, who entered the race after Ravenstahl's exit, has a lot of ground to make up on Peduto. With a smaller field, candidates have to broaden their campaign organizations and reach more voters, he said.
“It means more boots on the ground,” Mikus said. “Peduto started earlier, so he has an advantage in that area. The big question is, can Jack Wagner put an organization together?”
Peduto and Wheatley released statements saying they are committed to their campaigns.
“Voters have a clear choice to make,” Peduto said. “Pittsburgh needs a strong leader who has demonstrated a real commitment to ending waste, fraud and abuse — someone who has revitalized neighborhoods and secured the city's finances.”
Wheatley said: “Now more than ever, I am committed to presenting to the people of Pittsburgh an agenda that will end the politics as usual and moves our city forward.”
Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics, said the election could hinge on votes from the North Side and Pittsburgh's black communities.
Louis “Hop” Kendrick of Lincoln-Lemington, a longtime community leader and former mayoral candidate, said black voters have yet to rally around a common candidate. He thinks Wheatley, who is black, should leave the race.
“The black community should make a decision between Peduto and Wagner,” he said.
City Councilwoman Darlene Harris of Spring Hill, who dropped out of the race last week and represents the North Side, said she plans to endorse a candidate in the coming days. She declined to say whom, but Harris often battled with Peduto on council during the past year.
Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed to this story. Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.