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Reclusive Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl goes on the offensive about record in office

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 11:27 a.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl talks to the media at his first public appearance in weeks during the opening of a high-end townhouse development in the South Side on Wednesday, October 16, 2013.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl compared his administration to an aging athlete on Wednesday as he vowed to be more visible during his last days in office.

Ravenstahl, 33, of Fine-view, appearing publicly for the first time in a month at a South Side ribbon-cutting, said a federal investigation and indictment of the former police chief have tainted his administration's image. He said he would try to fix that by touting his accomplishments.

“When you look at professional athletes, very few of them get to retire at the highest moment, and perhaps that will be the case with our administration,” he said. “There are many things I've done over the last three months that you don't know about. Maybe we haven't done as good a job in conveying that.”

Damage control started with a statement posted at 10 a.m. on the mayor's office website titled, “Celebrating Seven Years of Successes.” By 1 p.m., photos from the dedication of Windom Hill Place, a $5.5 million residential development along Lower McArdle Roadway, appeared on the site, along with other accomplishments the mayor touted for the neighborhood during his term.

Political science professor Gerald Shuster said the mayor's activity could be a nod to prospective employers. Ravenstahl announced in March he would not run again.

“If he's going to be given a position by an elected official or in the private sector, people need to know he's not going to be an absentee employee. They're probably telling him, ‘You better start promoting yourself and what you've accomplished in your role as mayor so that there will be less criticism when you are appointed,' ” said Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh.

Ravenstahl, whose term ends in December, has been dodging the spotlight and City Hall since dropping his re-election bid. He attributed that to his lame-duck status, saying people have not sought his input on long-term projects or asked him to appear at public events.

Ravenstahl, who characterized the job of mayor as “pushing a rock up a hill every day,” said he plans to begin heralding his record daily through social media and in public appearances.

When he took office in 2006 in the aftermath of the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor, Pittsburgh was plagued with chronic budget deficits, paralyzing debt, near bankrupt employee pension funds and a junk bond credit rating.

Since then, the city has retired nearly $300 million in debt and replaced annual deficits with surpluses. Ravenstahl's proposed $479 million spending plan for 2014 includes a $1 million surplus. Pittsburgh's credit status has risen to top-level A ratings.

The city's pension funds remain sorely underfunded, but City Council averted a state takeover in 2010 by pledging parking tax revenues over 30 years to the funds. In doing so, it overrode the mayor's proposal to raise the money by privatizing the parking system. The city remains under state fiscal oversight and last year borrowed for the first time in Ravenstahl's tenure when it issued $80 million in bonds for capital improvements.

Ravenstahl urged people to consider his entire resume, not just the days he's been absent from City Hall.

“Because some are apparently more committed than ever to focus on the negative, I believe it's my responsibility to remind people just how much we've achieved during my tenure as mayor,” Ravenstahl's statement said.

Two weeks ago, the Tribune-Review began documenting his whereabouts in a weekly report. Last Wednesday, he spent hours at a private golf club in Hampton.

“The trash continues to get picked up,” Ravenstahl said. “The folks in city government continue to do their jobs. I personally haven't heard any complaints at all (from the public).”

Meanwhile, his biggest critic — Councilman Bill Peduto, the front-runner in the mayor's race — was meeting with Department of Housing and Urban Development officials in the Westin Convention Center Hotel. The Remaking Cities Conference brought 300 leaders from North America and Europe together to talk about the future of post-industrialized cities.

He said he's meeting with officials in Washington next week and in Harrisburg the following week and that his office is overwhelmed with calls from people seeking guidance on everything from development to potholes.

“Unlike the mayor, I don't have 3,000 employees,” Peduto said. “I have three.”

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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