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Mayor's foes: Punish Harper

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 11:39 p.m.

Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto shifted his mayoral campaign into attack mode on Thursday, calling on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to suspend the city's police chief and criticizing Ravenstahl for nonenforcement of a city gun ordinance.

City Controller Michael Lamb of Mt. Washington, also challenging Ravenstahl in the May 21 Democratic primary, joined Peduto in calling for Chief Nate Harper's suspension.

“We need a police chief who's not being distracted by a federal investigation,” said Peduto of Point Breeze. “We need a police chief who's not being distracted by FBI agents raiding police headquarters. Until this investigation is complete, the chief should be on paid leave.”

Ravenstahl has repeatedly said he has full confidence in Harper, and his office shot back Thursday, calling Peduto's comments a political attack.

“This is Bill Peduto being classic Bill Peduto,” said Ravenstahl spokeswoman Joanna Doven. “He'll say and do anything popular at the moment to benefit himself.”

Doven did not address Lamb's comments.

Harper declined to comment through a police spokeswoman.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company set up by his one-time friend Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson. FBI agents this week took records from several offices at police headquarters in the North Side relating to secondary employment, training and travel.

Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said federal authorities are investigating the use of money in a fund from businesses that pay for work by off-duty officers. Officials estimate the fund collects up to $8 million a year.

The grand jury investigation became public last month.

Peduto and Lamb are using the investigation to their political advantage, an analyst said.

“Their motive is to try to demonstrate that Luke Ravenstahl doesn't have the tenacity to make a decision like (suspending Harper) and doesn't have the ability to evaluate when it's time to make a decision like that,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh.

Peduto appeared in Homewood with Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, and several ministers to call for enforcement of a gun bill City Council passed in 2008. It requires owners of lost or stolen handguns to report them missing within 24 hours of discovering them gone.

Ravenstahl opposed the bill, and city police never enforced it because a state law that prevents municipalities from regulating firearms pre-empts it, said city solicitor Daniel Regan.

Lamb also called the ordinance unenforceable. He said the city should encourage owners to keep guns in locked areas.

Peduto said he would go to court if elected to overcome the state pre-emption. At the least, he said he would start an education campaign urging owners to report missing guns.

Shuster said Peduto, by targeting the gun ordinance, is looking for an edge in black neighborhoods such as Homewood, where gun violence is prevalent.

“It's trying to make an issue of a non-issue,” Shuster said.

The political tension was evident at a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Bakery Square 2.0 development a few miles away in East Liberty.

As the event's emcee, Ravenstahl was in charge of introducing elected officials to thank each other and Shadyside development firm Walnut Capital for making the extension of the Bakery Square shopping and high-end office district possible.

Ravenstahl initially failed to introduce Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald — but he made the intro after he was prompted by Todd Reidbord, president of Walnut Capital. Fitzgerald has endorsed Peduto's campaign.

Retaking the microphone stand, Ravenstahl did a small fist pump and said, “So many good things are happening, I agree. Stay the course, four more years!” drawing laughter from the crowd. “It sounds like an endorsement to me. I don't know about you.”

Fitzgerald just smiled and shook his head while sitting next to the microphone stand.

Ravenstahl declined to comment on whether he intentionally failed to introduce Fitzgerald.

Staff writer Jeremy Boren contributed to this story. 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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