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Ravenstahl MIA since ending re-election bid; candidates critical of silence on public-safety issues

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl entered a news conference in the mayor's conference room Friday, March 1, 2013, in the City-County Building, Downtown, during which he announced that he will not seek re-election.

After abruptly quitting his re-election campaign on March 1, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has virtually disappeared from the public eye.

Even a shooting that critically wounded a city police officer didn't draw the mayor to the hospital. His staff won't say whether Ravenstahl since has reached out to Officer Morgan Jenkins or his family.

Public Safety Director Mike Huss visited Jenkins in UPMC Presbyterian, said Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, but LaPorte said he hasn't heard from Ravenstahl. The mayor made no public statement after the shooting, one of three in Homewood in less than 24 hours — a stark contrast to 2009, when he stood with former Chief Nate Harper after three officers were fatally shot in Stanton Heights.

“That's a question for the mayor,” Huss said when asked why the mayor did not visit Jenkins. “I've gone to the hospital to see other public safety employees, and I'll continue to do that.”

No one answered the door on Wednesday at Ravenstahl's Fineview home in the North Side, and he didn't reply to a Facebook message.

Ravenstahl's chief of staff, Yarone Zober, did not respond to requests for comment.

The mayor, who makes $108,131, was at City Hall, observers said. Ravenstahl spokeswoman Marissa Doyle said he was in his office “addressing important city business” and unavailable for an interview. She would not release his work schedule and has declined interview requests for weeks.

Ravenstahl did appear with lawyers on March 20 to announce a city lawsuit challenging UPMC's nonprofit-tax status. On that day, he released the second annual report for servePGH, a program to engage community volunteers.

His critics, including candidates for mayor, question Ravenstahl's recent reclusion.

“It's unacceptable that the mayor was not there,” Councilman Bill Peduto, a mayoral candidate and frequent Ravenstahl foe, said of his absence after Jenkins' shooting. “It's not PR if it gives people a sense of safety and security. It's doing your job.”

“The mayor has been absent in many critical situations in recent years. It's unacceptable not to be available to answer questions as to what the city's strategy needs to be,” said Jack Wagner, former state auditor general and another Democratic mayoral candidate.

“The mayor is not separate. People have to see that their leadership is present,” said state Rep. Jake Wheatley, a third Democrat running for mayor. “You can't do that from Grant Street.”

When he withdrew from the mayor's race, Ravenstahl acknowledged that he grew weary of the glare of the public spotlight. Ravenstahl said he fought the feeling that he should leave office but promised to govern through the end of the year. His term ends in January.

In recent weeks, however, the mayor stopped communicating through Twitter and his “Message from the Mayor” on the city website. He canceled scheduled appearances without explanation — among them, an April 3 speaking engagement in East Liberty for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.

Frank Triggiani, 38, of Shadyside, who volunteers as a Big Brother, attended the breakfast.

“I know they sent somebody, but we thought he would be there. It was a little disappointing, but I understand his schedule is tough,” Triggiani said.

On March 27, organizers received his last-minute cancellation for a news conference with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald before the annual meeting of VisitPittsburgh. Tourism Bureau spokeswoman Lynne Glover confirmed the mayor was scheduled to attend, but she declined comment.

When the Boston Marathon bombings fueled safety concerns about Pittsburgh's marathon on May 5, mayor spokeswoman Doyle issued a short statement acknowledging the tragedy and reaffirming Ravenstahl's confidence in Pittsburgh's public safety employees.

“I do hope he's paying close attention to the Pittsburgh Marathon because nobody wants a bad experience,” said Bob Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University who believes the mayor's aloofness is fine as long as he focuses behind the scenes on important public-safety issues.

With a federal investigation that led to Harper's resignation and indictment, Strauss said, “the police department has a cloud over them and expecting them, in a demoralized state, to step up and do a good job — that's a hard thing.”

Bobby Kerlik and Chris Togneri are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Togneri at 412-380-5632 or Reach Kerlik at 412-320-7886 or Staff writers Bob Bauder and Margaret Harding contributed.

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