Pittsburgh City Council chief Harris eyes mayor's job

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris
Photo by Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Bob Bauder
| Friday, May 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh City Council President Darlene Harris changed her political party affiliation last month from Democrat to Independent to preserve her ability to run for mayor, should Mayor Luke Ravenstahl step down, she said.

The Spring Hill Independent has not ruled out a run against Democratic nominee and council colleague Bill Peduto in the Nov. 5 election.

“With the FBI, the mayor deciding he wasn't going to run, and everything that was happening in the city, I had to keep all my options open,” Harris, 60, said on Thursday. “I haven't ruled anything in or out.”

Ravenstahl, 33, who recently moved to Fineview, has repeatedly said he is not a target of a federal grand jury investigating the city police bureau. However, his personal secretary and bodyguards have appeared before the panel. Investigators have inquired about the remodeling of Ravenstahl's home by a company owned by a New Homestead man who has received $2.3 million in city construction contracts since 2010.

Harris would face an uphill challenge should she decide to take on Peduto, according to Democratic strategist Mike Mikus.

“I think the fact that Bill Peduto won by such a wide margin on Tuesday shows that he will be very difficult to beat in the fall by Darlene Harris or any other independent candidate who might emerge,” Mikus said.

Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze wasn't surprised by the switch.

He and Harris have been political adversaries for several years, and Harris supported Peduto's chief primary opponent, former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview.

“I think there are those who have controlled this city for a long time who are unhappy with Tuesday's results and will try to find a candidate to run against me,” Peduto said.

As council president, Harris is first in line to replace Ravenstahl, but would have to relinquish her council seat to do that. She said uncertainty surrounding Ravenstahl prompted her to switch parties on April 22.

As an independent, Harris could not vote for Wagner in the Democratic primary and was forced to give up her chairmanship of the 26th Ward Democratic Committee.

Mikus noted that the late Mayor Richard Caliguiri won as an independent candidate in the 1980s, but said it would be near impossible for Harris to overcome Peduto's party backing, organization and financial advantage.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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