As his term nears end, Mayor Ravenstahl hard to find

Bob Bauder
| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Who knew that Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl would drop out of sight when he cited the “grueling demands” of office as a reason for not seeking re-election?

He vowed to do the best job he could during his last 10 months in office when he made the surprise announcement on March 1. Yet few people see Ravenstahl in City Hall or at outside events that typically drew his appearance earlier in his tenure. He skips even standard mayoral functions, such as police or fire department graduations.

“Sometimes, public officials who are exasperated, which I think Luke is, will just go off into the sunset and accept the fact that they are lame-duck. They just want to get it over with,” said Jeff Brauer, a professor of political science at Keystone College.

Yet the mayor earns $108,000 to serve as Pittsburgh's face. With about 12 weeks left in his term, Ravenstahl's whereabouts remain a water cooler topic on Grant Street. At his rare public appearances, Ravenstahl steers clear of reporters.

The Tribune-Review has decided to track his activities through the end of the year, reporting on Mondays how he served the city in the prior week.

His office won't divulge Ravenstahl's daily schedule.

“We're not going to detail his hourly schedule, but he continues to make daily decisions about city business, and he is very much engaged with those in his administration,” said his spokeswoman, Marissa Doyle.

“I just talked to him this morning on the phone,” she said on Friday.

Under Pittsburgh's Home Rule Charter, the mayor oversees administration and law enforcement. The charter lists 14 other duties, such as giving City Council information, creating plans to improve the city, and presenting an annual State of the City address, which Ravenstahl traditionally delivered with his budget proposal in November.

City Council members last week complained that they have had to file Right to Know requests for information from the administration.

When a federal grand jury investigation of city matters became public in the spring, Ravenstahl further shied from answering reporters' questions. He referred to “nasty and vicious allegations” when pulling out of the election.

The grand jury, a secret process, subpoenaed city officials and Ravenstahl confidants to testify, including his personal secretary, police bodyguards and a former girlfriend. Federal authorities in March charged former police Chief Nate Harper with diverting more than $70,000 in police department cash to a secret bank account and spending some of it on personal purchases. Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights will plead guilty, his attorneys said.

Most lame-duck politicians try to enhance their legacy during their final days in office. Shortly after quitting the Democratic mayoral race, Ravenstahl sued the city's biggest employer, UPMC, challenging its tax-exempt status.

But mostly, he stays out of the spotlight.

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

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