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Peduto, Fitzgerald push candidates for Pittsburgh Democratic Committee

By Bob Bauder and Melissa Daniels
Monday, March 31, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is attempting to grab power in the city's Democratic Committee, lining up candidates to run for committee seats in neighborhoods that opposed him during last year's primary, party officials said.

Eileen Kelly, who chairs the committee, said Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald have joined forces to elect supporters within the committee.

“I think he's probably trying to build up his strength in the party,” Kelly said. “When he ran for mayor, he did not seek the endorsement of the party. If he plans to run again for mayor, the party is pretty important in city races.”

Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said he could not comment because of the political nature of the story. Peduto did not respond to requests for comment. Fitzgerald did not return phone calls.

Kelly said it appears Peduto's efforts are concentrated on the 19th Ward in the South Hills and the 26th and 27th Wards in the North Side. The three wards have more contested seats than any other area of Pittsburgh, and they've been controlled for years by two influential political families: the Wagners in the South Hills and the Ravenstahls in the North Side.

Pete Wagner, brother of former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, who ran against Peduto in the mayoral primary last year, has chaired the 19th Ward committee for 28 years. It is the second-largest in the city with 19,104 voters, according to figures from the 2013 primary.

City Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Kevin Quigley, whom the Peduto administration fired as assistant public works director, chair the 26th and 27th Ward committees, respectively. Harris has been critical of Peduto. Harris and Quigley supported Wagner in the mayor's race.

Harris and Quigley declined to comment.

Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics, said it looks like Peduto is trying to gain ground in areas that have not supported him.

“I suspect what they're trying to do is eliminate in the party system people who they would consider their enemies,” Coleman said. “It's not going to be easy. The Wagner family and the Ravenstahls have long political histories in those communities.”

Challengers are running for seats in 31 of the 19th Ward's 38 voting districts. Seven of 27 districts in the 26th Ward feature contested races — including seats held by Harris and her husband, John. Challengers are vying for seats in eight of 13 districts in the 27th Ward.

Voters will elect two committee representatives in each voting district, according to the elections division.

Pete Wagner said Peduto should worry more about hiring a police chief than committee seats.

“It's the most important position for every citizen in the city of Pittsburgh right now,” he said.

“It needs to be filled, not committee positions in the 19th Ward in the city of Pittsburgh.”

Anthony Coghill, a former Democratic candidate for City Council, said he hopes to unseat Wagner. He said he has a coalition of nearly 60 candidates in the ward on the ballot for district seats to try to oust Wagner supporters. Committee members vote for a chair in the month after the primary.

Coghill said Wagner has “lost the confidence” of party members and voters.

“Quite simply, people are sick and tired of the old-school politics,” he said. “Politics under Pete Wagner's terms are just unacceptable.”

Coghill, an ally and supporter of Peduto and Fitzgerald, said they did not help recruit the candidates. But they “share the same vision” for a change in city politics, he said.

“We know the status quo is not good,” he said. “Their support means they're rooting for me.”

Wagner's chairmanship has been challenged before, Wagner said. The Wagner name is “a good name in Pittsburgh politics,” he said, one that stands for good government.

“If it is Rich Fitzgerald and Bill Peduto who are orchestrating this, I can assure you I've been up against (longtime county Commissioner) Tom Foerster and (former Mayor) Dick Caliguiri in the past and have survived,” he said. “I would hope to be able to weather this challenge.”

Bob Bauder and Melissa Daniels are staff writers for Trib Total Media.



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