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Mayor Ravenstahl's safety comes at a cost

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Don't begrudge the mayor his bodyguard brigade.

If Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is to be kept from perpetual peril, he needs generously compensated muscle, heavily armed with debit cards capable of fending off even the most formidable expense.

The people who protect the mayor have emerged as significant players in the FBI's ongoing investigation of the city police bureau's curious financial practices. The inquiry has unearthed secret credit union accounts, not authorized for city money, from which some of the bodyguards' out-of-town food and lodging expenses were paid.

Why? Retired bodyguard Fred Crawford contends the accounts and debit cards were established to shield road-trip expenses from public scrutiny. He said Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Michael Huss knew about them. Ravenstahl and Huss deny the allegations as adamantly as the “The Family Circus” kids always deny culpability for the broken living room lamp.

Crawford's offer to take a polygraph test should not be taken as evidence he's being truthful. After all, this is a man the mayor used to trust implicitly with his safety. Why would anyone assume he is credible?

People can question what the mayor knew, if anything, and when he knew it. But it's unfair to question Ravenstahl's need for an expensive and seemingly around-the-clock security detail that thus far this year has netted his current bodyguards, police Sgts. Matt Gauntner and Dom Sciulli, a combined $11,607 in overtime. (Their respective annual salaries are $72,985 and $67,330).

The mayor's security costs could be reduced if he didn't insist on having a bodyguard accompany him to destinations such as Harrisburg and Washington. But that would be a short-sighted and potentially dangerous move. If Ravenstahl traveled to these cities by himself, who would prevent him from consistently being accosted by all of the people who don't have the slightest idea who he is?

Ravenstahl's security costs also could be cut if he didn't insist on having accompaniment when he goes bar hopping.

A much-circulated photo that recently aired on WPXI-TV showed Ravenstahl cavorting with a nubile young woman in an unnamed nightspot, a bodyguard faithfully, if distastefully, by his side. If not for the guard's imposing presence, someone might have dared interrupt the mayor's valuable frisky time to discuss city snow removal practices or street paving priorities.

Gauntner and Sciulli earned a total of $193,000 in overtime from 2010 through 2012. But as the above examples clearly indicate, they are worth every penny — even those pennies deducted from the debit cards their superiors supplied them. The mayor's anonymity needs to be safeguarded in other cities. His pursuit of amorous-minded acquaintances needs to be unimpeded on the home front.

Commendable as their efforts are, though, it's impossible for Ravenstahl's bodyguards to keep at bay the one person he seems to need protected from the most.

Himself.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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