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Mayor Luke like a train wreck

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Call him Captain Distraction.

The campaign to choose Pittsburgh's next mayor has been almost entirely obscured by the travails of its current one. The de facto election to succeed Luke Ravenstahl will occur in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Will anyone notice?

Ravenstahl abruptly abandoned his re-election campaign in March amid an ongoing federal investigation of city government that has brought down former police Chief Nate Harper. That Ravenstahl remains infinitely more interesting than the candidates vying to replace him shouldn't surprise; trains that derail attract more attention than those that remain on the tracks.

Still, the continued spotlight on Ravenstahl has to frustrate the two frontrunners, city Councilman Bill Peduto and former state Auditor General Jack Wagner. Two longshot candidates, state Rep. Jake Wheatley and community activist A.J. Richardson, must be moderately irked as well.

Eyes that normally would focus on them instead are fixed intently on the three-ring circus in the City-County Building in which Ravenstahl is the ringmaster. No wonder that the most recent polling indicates that nearly 20 percent of Democratic voters remain undecided.

It's been difficult for the candidates to gain sufficient traction to win when political discussions around many city residents' dinner tables probably resemble the following:

“Honey, did you see Peduto's latest campaign commercial? Looks like he can drive a street sweeper as smoothly as Dale Earnhardt Jr. can steer a Chevy SS. That's a skill that could come in handy if, as mayor, he ever has to lay off the entire public works department.”

“I haven't seen it, dear. But I did see that two of the mayor's bodyguards and his personal secretary testified before the grand jury. Probably a good thing he recently hired that high-profile criminal defense attorney.”

“Honey, did you know Jack Wagner once fought in Vietnam as a Marine? If you ask me, that's pretty good practice for the guerilla warfare he'll see from City Council if he's elected.”

“I didn't know he was a Marine, dear. But I do know that the mayor hired the same contractor that was awarded $2.3 million in city contracts since 2010 to perform work on the house he recently bought. He must have been impressed that the guy cleaned up a landslide on P.J. McArdle Roadway last year for only about twice the amount the city initially expected to pay.”

“Honey, did you see that Peduto and Wagner argued over tax breaks the city gave PNC to build a Downtown skyscraper in 2006?”

“Yawn. No, dear. But I did see that the mayor's press secretary just resigned.”

“She probably didn't want to face another seven months of performing the impossible task of trying to make him look good. So who do you think you're going to vote for on Tuesday?”

“Vote? Are you crazy? I'm not leaving the house to vote.”

“Why not?”

“I might miss breaking news on the mayor.”

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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