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Not your father's campaign for Pittsburgh mayor

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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:56 p.m.
 

“Making History” is the opening headline in the latest email blast from Pittsburgh councilman and mayoral challenger Bill Peduto. The piece explains that while it is tough to beat an incumbent, Peduto's “record-breaking amount of support,” “the largest announcement for mayor” and the “largest volunteer army” can help do the trick.

Earlier in the month, incumbent Luke Ravenstahl emailed the latest installment of “Pittsburgh City News,” touting Downtown holiday festivities, the new soccer field and skating rink combo at Station Square and the most recent national accolades about Pittsburgh.

Political media consultants come armed with Internet tactics these days — in addition to the old standbys of television and radio — meaning that this will not be your father's campaign for mayor. The one lesson learned from the last two presidential races is that social media can create a more level playing field.

Ravenstahl still appears to have some perks of incumbency; his newsletter comes from the “Office of the Mayor,” paid for by the taxpayers. Peduto's ends with “Paid for by People for Peduto,” his campaign committee. Both candidates and City Controller Michael Lamb, who also is in the chase, use Twitter as well, making you wonder if future elections will be decided by tweeters.

These new campaign devices have their pitfalls. A satiric Twitter account has appeared for “Lou Kravenstahl,” including the incumbent mayor's photo and pithless sayings like “I run the City of Pittsburgh. And yinz don't.” The site is even a nonpartisan basher.

Campaign fundraising also is different this election cycle. Contributions are limited to $2,000 per person for the primary election and $4,000 per political action committee. The incumbent has a chunk in reserve from the days before the new limits. But vendors and consultants with a stake in the administration can no longer protect their business interests with a big check.

And then there is the rare prospect of yet another contest in the general election, with a candidate skipping the primary for a November run as an independent. The word on Grant Street is that State Auditor General Jack Wagner might keep this option open — unless he is pressed into a gubernatorial redux.

And Republican tech entrepreneur Mark DeSantis, who performed impressively against Ravenstahl in 2007, might be swayed by the anti-Ravenstahls to position himself for a November race in case Ravenstahl wins the primary. DeSantis only lost to Ravenstahl 2-to-1 against the Democrats' registration edge of 5-to-1.

Since Mayor Dick Caliguiri won as an independent in the 1977 general election, the law has changed a bit. Anyone wishing to skip his party's primary for a November challenge must change his voter registration before the upcoming primary. That will be the sign.

Whether it is back to the future with a Caliguiri-like run or Pittsburgh's first taste of the future of campaigning, it should be a good ride.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill. E-mail him at: SabinoMistick@aol.com

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