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Pittsburgh mayoral race all about $$$$$$$

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Saturday, March 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

The 2013 race for Pittsburgh mayor, once thin broth with a few ingredients and a little spice, is now a thick minestrone.

Gone is the three-person May primary that would have focused on Luke Ravenstahl's behavior. And gone, too, is the possible independent candidate who would have run in the fall if Ravenstahl had won in May.

With Ravenstahl out of the race, original challengers Bill Peduto, a city councilman, and Controller Michael Lamb can finally draw some attention to the issues. And they are being joined by a growing field that might include Council President Darlene Harris, former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, state Sens. Jim Ferlo and Wayne Fontana and others.

While anyone can win, accidental candidates, now entering the fray because of Ravenstahl's unexpected withdrawal, are starting from behind. Their first hurdle is to collect 250 signatures on nominating petitions just to get on the ballot. Pittsburgh Democrats can sign only one candidate's petition and the usual suspects might have already signed for the earlier-declared candidates.

And it is not a task to be done in haste, since each petition and signature likely will be challenged in court. Court challenges are often successful, meaning that far more than 250 signatures must be gathered. All of this requires time and attention away from the campaign trail.

Accidental candidates may be disappointed to find that this time they cannot count on the political endorsements they enjoyed in their past campaigns. Months before any election, candidates gather the endorsements of community groups and labor unions, many requiring membership votes at meetings that have already taken place.

These endorsements, some of which come with campaign contributions, are a wholesale way to gather support. For those candidates who enter a race abruptly without time to build an organization, the volunteer base provided by these groups can help. But both the endorsement problem and the signature requirement pale when compared to the final hurdle.

The real currency of politics is currency. And here is where accidental candidates are most vulnerable, especially since this is the first mayoral election to take place under Pittsburgh's own campaign finance regulations. Contributions to candidates for mayor in the primary are limited to $2,000 per individual and $4,000 per political committee.

Any candidate who was hoping to inherit a chunk of the Ravenstahl campaign fund to jump-start his or her own belated campaign for mayor might think twice because of this. And the same contribution limit applies to any campaign funds that a candidate raised while running for another office. The law might end up in court, but that is what the law says.

While the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was given to hyperbole, he identified the biggest problem faced by candidates who declare late and are unable to tap a sizable chunk of campaign funds to begin their endeavor:

“Money! It is money! Money! Money! Not ideas, nor principles, but money that reigns supreme in American politics,” Byrd declared.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).

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