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Ravenstahl leads group that paid for Peduto attack ad

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
 

A committee Mayor Luke Ravenstahl chairs financed television attack ads aimed at his nemesis, City Councilman Bill Peduto — the latest mud to fly in a mayoral race Ravenstahl abandoned in March.

The Committee for a Better Pittsburgh began running the ads Monday, criticizing Peduto for council votes it describes as harmful to the city's poorest residents and neighborhoods. Ravenstahl is committee chairman and John R. Morgan of Highland Park is treasurer, according to a disclosure document filed with KDKA-TV and required by the Federal Communications Commission.

Ravenstahl, who bowed out of the race not long after he announced his re-election campaign, did not respond to a request for comment. But a statement on the mayor's official Facebook account said in part, “I was honored to receive tremendous financial support from hundreds of donors who believe in all of the wonderful things happening in our city. They (and I) want to see that continue. This effort is based on that — and that alone.

“It's 100 percent factual and begins to expose the real Bill Peduto. Future ads will do the same.”

Peduto campaign spokeswoman Sonya Toler disputed the ad's premise that his record is not friendly toward minorities.

“Bill Peduto has stood for a prevailing wage. He is clearly for community development beyond his council district. He's gone far and above, working outside his council district for development in neighborhoods of this city,” Toler said.

Morgan, a longtime political activist who works in the finance department for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, could not be reached.

Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics, said the ads mark a milestone in local politics.

“I don't remember a third-party group ever getting involved in a mayor's race,” he said. “I don't know why they're doing it unless there's a party that's just mad at Peduto and wants to beat him up, or something to that effect.”

Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze is seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 21 primary. His opponents are former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District and community activist A.J. Richardson, 36, of Sheraden.

The Peduto campaign has repeatedly linked Wagner to Ravenstahl and his supporters. Wagner had no hand in the committee's ads, spokesman J.J. Abbott said, and learned of them only after hearing Peduto mention them several days ago during a televised interview.

“There is a lot of carryover between Ravenstahl's camp and Wagner's camp,” Toler said. “If Ravenstahl is involved in using deceptive advertising practices against us, Wagner is involved, too.”

Abbott called Peduto's response to the ads a “desperate attempt” to cloud the race by linking Wagner to Peduto's “seven-year battle” with Ravenstahl.

“The record is clear that the first negative ad in this race was from Bill Peduto,” Abbott said. “In turn our ad was necessary to counter his attacks on Jack Wagner.”

Peduto and Wagner began running negative ads last week, but Peduto began the first assault, criticizing Wagner for his record as a state senator, including his support of pay and pension increases for lawmakers.

Wagner responded by running commercials that called Peduto “dishonest, divisive, not a leader.”

Wheatley's campaign spokesman Daren Berringer said Wagner and Peduto should be more worried about fixing Pittsburgh's problems, including a dearth of new jobs.

“We are disappointed with the overall negative tone that both campaigns have taken recently,” Berringer said. “Neither campaign is doing anything to show a true vision for where Pittsburgh should go.”

The Committee for a Better Pittsburgh retained SRCP Media of Alexandria, Va., a self-described Republican media consulting firm, for the commercials running on WPXI, KDKA, WTAE and WPGH through the week. Its total ad buy was $53,000, according to disclosure documents. SRCP Media is best known for developing TV ads in 2004 that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's military record on behalf of a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Media organizations later attempted to discredit the ads.

Morgan, who serves on the 11th Ward Democratic committee, formed the Committee for a Better Pittsburgh in April 2011, three days after the Ravenstahl campaign loaned it $20,000, according to Allegheny County and state campaign finance reports. Morgan also serves as campaign treasurer for Ravenstahl's brother, state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, D-North Side, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, a longtime ally of the mayor, and city Councilman Corey O'Connor of Squirrel Hill. O'Connor said he planned to discuss the ad with Morgan.

“I have no idea what this committee is, or who gave to it,” O'Connor said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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