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Pittsburgh's mayor Ravenstahl sails to easy victory

| Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won his first full term Tuesday, winning 55 percent of the vote in a three-candidate race, with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

Independent challengers Franco "Dok" Harris, 30, of Shadyside and Kevin Acklin, 33, of Squirrel Hill won 25 percent and 20 percent of the vote, respectively, according to unofficial returns.

Just 23 percent of Allegheny County voters turned out, the lowest percentage in at least three years.

Democrat Robert Daniel Lavelle won 79 percent of the vote for City Council, surviving a write-in challenge by supporters of Tonya Payne, the council incumbent he beat in the May primary. Democratic City Councilman Bill Peduto, 45, of Squirrel Hill beat Republican challenger Greg Neugebauer, 26, of Shadyside, 82 percent to 17 percent.

"The future is bright, Pittsburgh," said Ravenstahl, 29, of Summer Hill. He declared victory last night about 10:20, saying "there's more work to be done."

Ravenstahl was on the Republican and Democratic ballots after winning both primaries in May. His father, Robert P. Ravenstahl Jr., won re-election last night to a six-year term as a district judge in the North Side.

In a city where Democrats hold a 5-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans, the May primary posed a tougher test for Ravenstahl, said Joseph DiSarro, a political science professor at Washington & Jefferson College.

"The voters have already spoken with respect to Mayor Ravenstahl. This election was nothing more than a ratification of the primary results," DiSarro said. "If there was more voter dissatisfaction (with Ravenstahl), there would have been a more significant opponent. No one else wanted to run."

In three years in office, Ravenstahl has beaten seven candidates in three elections, including last night's. No challenger has gotten more than 35 percent of the vote.

"The outpouring of love over the last eight months is something I can hold on to in those darkest days," Harris said. "People wanted something greater and wanted a positive change."

"We are disappointed in the numbers, (but) very proud of the campaign. I think our message resonated, but it was a low-turnout race," Acklin said.

Ravenstahl will begin his first full term at the helm of a city that, despite successes such as the Group of 20 summit this summer, remains in state receivership and suffers from declining population, a looming budget deficit and a pension underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars.

His most immediate challenge is explaining to City Council and state overseers how he plans to levy $15 million worth of taxes on some combination of commuters, college students, hospital patients and customers of the city's water authority. Ravenstahl has said he will have his plan ready Monday.

"I like what he's done so far. There's more to do, but I think he has a better chance to do it than the other candidates," said Warren Keyes, 59, of the North Side, who voted for Ravenstahl.

After three years in office, some voters said Ravenstahl no longer represents a fresh start for the city.

"I think we need new leadership in Pittsburgh," said Jack Knight, 64, of Downtown. "I think there's too much focus on special interest groups rather than fundamental issues."

Economic concerns weighed heavily on voters.

"We need progress in the economy in the city of Pittsburgh," said Dwight Fong, 72, of Downtown. "Industry, business, and residents need to be brought in."

Ravenstahl's successful handling of the G-20 summit -- which took place with far fewer problems than other host cities experienced -- helped lock up his victory.

"He made the city look good," said Kyle Cunningham, 30, a North Side voter who did not support Ravenstahl in 2007 but voted for him. "I voted for Luke because I couldn't find anything he did wrong this last year."

After three years in office, though, Ravenstahl lost the allure of a fresh start for the city, some voters said.

"I hate the old boys' network of Pittsburgh, and I want to see change," said Lee M. Rothman, 42, a Squirrel Hill lawyer who voted for Harris. Rothman didn't expect Harris to win, but said, "I want to be part of sending a message for change."

A four-year term offers Ravenstahl a chance to put his mark on city government in ways that were not possible during his one- and two-year terms.

"This young man has strong administrative talents that are just starting to show," DiSarro said. "It will be interesting to see if he looks at statewide office in four years."

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