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Looks like Luke's nose is growing

| Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Time to call shenanigans on Luke Ravenstahl.

It's more polite than calling the Pittsburgh mayor deceitful, though that works equally well.

Ravenstahl was asked Monday by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Jeremy Boren whether he traveled to New York last week on any matter related to the Penguins.

The mayor said no.

Hours later, confronted with additional details about the trip, Ravenstahl slightly amended his earlier denial.

OK, he did go to New York mere hours after city and state officials announced a financing agreement to build a $290 million arena for the Pens.

OK, he and Kevin Kinross -- an aide to Gov. Ed Rendell -- did fly there with Pens majority owner Ron Burkle and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

(That was mere coincidence, easily explained: They all happened to catch the same flight on Burkle's private jet, a Boeing 757.)

OK, Burkle did buy him and Kinross dinner and drinks in Manhattan.

Yet Ravenstahl felt comfortable initially denying the entire trip occurred. He justified it by saying he talked politics -- not Penguins -- with Burkle, a billionaire and national Democratic campaign contributor.

Let's gently place the mayor's explanation in the pond of credibility and see if it floats.

(Split-second pause.)

Whoa, look how quickly that thing sank! Might take days of dragging the pond bottom before the recovery team locates it.

Ravenstahl is only 27, but appears to be experiencing memory lapses common in people three times his age. The mayor said he "didn't know" where the late-night meal with Burkle took place.

The dinner occurred in Manhattan's opulent Gramercy Park Hotel, which isn't exactly like eating at the greasy spoon a few doors down from the Motel 6. Most people in an environment as tony as the Gramercy Park not only remember the name of the place; seldom do they leave without pocketing a few souvenir matchbooks.

Ravenstahl seems to be cultivating a reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth.

In January, following months of denials, he admitted that he was handcuffed and detained after arguing with a police officer before a 2005 Steelers game at Heinz Field. Ravenstahl, then a city councilman, was not charged in the incident.

What these clumsy attempts at obfuscation ultimately prove beyond Pittsburgh having a mayor who is young, energetic and untrustworthy remains to be seen.

Will he suffer any political fallout• His challenger in the May 15 Democratic primary, Councilman Bill Peduto, has run a campaign as flat as the earth was thought to be in the days of Hecataeus.

It would hardly be surprising, though, if the councilman's campaign jettisons its benign "Believe" slogan in favor of one alerting voters to a clear choice that awaits them at the polls.

Be on the lookout for the "Peduto or Pinocchio" billboards.

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