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Pittsburgh mayor golfed during police hearing

| Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl played at a celebrity golf tournament rather than face more than 100 women angered by the promotions of three police officers linked to accusations of domestic violence or disturbances in their pasts.

"I can confirm that he was there both days," said Nancy Angus, director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, which organizes the annual Mario Lemieux Celebrity Tournament.

"He played as an amateur. He didn't play as a celebrity," Angus said Tuesday.

Ravenstahl refused to say Friday and again Sunday where he was during the more than two-hour City Council public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in City Council Chambers.

The tournament was held June 27 and 28 at Laurel Valley Golf Club, a prestigious, private 18-hole course in Ligonier Township that was host to the 66th annual Senior PGA Championship in May 2005.

"Some are attempting to unfairly criticize me for attending a charitable event while a public hearing was being held on the 28th. This smacks of crass politics and yellow journalism and disappoints me greatly," Ravenstahl said in a statement last night.

"What's astonishing is that if he was really trying to raise money for charity, he was trying to hide it from people by not answering the question," said Jeanne Clark, a member of the Squirrel Hill chapter of the National Organization for Women, which petitioned to have City Council hold the hearing.

"Maybe if he had heard the really powerful speeches that were before City Council, maybe he would have recognized the need for change," she said.

"We thought that his coming to the hearing would be a strong showing of his commitment and support," said Heather Arnet, head of the Western Pennsylvania Women and Girls Foundation, Downtown. "We were disappointed that he wasn't at the hearing."

Ravenstahl said mayors do not typically attend public hearings. He said he did not go because he did not want to "politicize" the event.

Ravenstahl announced the day after the hearing that he would not rescind the promotions of the three officers because doing so would invite a lawsuit from the promoted officers that the city would likely lose.

"The issues presented at the hearing are of critical importance to me and we have taken and will continue to take corrective actions to reform the system on a go-forward basis," Ravenstahl said in the statement.

Ravenstahl said he looks forward to working with womens' groups and others "to ensure that we continue to take measures to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on domestic abuse."

Angus did not recall with whom Ravenstahl played or the times he played. She said dozens of golfers, such as University of Pittsburgh basketball coach Jamie Dixon, played during the two days of golf.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato played the first day of the tournament but did not spend the night to play the second day, said his spokesman Kevin Evanto.

Ravenstahl played with the amateurs, not the celebrities, Angus said.

Other celebrity participants included Ben Roethlisberger, Dan Marino, Kevin McClatchy, Jim McMahon, Marcus Allen, Lou Holtz, Joe Thiesmann and Lynn Swann.

Ravenstahl's affection for golf is well known. In April, he went to see Tiger Woods tour Oakmont Country Club during a promotional event. Oakmont was the site of the U.S. Open in June.

The celebrity tournament is the biggest money maker for Lemieux's foundation, which he created in 1993 to raise money to fund research that is searching for a cure for cancer.

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