Saturday, September 02, 2006

Luke Ravenstahl and His Rapid Ascension in City Politics.

Bob O'Connor, newly elected mayor of Pittsburgh, has died at the age of 61. He entered the hospital in July and was diagnosed with brain tumors. I imagine this is probably national news. Luke Ravenstahl, president of city council, succeeds O'Connor. Ravenstahl is 26 years old, and the youngest mayor ever to serve in Pittsburgh. He has served on the city council since 2004, and as its head since last December. It is noteworthy that former mayoral candidate Bill Peduto (Point Breeze) and the controversial Twanda Carlisle (Homewood) unsuccessfully opposed his bid for president.

But who is he?

He's the son of a district magistrate and a 26th Ward Democratic committee member, and the grandson of a former state representative. He served as chairman of the Public Works and Environmental Services Committee. After graduating from North Catholic, he attended Washington and Jefferson college, where he was the place-kicker on the football team (now there's a credential the average Pittsburgher can get behind!). He received a bachelor's degree in business administration. He currently lives in the Summer Hill section of the Northside. He is an avid golfer. His strengths have been said to include humility and thoughtfulness. (If you think this would be good bio info for a trading card, someone actually beat me to it... see for yourself).

While council president he initiated a package of spending reforms that vested him with new powers to monitor the spending of others members of the council. This was a response to Tawanda Carlisle's alleged improprieties in the hiring of unqualified consultants with city tax dollars. Ravenstahl ran into criticism for setting March 7th as the date for a special election to replace Gene Ricciardi, a council member from district 3 (which includes Oakland and South Side). This election fell during the spring breaks of Pitt and Duquesne, and threatened an effective disenfranchisement of college students in that district (25% of the legal voters there). The suspicion was that Ravenstahl picked this date to assist a favored candidate of Bob O'Connor- a man who would have garnered little support from the student population. Ravenstahl did subsequently change the date, but his original plan makes me question his commitment to fresh ideas that might appeal to younger inhabitants of our city.

As representative of the North Side, he joined his community in legal action against the PA Department of Corrections, who were attempting to open a halfway house in the former Western Penitentiary. In addition he often clashed with former mayor Tom Murphy about how to solve the city's dire budget problems. In 2004, Ravenstahl advocated using $1.5 million from the Pittsburgh Development Fund to decrease the city's parking tax. In 2005, he lobbied to repeal a 1998 law that directs proceeds from outdoor advertising on bus shelters into the Shade Tree Trust Fund, which was set up to finance the planting of trees around the city, and the training of volunteers to maintain them. In the same year, he voted against an ordinance that would ban abortion protestors from being within 15 feet of an abortion clinic's front door and within 8 feet of a clinic client.

We have to assume that Ravenstahl has learned a lot in his few years in city politics. Considering his connections in the city, I think we can expect "business as usual", which could be good or bad- depending on your perspective of politics in this city. According to the city's Home Rule charter, Ravenstahl will serve as acting mayor until a mayoral election is set up to decide who will complete O'Connor's term.

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