No sweeping house
Luke Ravenstahl’s name is painted on the door, but the new mayor of Pittsburgh is not quite ready to decorate his office.
Boxes filled with his knickknacks, photos and sports trophies sat on the floor Friday, a day after Mayor Bob O’Connor’s funeral.
“He’ll be dearly missed,” Ravenstahl said of his friend and mentor, whom he called “Pittsburgh’s biggest cheerleader.”
The new mayor is trying to honor O’Connor by guiding the reins of government slowly. Until yesterday, Ravenstahl refused to talk about what he intends to do as mayor. He won’t unpack his things until “sometime over the weekend.”
Ravenstahl, former City Council president, plans to put his mark on the city’s 2007 budget but won’t say how until Sept. 21, when the proposed budget must be submitted to Pittsburgh’s state financial overseers.
He will continue O’Connor’s “redd-up” campaign and adopt his habit of walking the city’s neighborhoods to collect “raw, real” advice from people.
“The mayor was somebody that I viewed as a mentor, as a role model,” Ravenstahl said. “He was certainly influential to me because without his help (to win) the council presidency, I wouldn’t be sitting here today as mayor.”
Ravenstahl, 26, became the city’s youngest mayor Sept. 1 — hours after O’Connor, 61, of Squirrel Hill, lost a two-month battle with brain cancer. Despite his age, Ravenstahl said his experience speaks for itself.
“To me, age is just a number. It’s good for political fodder,” he said. “I’m confident that I have shown my ability to lead over the past two-and-a-half years in city government, and my decision-making has been forthright. I’ve made decisions, and I’ve stuck to those decisions.
“Just because the office changed, you won’t see Luke Ravenstahl change.”
Ravenstahl, whose annual salary increased from $53,687 to $94,156, plans to follow O’Connor’s agenda by retaining his predecessor’s top advisers.
“We have the right team in place to get the job done, to move Pittsburgh forward,” he said.
He shuffled a few of O’Connor’s top aides yesterday, naming Yarone Zober, the former policy director, as his chief of staff. Zober, who also was director of general services, served as deputy mayor while O’Connor was in the hospital.
O’Connor’s interim chief of staff and longtime political loyalist, Dennis Regan, becomes director of operations.
Melissa Stettner, Ravenstahl’s City Council office secretary, will be his senior administrative assistant, making $35,000 a year.
Ravenstahl said he’ll retain Marlene Cassidy, O’Connor’s executive secretary, and police Chief Dominic J. Costa. Cassidy is paid $70,332; Costa, $92,286.
He plans to hire a new policy director and fill other jobs, including city solicitor and finance director.
“I want to make sure that the government, the administration, is representative of the residents of the city of Pittsburgh,” Ravenstahl said.
Ravenstahl said he asked the city Law Department to seek a court ruling on when the next mayoral election should be held.
In an opinion dated Sept. 1, the day of O’Connor’s death, associate city solicitor Ronald H. Pferdehirt said the mayoral election should be held in 2009, but candidates who are likely to run against Ravenstahl say it should be held next year or sooner.
The city’s Home Rule Charter says a vacancy in the mayor’s office should be filled at the “next election allowed by law.”
“The courts will decide when and how the election will be held — not me, not the city solicitor and not political commentators,” Ravenstahl said. “Whether the election is ordered in 2006, ’07, ’08 or ’09 is of no consequence to me.”
In a major departure from O’Connor, Ravenstahl said he’ll continue to support gambling company Isle of Capri — one of three bidders for Pittsburgh’s lone slots casino license, which the state Gaming Control Board is expected to award in December.
“I’m not changing my position,” said Ravenstahl. “I still support Isle of Capri.”
O’Connor had refused to support any of the three companies vying for the license.
Isle of Capri wants to build a casino in the Hill District. Forest City Enterprises/Harrah’s Entertainment wants to build one in Station Square, and PITG Gaming of Detroit wants to put one on the North Shore.
Ravenstahl said he favors Biloxi-Miss.-based Isle of Capri because it would spend $290 million to build a new hockey arena.
“We need to do what it is we can to make sure the Penguins stay here,” Ravenstahl said.