Democrat Peduto sweeps Pittsburgh in race to become next mayor |
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Pittsburgh mayor elect Bill Peduto shakes hands with supports at his election night celebration on Nov. 6, 2013 at the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum in Homewood.

Bill Peduto can stop pretending.

The Point Breeze Democrat cruised to victory in the Pittsburgh mayoral race, officially earning the “mayor-elect” title he sought twice before and then avoided during the five months since his convincing Democratic primary win.

Peduto won 84 percent of the vote on Tuesday with 96.8 percent of precincts reporting, walloping two challengers who barely put up a fight. His 35,000 votes topped the 28,600 Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won in the last mayor’s race, in 2009.

Republican Josh Wander, 42, a Squirrel Hill security consultant working abroad, won 12 percent of the vote. Independent Les Ludwig, 80, of Squirrel Hill won 3.5 percent. The 20.2 percent turnout countywide fell short of the 23.4 percent turnout four years ago.

“We are the next great American city. It’s about building from within, rebuilding the neighborhoods that built this community,” Peduto said after appearing on stage twirling a push broom at the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum in Homewood, the neighborhood where his grandmother settled nearly 100 years ago.

“The heart, the strength, the power of the entire region will come from within the city’s borders,” said Peduto, a data-crunching, hockey-playing East End progressive from a traditional Italian-American family.

When he’s inaugurated on Jan. 6, Peduto, 49, will take over a city that’s growing for the first time in a generation and a City Hall under the cloud of a long-running federal corruption investigation. Even as Pittsburgh’s bustling economy attracts developers to some neighborhoods, its concentrated criminal activity holds other neighborhoods at gunpoint.

Peduto’s victory celebration drew former political foes including Councilman Ricky Burgess, Council President Darlene Harris and city Controller Michael Lamb.

But the most awkward guest appearance came courtesy of Ernie Daniels, 54, one of Allegheny County’s 20 most-wanted fugitives, whom sheriff’s deputies caught and cuffed at the soiree. Daniels is facing charges of aggravated assault and possession of an instrument of crime.

Peduto, a City Councilman since 2002, built his political identity as an opponent of entrenched interests, an outsider challenging establishment favorites from the late Bob O’Connor in the 2005 mayor’s race to Luke Ravenstahl two years later.

Reminiscent of former Mayor Pete Flaherty, who cast himself as “nobody’s boy” during his successful 1969 campaign as an independent, Peduto tried to maintain his outsider image even after cementing his front-runner status by winning the Democratic primary.

He vowed a grass-roots approach to rebuilding neighborhoods with residents planning development in business districts and on their blocks, with the city stepping in to help afterward, rather than directing development from the beginning.

He promised to draw 20,000 new residents within 10 years through enhanced public transit, improved neighborhoods and economic growth driven by education and medical services.

His election ended a bizarre race in which one of Peduto’s most active opponents in the Democratic primary — Ravenstahl — quit the race 11 days after announcing his re-election campaign and then spent tens of thousands of dollars on anti-Peduto ads. Peduto won 52 percent of the primary vote in a four-candidate race.

Peduto’s opponents in the general election were candidates in name only: The Republican sold his Squirrel Hill home and left the country during the campaign’s final months, returning only for the last few days, while the independent never created a website or appeared at mayoral forums. Wander called Peduto to concede before 9:30 p.m., telling the winner he did well and thanking him for a clean campaign.

“We were friends before. We’re still friends,” said Wander, who planned to drive through the night back to New York to catch a flight to Moscow, where he’s working. “Part of my goal, the principle of the matter, was to give an alternative to voters. That’s what I did. I’m humbled and honored for each person who voted for me.”

As the Ravenstahl administration limps to an end, its luster dulled by the mayor’s absence from City Hall for much of the last few months and its legacy tarnished by a federal grand jury investigation that’s drawn in some of the mayor’s closest aides, Peduto nodded to the progress of recent years.

The city is on the cusp of becoming a “boom town,” Peduto said during his birthday party last week. The job of his administration will be to push it over the cusp, he said.

“We are at a transformative time in this city,” Peduto said.

Mike Wereschagin and Bob Bauder are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or [email protected]. Bauder can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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