Votes show Dems’ clash
The two men battling for Pittsburgh’s top job have little in common beyond their allegiance to the Democratic Party.
Councilman Bill Peduto, 42, of Point Breeze, is a bachelor with a dozen years of experience in city government. He’s challenging Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, 26, who has been married since 2004, spent most of his life in the North Side and has worked three years for the city.
An analysis of their votes when the two served together on City Council reveals stark political and philosophical differences.
Although most City Council votes are unanimous, Ravenstahl and Peduto clashed on several key issues from 2004 to 2006, including how to best manage the city’s financial recovery and how to rein in wasteful spending by their colleagues.
“There are some very stark differences between the candidates,” said David Y. Miller, a University of Pittsburgh public policy professor who served as former Mayor Tom Murphy’s budget director. “It’s going to be an interesting primary in the sense that they’re both seen as the new Pittsburgh and the young generation taking over.”
Peduto announced last week he would run against Ravenstahl in a campaign that could cost each candidate about $1 million. Whoever wins the May 15 primary likely will win the general election in November, because Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 5 to 1 in Pittsburgh.
The biggest contrast might be the candidates’ opposing views on Pittsburgh’s state-guided financial recovery — Ravenstahl voted against it and Peduto voted for it in June 2004.
The plan, which passed 5-4 despite fiery labor union protests, called for $33 million in cuts to the city’s $380 million 2004 budget and increases to the city’s payroll and occupational privilege taxes.
“I think Peduto’s vote was the better choice,” said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute, a Castle Shannon think tank. “He sensed that this was the best thing for the city.”
Since state oversight began, the city has seen its bond rating upgraded from “junk” status, turned a budget deficit into a $57 million surplus this year, and pared 700 employees from the public payroll.
There are other differences.
Peduto voted against giving an $18 million tax-increment financing package, or TIF, in 2006 to PNC Financial Services Group for a $170 million tower Downtown. Ravenstahl supported it.
“That vote tells us a lot about how they want to see the city grow,” Haulk said. “In the Ravenstahl camp you think these TIFs are doing some good when the evidence says they haven’t done any good.”
On another vote, Ravenstahl opposed a buffer zone around abortion clinics to keep protesters away from clients while Peduto voted for it.
“I think on the critical issues regarding the city’s financial stability and on providing a progressive agenda, we have disagreed,” Peduto said. “My voting record is one of fiscal responsibility, government reform and social tolerance.”
Ravenstahl said: “I’ve made some tough votes, but I’ve been consistent in favor of growing jobs and our economy, making our streets safer and cleaner, and making sure we are on solid financial ground.”
Perhaps the biggest fight between Ravenstahl and Peduto came amid the investigation into Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle’s questionable spending practices.
The inquiry began after records showed she paid a family friend $28,500 to prepare a health study that relied largely on previously published reports.
Ravenstahl’s June 2006 legislation put limits on how much taxpayer money council members could spend without council approval; Peduto’s would have eliminated council’s so-called “walking around money.” Ravenstahl’s version prevailed.
Louis “Hop” Kendrick, a mayoral candidate in 2005 and a former Allegheny County councilman, said the candidates’ voting records count with voters in this race because neither has the overwhelming popularity that gave Mayor Bob O’Connor an easy victory in 2005.
“Whichever candidate says things that are the most consistent with how they voted will carry the day,” Kendrick said. “O’Connor was an aberration. He was everyone’s guy. People are going to look more closely at (Peduto and Ravenstahl).”
Ravenstahl spokesman Dick Skrinjar said “the single most important vote” of the candidates’ shared time on City Council was Jan. 3, 2006, when Ravenstahl was unanimously elected council president — a job that positioned him to become mayor if O’Connor could not serve out his term. O’Connor was diagnosed with brain cancer six months later and died Sept. 1.
“Remember, they both voted for the same guy, and that’s why we’re here today,” Skrinjar said.
Residence: Summer Hill
Family: Wife, Erin Lynn Feith
Education: Degree in business administration from Washington & Jefferson College
Background: Served on City Council from January 2004 to September 2006, when he was elevated from council president to mayor upon the death of Mayor Bob O’Connor
Residence: Point Breeze
Education: Recently completed courses for a political science degree from Penn State University
Background: Served on City Council since 2003; served seven years as chief of staff to former Councilman Dan Cohen