Incumbent Ravenstahl's Backers Tout Progress Made

Article excerpt

On the gridiron, Luke Ravenstahl learned to take challenges in stride, planned or unexpected -- experience that has come in handy in government and politics, he says.

A year after suddenly becoming the youngest mayor of a major U.S. city, Ravenstahl, 27, of Summer Hill, says he has drawn on strengths and knowledge he gained as a student and athlete in high school and college -- plus support from a tight-knit family and the people of Pittsburgh -- to help him stand up to the job.

"I don't care if you are 27 or 57, when you walk into the mayor's office, it's an eye-opening experience and one that no textbook or no political background is going to teach you," he said in an interview. "You are there, and you are learning on the job and that's what I've been able to do over the past year."

The test will ratchet up a notch Monday, when Ravenstahl officially kicks off his general election bid to win the two years remaining on the unexpired term of the late Bob O'Connor.

Ravenstahl was unopposed in the Democratic primary. On Nov. 6, the mayor has a showdown with GOP nominee Mark DeSantis, a first- time candidate waging an aggressive campaign citing Ravenstahl's inexperience. The rivals have several debates. The first debate will be taped Thursday to be aired at 6 p.m. Oct. 7 on WDUQ.

"I welcome the opportunity," Ravenstahl said. "I've never had the opportunity to run citywide, and I look forward to talking with (the voters) and telling them about my vision."

Accomplishments the mayor touts after a year on the job include:

Implementing a 3-1-1 telephone help line proposed by O'Connor -- a hot line service that fields residents' complaints and answers questions about city services;

Appointing Nate Harper the city's third-ever black police chief;

Signing a $722,112 contract with Wilkinsburg officials to provide city trash collection services there, as a model to test how the city can offer basic municipal services to surrounding towns and improve efficiencies throughout Allegheny County;

Negotiating a deal to buy back from a private company 11,000 tax liens on properties -- mostly vacant lots -- to spur development, an initiative that drew national attention;

Starting a tax break program designed to lure home builders to Downtown and 28 other neighborhoods.

Ravenstahl says he's making changes that will improve the city's economic development efforts. He's also keeping a close hold on the city's purse strings, as the mayor is required to by controls of financial overseers appointed by the state after Pittsburgh slipped to near bankruptcy during former Mayor Tom Murphy's administration.

"Each and every day we make decisions based on whether to spend more money or save for the future, and those are not always easy decisions," Ravenstahl said. "Oftentimes, it requires me telling directors or department heads: 'No.' Nevertheless, it's good, solid fiscal management."

Ravenstahl inherited the top post of a city facing enormous problems, including debt of nearly $1 billion, a critically underfunded pension fund, spiraling city employee health care costs and inadequate revenues for a municipality in which the population and tax base have been shrinking for decades.

"I think voters understand that in many ways this city has been mismanaged for a long period of time, and my fresh leadership and unique perspective is one that ideally will change that," said Ravenstahl, who decided on a political career in high school and was elected to City Council soon after graduating from Washington & Jefferson College, where he was a star kicker on the football team.

Ravenstahl's backers and political colleagues say he's not only up to the task of improving the city, but already has made progress.

"He's doing an amazing job," said Mary Angela Ogg, 57, of Carrick, a Democratic ward chairwoman and Ravenstahl campaign worker. …