For political junkies, the big news today was the announcement of Bill Peduto's campaign team — specifically the fact that it will be led by Guy Costa, a veritable household name who served as Ravenstahl's Director of Public Works.
Costa, who'd been DPW head for years before Ravenstahl reached the mayor's office, had a high-profile parting of the ways with Ravenstahl in 2009. And while he had detractors and allies — and allies whose endorsement might be a detraction — it's not as if city snow-removal suddenly ceased to be controversial after his departure. In any case, Costa himself has a long history of work on mayoral campaigns, and as Peduto put it, "I needed a director of operations who was also a Pittsburgh brand." Costa "will make sure that things are getting done, and he'll also be able to make sure they are working, because he has people in every neighborhood."
Peduto also announced the hiring of Sonya Toler, whose byline was long a fixture in the pages of the New Pittsburgh Courier, the city's black newspaper.
There had been rumors that Peduto would hire Mike Mikus to manage his campaign; Mikus had previously worked for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Peduto's highest-profile supporter. But Peduto says Mikus' relationship to the Consumer Energy Alliance — which advocates for natural-gas drillers — would have been a problem for all concerned. Peduto has been an advocate on a range of environmental issues. Peduto says he looked at other national consultants but "couldn't find the right fit. We needed someone who knew Pittsburgh."
And without trying to take anything away from Costa or Toler's professional capabilities or accomplishments, they bring another advantage: Both are positioned to help Peduto connect with voting blocs he doesn't already reach. The knock on Peduto, after all, has always been that he struggles to find support outside the city's tony East End neighborhoods. But Toler's name will be familiar to Courier readers, who I'm gonna guess tend to vote in above-average numbers. As for Costa? Well, as Peduto somewhat self-effacingly puts it, "In a very short time, Guy and I will be walking into senior centers together [for campaign events]. And everyone in the room will be saying, 'Hey, it's Guy Costa!'"
(In a way, one could argue that Ravenstahl has engaged in some defensive hiring of his own. His campaign manager, Aletheia Henry, is a veteran of Barack Obama's Pennsylvania campaign, which is widely credited with shaking up the old-school Democratic approach to campaigning.)
Of course, some of Peduto's true believers may be put off by the news that their progressive champion has given the reins to a Costa — a name practically synonymous with old-time local political traditions. (And I've already heard a bit of concern-trolling from people outside the Peduto sphere, wondering if Mr. Progressive risks diluting his brand.) Peduto's answer: "Guy has worked in three separate administrations, and has been one of the more professional directors the city has had. The fact that he's not part of the Ravenstahl network is one of the strongest recommendations I can think of."
And in fact, while it's the hiring of Costa and Toler that are getting the attention, Peduto's making some other moves that suggest he's not just playing this old school. He says his campaign is also retaining the services of Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster with national stature, and has hired Mark Putnam, another nationally known strategist, for media.
And what of Matt Merriman-Preston, Peduto's long-time dutiful lieutenant? He's still on board, working as a general consultant who will be working on "micro-targeting" various voting blocs — work that will build off his successful work for candidates including state Reps. Ed Gainey and Erin Molchany, as well as city councilors Bruce Kraus and Natalia Rudiak.
Of course, sometimes going outside your comfort zone can bite you in the ass. You may recall that not long before Peduto's (abortive) 2007 run, he reached out to Mike Veon. That didn't pan out so well. And hiring Costa may set Peduto up for some gibes similar to the abuse 2009 mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin got for having a Post-Gazette endorsement written by a city firefighter who happened to be his uncle. But I'm on record as believing that is exactly the kind of thing progressives need to do more of — the kind of thing whose importance they tend to underestimate. On paper, at least, Peduto is combining national-level firepower with a team of experienced local streetfighters.
In other words, shit just got real