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Monday, January 26, 2009

Taking Council

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Last week, I wrote a post about Pat Dowd's prospects as a mayoral candidate, and it ended on a somewhat sour note. I have a hard time seeing how anyone beats Ravenstahl without an assist from law enforcement.

Hope burns eternal, of course: Supporters are planning a "Pat Dowd for mayor" fundraiser for early February. But to me, it seems less likely than it did last week that Dowd will even run for mayor. Much will depend on whether city council President Doug Shields enters the race, as many expect him to do shortly. Not many expect him to win.

On the council level, though, there's a real chance for significant change. Four of nine council chairs are up for election, and three of those have been held by reliable supporters of the mayor. Districts 2 and 4 were represented by Dan Deasy and Jim Motznik, respectively, but both are moving on to other things -- Deasy was elected to the state legislature last year, while Motznik is running for a district justice slot. 

District 6 and 8 both have incumbents seeking re-election. But District 6 rep Tonya Payne, who typically votes with Ravenstahl, seems much more vulnerable than Bill Peduto, who along with Shields is the mayor's sharpest critic on council.

Depending on how these races go, getting re-elected may prove the easy part for Ravenstahl.

District 2: My colleague Charlie Deitch will have a story out about this race, which will be decided by a Feb. 3 special election, this week. Theresa Smith is the endorsed Democrat, and often in a special election -- where typically only stalwart party soldiers bother to show up-- that's all that matters. That may dismay some progressive types, who rallied around Georgia Blotzer. And Blotzer does have more money than anyone else in the race.

But a win for Smith may not necessarily be a win for Ravenstahl. Early on, the mayor's horse seemed to be Kevin (D'oh! This is what happens when you blog on three hours' sleep) Brendan Schubert, a city zoning administrator. The mayor is backing Smith now, but she's making a lot of noise about maintaining her independence.

District 4As previously reported here, the first entrant into this race is Natalia Rudiak. (Who, not surprisingly, picked up the endorsement of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County last week.) She faces one declared challenger already: Patrick Reilly, who works in the office of state Rep. Chelsa Wagner. Rudiak and Wagner are friends, and the fact that Wagner's own staffer is running against Rudiak -- apparently with the backing of other Wagners -- suggests a whole other drama. (You could almost call it Wagnerian, except they pronounce it differently.) 

Chances are that if you're reading this blog at all, you've heard the rumors Wagner decided not to run for mayor this year in large part because of conflict within her family. Take this as further evidence the rumors are true. 

(UPDATE: Rep. Wagner was concerned that some readers might assume she was supporting either Rudiak or Reilly in this race. She is not. As Wagner puts it, "I am neutral with respect to the race for the City Council District 4 seat, as I have informed both Rudiak and Reilly.  Both Reilly and Rudiak are their own candidates, both are committed community advocates, and both informed me of their interest in running over a year ago, long before declaring their respective candidacies.  I believe either would be a great addition on City Council, and wish them both the best of luck in their campaigns.")

Also expected to enter the race: Anthony Mosesso, a Democratic committeeman, and Tony Coghill, who has run for the council spot before. 

Coghill nearly beat Motznik in a 2005 race, and he's probably the most familiar name to readers. But Rudiak has a very real shot here: From a progressive's point of view, this race has more hacks than a coal-miner's lungs, so a young female candidate may stand out to voters looking for an alternative. 

District 6: Daniel Lavelle kicked off his long-awaited campaign this past weekend.  This is another political soap opera in the making, in that Lavelle is tied to the Sala Udin faction on the Hill ... and Udin, of course, is the guy who lost to the current incumbent, Tonya Payne. Lavelle was Udin's former assitant, and works in the office of state Rep. Jake Wheatley, a Udin protege. Lavelle has also worked on earlier Peduto campaigns. 

It's worth noting that among the hosts of Lavelle's kick-off were the chairmen of the party's 5th and 22nd Wards, which make up much of the Hill and the North Side, respectively. This is a fractious district, and Payne seems vulnerable.

District 8: Another family drama in the works. Peduto himself is up for re-election, and he will face a challenge from Christine Stone, who will formally launch her campaign shortly. Christine's brother-in-law, Harlan Stone, ran against Peduto back in 2005. The Stones are smart, likeable folks. Still, Peduto defeated Harlan handily, and begins from a place of much greater strength than, say, Payne.

Finally, a caveat: Even if each of these elections goes against Ravenstahl, there are no guarantees. The candidates named above would not necessarily thank me for putting them in one camp or the other. 

In 2007, the election of Dowd -- along with Ricky Burgess and Bruce Kraus -- had progressives rubbing their hands with glee over a solid reform coalition on council. But it hasn't played out that way: Although Kraus votes consistently with Shields and Peduto, Burgess and Dowd have emerged as swing votes. There's been no small amount of bad blood as a result. 

No one should have been surprised by that. Within days of being elected, all three newcomers told City Paper it would be a mistake to assign them to one bloc or the other. (Dowd: "I will work with anyone who supports the particular piece of legislation that I'm trying to pass.") Progressives may have assumed that was just post-election boilerplate ... but they can't say they weren't warned. Every so often, politicians actually do say what they mean.

This year, though, the person who has the most to lose on council is the mayor. He could win the executive branch while losing the legislature.

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