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Friday, January 21, 2011

Primary season update -- an election that may go out like a Lamb

Posted By on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 11:34 AM

One disadvantage of being a weekly, obviously, is that a ton of shit happens the day your paper hits the stands, and you don't get another crack at it in print for another seven days. And because we wait a day to post our print edition online -- don't ask -- sometimes our stories are already outdated by the time they hit the web. 

So it was with our  story on the emerging storylines in this year's Pittsburgh city council races.

Since that issue went to press, district 7 councilor Patrick Dowd has made his reelection bid official. As we first reported Wednesday, he'll be facing Tony Ceoffe Jr., and will likely have his hands full. Meanwhile, Cory O'Connor -- who was unwilling to officially declare his candidacy in city council district 5 when we spoke to him -- has since formally challenged Doug Shields for the seat.

While we're on the subject of campaigns, we've also learned, courtesy of the Post-Gazette, that city controller Michael Lamb plans to run for his post again, rather than chase the Allegheny County Executive post.

Which I think is interesting for reasons that have nothing to do with either of those posts. Here's what I think it means: In 2013, Lamb is gonna be running for mayor.

This is mostly just idle speculation. But a Lamb candidacy may be the best hope progressives have of gaining that office.

It's true that Lamb ran for mayor back in 2005, and finished third -- just behind Bill Peduto, and well behind foregone-conclusion candidate Bob O'Connor. Ordinarily, that would make Peduto the obvious champion. But I think Peduto's abortive run against Ravenstahl in 2007 cost him, and their are geographical considerations as well. 

As Tom Murphy was fond of saying, to win citywide, you need to win two of the city's three geographic areas: south of the rivers, north of the rivers, and between the rivers/East End. Peduto is an East Ender, Lamb from the South Hills. And my hunch here is that it's easier for a South Hills guy to appeal to an East End progressive than it is for an East End progressive to appeal to a South Hills voter. 

Take a look at ward-by-ward results from 2005. Peduto crunshed Lamb in East End areas like Ward 14. But in the critical 19th ward -- which includes Beechview and environs -- Lamb not only beat Peduto but O'Connor as well. The same is true in Ward 16, Ward 17, and Ward 32. In other south-of-the-river wards, he finished second, often very close to O'Connor. 

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Let's try that analysis again, this time actually using the correct ward results, as opposed to those I cited above. O'Connor actually won wards 16, 17 and 32. Peduto placed second in the first two districts, besting Lamb by a few score votes in each. In other south-of-the-rivers areas -- namely wards 20, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 -- Lamb was the second-place winner. Overall, the pattern holds true: Lamb did better south of the rivers. But my numbers were off, and I apologize for the error.

And in the half-dozen years since that election, let's recall, Lamb won his current citywide post. He beat his next-nearest challenger -- city councilor Doug Shields, another East Ender -- by a convincing two-to-one margin

Plus, I don't know if you noticed, but Lamb was playing a very active role in deliberations during last year's Great Pension Debate. (He worked closely with Patrick Dowd, especially, in trying to propose alternatives to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's failed parking-lease plan.) In my 15-plus years as a reporter here, I don't recall a city controller being so closely involved in crafting legislation. Although in fairness, much of that decade-and-a-half was spent with Tom Flaherty holding the controller's office ... and his style tending more toward bomb-throwing.

In any case, there's no question, as we reported earlier, that these council races are critical for Luke Ravenstahl's political future. But he might want to pay attention to the guy running for controller too. 

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