Analysis: Ravenstahl Wins Mayoral Electon Bid | Web Only | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Analysis: Ravenstahl Wins Mayoral Electon Bid

A look at the returns, and what they may mean

As expected by just about everyone, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl coasted to a re-election victory in the Nov. 6 primary. Ravenstahl beat challenger Mark DeSantis by a 63-35 margin, according to preliminary county election returns.

DeSantis' hopes were pinned on widespread disenchantment within the Ravenstahl camp, and the blogosphere has been running rampant with tales of Democrats defecting to the GOP cause. But the numbers tell a somewhat different story. Ravenstahl's 43,257 votes in November were roughly 8,000 more votes than he received in the uncontested May primary. Ravenstahl's total also bested the vote counts of his predecessors, the late Bob O'Connor and Tom Murphy, in the 2005 and 2003 general elections, respectively.

Murphy and O'Connor faced only token Republican opposition in those contests; DeSantis performed much better, earning 23,844 votes. Still, he fell shy of the high-water mark set by Jim Roddey in the 1999 county executive race, when Roddey earned 37.5 percent of votes cast within city limits. And clearly, party loyalty remains strong: One out of every five county voters cast a "straight party column" vote, pulling the lever for every Democrat on the ballot at once.

What does it all mean? Thanks to the miracle of the internet, its implications have been digested by armchair pundits (including this one) before you've even had your coffee. Over at the pro-DeSantis Burgh Report, they're saying they knew it all along -- though they're confessing some sorrow regardless:

DeSantis raised pretty decent money, spent funds on advertising, and truly tried much harder than any Republican in living memory. And it really didn't move the needle very much.

And if you think that doesn't hurt, check out the anti-democratic (with a lower-case "d") sentiments expressed at Democrats for DeSantis

"Some of these old people shouldn't be allowed to vote because, let's face it, they do not care about the issues that are important to you and me."

As for your intrepid CP correspondent, my own early predictions about the election, made in July, are here:

"If Ravenstahl can avoid embarrassing himself until November, he can't lose. If he can't avoid embarrassing himself, he doesn't deserve to win."

As it turns out, Ravenstahl couldn't avoid embarrassing himself: After that column appeared, he took a now-infamous trip to a Toby Keith concert in an SUV paid for with Homeland Security dollars. But it wasn't enough to torpedo him.

It'd be easy to second-guess DeSantis' campaign strategy now. Experts tell me, for example, that his mailings, while popular amongst bloggers and younger voters, simply had too many words on them, making them difficult for older voters to read. For my own part, I think his much-vaunted momentum kicked in too late. After CP did a July 4 cover story on him, he all but disappeared from public life for most of the summer. (Further proof, if any were needed, that if you ever want to disappear entirely, a cover story in CP is the place to do it.) DeSantis himself admitted to CP that this was his own fault, and that he spent much of the summer tying up business affairs. He'll now be able to return to them.

But for Ravenstahl, the election may have been the easy part. The Nov. 6 contest also formalized a power shift in Pittsburgh City Council, where three newcomers -- Patrick Dowd, Ricky Burgess, and Bruce Kraus -- also coasted to victory. Each is replacing a council member who had been a reliable supporter for Ravenstahl's agenda. And not long after his victory party ends, Ravenstahl will have to take up an issue that's dogged him for months: a new policy to monitor and respond to accusations of domestic violence against city police.

Moreover, many Democrats are disenchanted with Ravenstahl, though few will say so on the record. Ravenstahl's brash, sometimes rash, behavior has not endeared him to many local Democrats: His decision to demand resignations from the director of every city deparment and authority, for example, outraged many. And his administration has shown little deference to political elders in other respects as well.

Like Pete Flaherty many years ago, Ravenstahl often seems to want to be "Nobody's Boy" -- except in a bad way. And although he's now guaranteed two years in the mayor's office (barring some other, more serious, lapse in judgment), that kind of political karma has a way of coming back around.

On the other hand, Ravenstahl's critics face their own problems. Some of the election-eve chatter I've heard reminds me of those New York City liberals who couldn't understand how Ronald Reagan ever became president: No one they knew had voted for him.

A ward-by-ward analysis of the race shows that DeSantis won in only two wards, both in the East End: Shadyside (Ward 7) and Squirrel Hill (Ward 14). DeSantis beat Ravenstahl by a handy one-and-a-half-to-one margin in those areas -- but those two wards alone constituted nearly one-third of DeSantis' vote total.  Outside of them, DeSantis was weak.

Ravenstahl took 70 percent of the votes cast in the rest of the city, and won the city's other 30 wards. In wards 12 and 13, two heavily black districts in the East End, Ravenstahl thumped DeSantis by 10-to-1 margins.  Click here for a spreadsheet showing vote totals broken down by ward and precinct. (The sheet only includes head-to-head totals for DeSantis and Ravenstahl; not totals for third-party candidates, who were not a significant factor in the race.) 

If there's going to be a serious challenger to Ravenstahl in 2009, he or she will have to bridge that divide; there just isn't enough of the East End to go around.

I'm not sure who that candidate will be, or how they can pull it off. But I do have one piece of advice for disappointed DeSantis supporters in the blogosphere and elsewhere: If you want to lead a city, it might be wise not to dismiss its residents as a bunch of decrepit yinzer morons.