Off to the Races: Candidates prepare for November election

Photo by Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor.
Photo by Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor.
Photo by Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor. Democratic candidate for mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a kickoff rally in South Side on Saturday.

By Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor

This past weekend marked the start of the fall mayoral campaign in Pittsburgh.

The race to the election on Nov. 5 continues with the nominees vying for the spot left by current mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Looking to fill Ravenstahl’s position is Democratic Councilman Bill Peduto, who hosted a campaign kickoff event at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers building in South Side on Saturday. Peduto’s message for his supporters was that they were going to hit the campaign “with all guns blazing.”

Peduto won the Democratic primary election over former state auditor general Jack Wagner. The election was held on May 21.

Peduto and his team are confident that they will control the outcome on Election Day.

“We know what we have to do and now all we have to do is execute,” Peduto’s campaign manager Eric Hagarty said.

Peduto said his campaign will stick to “a lot of the same issues we talked about in the primaries.”

“[We are] refocusing our attention to our neighborhoods and reprioritizing how we do economic development in this city,” Peduto said.

Peduto also said he is planning to overhaul how government in Pittsburgh functions.

“We’re changing the whole paradigm from one that has been a top-down approach…and turning it upside down to a community-driven approach,” Peduto said.

Ravenstahl announced that he would not run for reelection during a press conference on March 1.

The announcement came nearly two weeks after Ravenstahl asked police Chief Nate Harper to resign. In February, the city was investigating Harper for using public money for private affairs.

Peduto will face Republican nominee Josh Wander and independent candidate Les Ludwig on the ballot.

Wander faces an uphill battle to win over a historically-Democratic city. The last Republican to hold the office of mayor was John Herron in 1934.

Wander is facing widespread criticism for managing his campaign from abroad. He is currently in Israel.

“It’s a shame that the media has chosen to focus on my work instead of the campaign message of Progress over Politics,” Wander said. “We have a great campaign team doing their work in Pittsburgh and I am on top of things from here. With modern technology, anything is possible.”

Despite the significant challenges Wander’s situation poses for a campaign, Peduto said Wander’s lack of physical presence in Pittsburgh does not change how he will prepare his campaign.

“We’re putting on a full campaign…It doesn’t really make a difference,” Peduto said. “Joshua and I have four debates scheduled and I assume he will be at all four.”

Wander said he “surely hopes” he will be available to attend the mayoral debates.

With the federal indictment of Harper in March, the candidates, while on opposing sides, share a similar stance on how government in the city operates.

“We need to distance ourselves from the corrupt system that has plagued our city for decades,” Wander said.

Peduto said one of his major campaigning points will be to “clean up government.”

Ludwig, the independent candidate, has platformed his campaign on the promise to repair the local government.

“I have a responsibility to look at the corruption,” Ludwig said. “I don’t dislike Bill…but he has $1.3 million in his [campaign]…and that means that he owes favors to people and he can’t just walk away.”

Ludwig, who has run for mayor six times in the past, obtained over 1,500 signatures to be on the ballot as an Independent candidate. In a bold move, he attempted to garner supporters at Peduto’s campaign kickoff event by talking to attendees while wearing a campaign poster around his neck.

The long-odds against his competition will not affect how his team will plan the campaign, Peduto said. However, it does allow his team to widen its focus to helping other Democratic candidates claim offices.

“You help allies,” Peduto said. “We’re all part of the Democratic ticket, so we’re making sure that we’re part of their team.”

Peduto’s allies on the ticket are Deb Gross, Dan Gilman and Natalia Rudiak, who are running for spots on city council.

Hagarty said Peduto’s team is “contacting people at twice the rate that we were in the primaries.”

“You keep chugging and doing the work,” Hagarty said. “It’s a grind.”

News editor Julian Routh contributed reporting.