‘Luke the Unready’ steps aside
There was an English monarch who ascended to the throne sometime in the late 900s – no one is precisely certain of the date – who ended up being dubbed “Ethelred the Unready,” in part because he was somewhere around age 10 when he became king.
Luke Ravenstahl was arguably not quite as hapless as poor Ethelred – he had at least passed through puberty and had reached the seasoned age of 26 when he became Pittsburgh’s mayor in 2006 following the death of Bob O’Connor, a mere eight months after O’Connor won the office.
Few would have denied, though, that Ravenstahl could have used a good bit more gravitas before taking the helm of Pennsylvania’s second-largest city. Nonetheless, the city’s voters stuck with the Washington & Jefferson College graduate twice: first in a special election a few months after O’Connor’s death; and again in 2009, when Ravenstahl won a term in his own right. But, in the wake of an investigation of an alleged Pittsburgh Bureau of Police slush fund, Ravenstahl ended his efforts last week to see if voters would affirm his leadership for a third time, abruptly ending a re-election bid that had started just nine days before.
Although Ravenstahl pleaded in a Friday news conference the position had become too grueling and its demands too taxing, the timing of his announcement after all the revelations regarding the unauthorized account, and the apparent access Ravenstahl’s bodyguards had to it, seems more than merely happenstance. After all, the job was no more arduous Friday than it was Feb. 20, when he announced with much fanfare he wanted to remain mayor through at least 2018. Though he has strenuously reiterated he is not a target of investigators, perhaps he realized the lingering questions about the slush fund and the extent of his knowledge about it could have led to defeat in the May 21 primary at the hands of either Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto or Controller Michael Lamb, two viable opponents who already had announced their intentions to run.
But, the alleged slush fund aside, it’s possible that voters would have punched Ravenstahl’s card again in May only with great reluctance. While Pittsburgh has clearly not become a Detroit-style hellscape on his watch – the city’s population is growing and the region’s unemployment rate has generally been better than the national numbers during the last five years – questions about Ravenstahl’s maturity and vision have persisted, as has the feeling that the city could maybe do a little better with someone else at the steering wheel. Residents still remember how, on Feb. 6, 2010, Ravenstahl was celebrating his 30th birthday at the Seven Springs resort when the region was buried under more than 20 inches of frozen precipitation in “Snowmageddon.” He has been absent from other key events, too. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted last year that he was nowhere to be seen when the National Veterans Wheelchair Games came to Pittsburgh in August 2011, but, around the same time, was on hand for a cameo appearance in “The Dark Knight Rises” movie, which was partially filmed in the city. In the days leading up to his announcement Friday, Ravenstahl vanished, skipping several events at which he had been scheduled to appear, leading to a cottage industry in rumors about his whereabouts, well-being and plans.
With name recognition and a well-connected family that has deep roots in Pittsburgh politics, Ravenstahl seems assured of a soft landing if, as seems likely, he seeks a job in the private sector. And it could very well be that Pittsburgh’s “immature” mayor has at last showed some in his decision to step aside.
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