Ravenstahl post-mortem: Mayoring Ain’t Easy


This Buzzfeedish wrap-up is a good look at the Luke Era, with lots of instances of Undermayor Zober faithfully and skillfully applying the lipstick, rouge, mascara, concealer and botox.

I’d like to juxtapose two bits:

“He is an amazing risk-taker, and in politics, that’s pretty hard to come by,” says Zober. Exhibit A: The public announcement of The Pittsburgh Promise at a time when no funding was available for it. “When Superintendent Roosevelt and Mayor Ravenstahl stood up and announced it together as this great dream, The Pittsburgh Promise, many mocked it … [Ravenstahl and Roosevelt] knew that in order to make that happen, you had to discuss it publicly.” (PghMag; Rich Lord)


Ravenstahl, notes Zober, “became mayor and the following year had to run for office. There were people in council who wanted that office.” (ibid)

The two are related. Ravenstahl announced the Promise as a solid reality with much fanfare before it was ready, in order to give voters something with which to identify and for which to adore our new Mayor prior to a special election.

That decision led to desperation in identifying funding, which led to UPMC dominating the Promise by entering into certain understandings with the City, which led to both political animosity over proposed tax-credits and the spoiling of negotiations with non-profits over PILOTs to this day.

A Lesson 9 could simply read, “Do Not Mix Politics and Governing,” but I suppose Rich does not want to sound like he just fell off the turnip truck.

Related to this:

“You can’t just run over the hill to the store and get a carton of milk,” the new mayor, then 26, told me. “I’m a lot more recognizable, and that’s probably what’s been the hardest.” (ibid)


“He had to ask himself many times, ‘Is this something I’m willing to do?’” says Zober. “This was not a position he had anticipated taking on, particularly not in such an early stage [of] his political career, and [of] his life.” (ibid)

We continue to read this sort of thing. He never sought the office, we are told, and was deeply uncomfortable with the recognition it brought.

He merely ran for City Council at age 23, accepted being put forward as its President, plastered his face on everything he could find as Mayor, energetically sought reelection at every opportunity, and was notorious about chasing celebrities, patronizing VIP lounges and starring in movies.

I suppose he can be complex and contain multitudes. So Lesson 10: Do not be ambivalent. If you want run a major city, your heart and soul had better be 100% energized by the job itself, like some sort of public affairs geek: negotiating with community groups and stakeholders, overseeing departments and demanding the most out of them, doing research and reevaluating your preconceptions. Because the perks alone and the pride of seeing monuments rise during your tenure don’t remotely justify the hassle.

29 thoughts on “Ravenstahl post-mortem: Mayoring Ain’t Easy

  1. Anonymous

    The real lesson Luke should learn — regardless of the circumstances, when you take over, you put your own team in charge and don't rely on your predecessor's team.

    For all their successes (and they did not even talk about the reduction in crime during this time), this administration will be judged for what they failed to do and the perception of politics rule all.

    Zober should have been guiding him in the right direction regarding politics and governing; but, this administration never could figure out that the two should be completely separated. Clear signals sent with the giving of high level jobs to folks that were not qualified for them to the rewriting of civil services rules to allow a detective to be promoted to commander. It is a shame that this will be his legacy rather than all of the good things he did help accomplish.

    Hope that the next mayor cleans house in all areas —- mayor's office, budget office (no person should sit/chair as many functions as one person currently does), police Bureau, put someone that knows IT in charge of CIS rather than a bureaucrat and put a person in charge of Public Works that understands that with the merging of general services and engineering into their department the breath of their responsibility has grown vastly beyond Red Up and road maintenance. Why is there no city building maintenance plan — why do city properties that are being used for a public function look like they are being managed by a negligent landlord — why is there there no published long term road maintenance plan?

  2. NN

    The crime drop is hard to really attribute to Luke. First because crime has been dropping pretty much everywhere and second because this wasn't really a place where the mayor exercised much leadership. Mayors like Bloomberg and Nutter seem really able to parse crime data and then justify particular police policies in response. If Luke did this it certainly wasn't done publicly.

    None of this is to say that it shouldn't be attributed to him, but these may explain the article's silence on the matter.

  3. Anonymous

    Luke's problem was that he and his administration were combative and adversarial. He had a big mouth spokeswoman and Huss, Kunka, Onorato (parking) K. (public works) Burgess, Kail… Basically, a lot of very unlikeable people who told Luke everyone was out to get him so get them first. They should hand there heads for how they behaved.

  4. Loose Leaf

    Pat Hassett. Rich Bellisario.

    The Ravenstahl Administration gave and withheld permits in exchange for campaign contributions. Quid pro quo. Pat Ford facilitated the EXTORTION.

    Lamar's board was just one example. After the Planning Commission denied UPMC's sign on the US Steel building, they charged up to the mayor's office and the Planning Commission (losers and dirtbags) approved it after the fact. K&L Gates got a bigger and brighter sign than the code allows. Liberty Pacific Media forked over $32,000 in Dec. 06 in exchange for billboards on the North Side and downtown.

    The DA helped call the shots. “This guy doesn't get a permit” or “You need to make it happen”. 882 5th Avenue. Sal Williams (two-time felon) bought properties, tore them down, put up illegal parking lots and leased them to UPMC. Zoning didn't allow; Pat Ford blocked efforts to grant permits.

    Ron Graziano is still worth talking to. Certain folks at Carnegie Museum. Ron King / Joe Edelstein. If “no indictments came” from Ford's meltdown in 08 it can only be because of MBB's incompetence, or else there is literally zero appetite for public corruption cases aside from the simplest instances like Nate Harper.

  5. MH

    Thinking of police policy and comparing to Bloomberg makes me think better of Ravenstahl. Maybe somebody should try to see if we can't get the bike part of the Hot Metal Bridge named after him.

  6. Bram Reichbaum

    Lots of names of ordinary civilians in those anonymous accusations. A good time to brush up on the Disclaimer and take with a grain of salt.

    Definitely heard the part about UPMC's do-over before though, which was indeed improper.

  7. Anonymous

    Sal Williams, Ilegal parking lots, former Zoning admin can attest. Williams had 6 years from 2008 to build on those lots after they got caught..See what happens in 2014. Case #105 A-F.

  8. Anonymous

    Luke kept his promise to keep the ranks of police officers filled, he put more money into police technology than his predecessors, he funded cameras in and around the City that helped to solve many crimes (remember the famous biker getting slashed incident on the city steps), he improved station security at most of the police zones, he got law enforcement equipment to bring the police into the 21st century, he increased the number of first line supervisors and he vastly improved the vehicle fleet for the police. He also got police back into our city school after the police abandoned them in 2006. This provided an early and positive interaction between the children of the city and the police.

    Luke had/has his short coming (as we all do); but, his commitment to public safety was unprecedented in recent city history.

    Not going to get into the whole chief/bodyguards issue — that is a red herring to the argument that Luke did not support public safety.

    And, yes, the dramatic drop in crime cannot be attributed only to the actions of the mayor or the police. It is also attributable to community involvement and technological improvements (e.g. vehicle improvements, gps tracking, cameras, etc…). But, by no means, should the mayor be short changed in his 8 years of commitment to public safety.

  9. Anonymous

    Been 6 years or more since Pat Ford and this is still the best you can come up with? Maybe the Ravenstahl administration wasn't nearly as bad as ya'll pretend. Maybe Pat Ford was just a bad guy?

  10. Anonymous

    Here is the big problem though. And yes I am posting as an Anon, because yes I am afraid of retribution. So no you won't get many specifics from me because it would narrow down who I am. But Bill and his people are out on a witch hunt for anyone that “didn't support him.” I”m telling you this is 10 times worse than Ravenstahl or Murphy or O'Connor. Much worse. They are scouring campaign reports and who gave what to who. They are out in full force looking to punish anyone who didn't support Bill. It is really quite disgusting.

  11. Bram Reichbaum

    Eventually the truth should out. But remember Peduto promised voters a “clean sweep” more than anything else. He's duty-bound to deliver on that campaign promise.

    I still don't see how you can tell this stuff if he hasn't taken control yet, and if you're not one of his closest advisers (and it seems safe to surmise that you're not.)

  12. Anonymous

    You are very wrong on the clean sweep Bram. That is not what he promised and hardly what most people voted for. Yes, they voted for a “clean sweep” of the Mayor's office and key department heads. Not only do I think, I know that most people wanted a break from the way the current administration practiced politics. By your logic pretty much every election is about a “clean sweep.” While voters certainly wanted a change at the top (that includes many key positions), they did NOT vote for a Mayor going after private citizens. I'm not one of his closest advisers, but I know them all pretty well. Trust me, the witch hunt is on. They are running around and publicly proclaiming he was “with Bill” and who wasn't. Again, it is pretty disgusting. By the way, I think the Mayor would have won had he stayed in the race and it is questionable whether Lamb could have beaten Peduto if Wagner had not entered. Bill's rise to Mayordom was the result of a perfect political storm, a well prepared campaign machine to take advantage of the storm and the force of Fitzgerald.

  13. Bram Reichbaum

    Um. Well. The sweep he promised was of “City Hall,” and the very nature of that rhetoric does not denote minimalism. Depending how you define “City Hall” why shouldn't it include the usual suspects from the private sector which inhabit it? It's hard to argue over an abstraction, but when you talk about “punishment” and “retribution”, are you talking about going after innocent bystanders or are you talking about stripping people accustomed to a high level of entitlement of what were only special privileges?

  14. MH

    The current people actually gave the physical streets to cronies for parking. I'm not very worried about random fears that somehow the new guy is going to be vindictive. The freaking FBI will take care of that.

  15. Anonymous

    Total clean sweep of the department heads, for some would disrupt continuity and institutional knowledge in the city. This disturbing trend repeating almost every four years when a new mayor gets elected, does nothing for the city. Newly installed departmental heads, would take some time to acquire their learning curve in understanding how the city works and to do what they do. I totally agree currently that some department heads are not qualified and they got there through their connections and their affiliation politically. but this archaic practice would have to go. It is about time that the city appoints a city manager to ascertain good efficient city government, to hire qualified and competent departmental heads and keep politics out of the running of the city.

  16. Anonymous

    Bram, I'm talking about hurting people or hurting their businesses or not returning someone's phone call or instructing subordinates not to help them like any other citizen. Does that mean not giving someone special privileges, absolutely not. No one should have special privileges and there are probably like four people who qualify in that role. I'm talking about how Bill's crew is running around openly talking about who was “with them” and who wasn't and who will therefore “get things” and who won't. I'm not someone who is ever in favor of special perks, but also am completed appalled by any politician hurting people. IN fact, I think that is much worse. Back to special people for a moment, we should also explore that a little more. Lets take for example Art Rooney. I don't know anything in particular about him, but he is a good example. Should he get a prompt return phone call from the Mayor (whoever the mayor is) and no matter who Rooney supported? Absolutely. Why you ask? Because he owns the most iconic brand in the City. And because he is a large business asset and civic leader. Should he get a back room sweetheart deal? No, he shouldn't. But if he wants to accomplish something the Mayor (whoever it is) should invite him into the office and say “how can I help you.” That is the essence of public service. You need to be strong enough to not cross the line, but the very essence of your existence is provide service and help. What scares is me is that for the first time and for some reason you think differently.

  17. Anonymous

    Yes – every four years or so, the vicious cycle continues because every Mayor claims they could do better. It takes almost four years for them to understand how the city works and once they get better at what they do – they are out of there. The whole process then starts all over again. The City deserves better.

  18. MH

    You should stick to inventing unattributed slander. You can't actually disprove it by spending two minutes on Wikipedia. Leaving aside O'Connor, who wasn't in office long enough to try to improve anything, the last mayors of Pittsburgh has been in office for 7 years, 12 years, 12 years, and 11 years. Whatever problems Pittsburgh has, lack of consistent leadership isn't one of them. (I'll let Josh make the point that everybody has been from the same party for longer than all of us have been alive.)

  19. Anonymous

    Anom 8-31-13@6:11pm is right on. If you are not hearing it it is because you don't want to. Bill and Fitz are getting a “hitlist” on those they think were not with them. I need to be anom also so I dont lose my job

  20. MH

    So they put this “hitlist” on Tumblr or you're “Deep Throat” or what? Because the first thing they teach you about making a hit list is not to let people on the hitlist know they are going to be hit before they are hit. And openly doing things like pay-for-access is an actual crime. A crime which nobody at all on Grant Street doesn't know the FBI is looking at right now.

    This is all deliberate misdirection, slander, and projection.

  21. Bram Reichbaum

    Seriously, Anon 6:23 etc. One never hears on the news that “The Boston Strangler is going around town getting ready and planning a murder, and figuring out who to murder. It's really quite disgusting.”

  22. Anonymous

    I honestly hope that the new mayor is able to keep his hands on the wheel – not only for a clean sweep, but for the years that follow. It may be difficult for many to believe, but most mayors and mayoral advisors start with very good intentions…but quickly bottom out on the enormity of the needed simultaneous tasks. The most important thing, in my mind, is to keep a firm grasp on what your department heads and managers are doing – i.e. how hard they are working on your priorities, whether they show up to work, etc. Luke was behind the 8 ball in this regard, coming in the way that he did…and the good change that he and his people honestly did envision slipped more and more out of hand.

    It might be a good idea to consider the size of the task that faces Bill and his people. There are authorities, boards, commissions, departments, task forces, programs…and on and on that desperately need attention, some of which will take a great deal of work to fully “sweep”, if indeed that can be done. Changing Public Safety, or even just Police…I think most folks agree that to be top priority, but man, that's going to be a fight, don't think otherwise for a moment. How many of these can be done well at the same time? Are they going to fix BBI, Police, CIS, Public Works, the Parking Authority, PWSA, etc. all simultaneously?

    This transition isn't going to be like flipping a light switch, but MANY of Bill's long-time supporters and more recent hangers-on are going to expect exactly that. Let's not forget that for quite some time, he has been the voice of opposition in the City – the standard to which those with complaints have rallied, be they justified or otherwise. It's going to be a big personal transition for him to go from the congenial smart guy who liked all the cool bands in school (and, more power to him on that note!) to the guy who's got thousands of workers on the payroll – people who have to keep this City afloat, whose experience and long-time understanding of their positions he's going to need. Don't assume that City workers are all mini Pat Fords or otherwise on the take, because that's just untrue. The rank and file snow plow drivers, who have been bringing in their own space heaters for the trucks since 2003, the guys and girls who know the dimensions of the ball fields, the folks who do every day non-political tasks…his broom is going to have to find the right folks to spare amid the sweep. These things are really going to take some doing…and there will be folks who will be steering him in the wrong direction, because there always are…always.

    Again, look past the sweep – are your directors/managers staying on task a year in, or two years in? 3 months in? That's your turkey on the table.

  23. Anonymous

    I've watched Bill for many years in City Council and know that he is very well aware of how this city runs. He has been stonewalled, blocked, snubbed, ignored, has not been asked to meetings and has not had his calls returned. Just to name a few. From this unprofessional treatment, Bill has seen and heard enough to know a lot! He is very wise to the ways of this cities operations.
    He is also very well connected to very bright people so he does have a vast pool of brain power to draw from.
    I'm thrilled that Bill is going to lead us and I can't wait to see him right this ship!

  24. Anonymous

    Yeah, but except here it is quite open. There is no libel case, because it is true and truth is an absolute defense. Just ask him. Seriously, just go up to Bill and ask him if has said to or about anyone in a negative way that they were not “with him.” Look for his reaction. Why else would he be actively looking to help certain businesses and downtown property owners but not others?

  25. Anonymous

    This is a pretty good post. Often times dept heads or staff do things on their own. Interestingly, those people never get investigated or criticized for trying to direct deals to their favorites. They also slow things down or send them in the wrong direction. Most people are good, but these types are out there. Sooner than later Bill will get a call from a supporter saying “I need your help moving x, y or z” along. How will he respond?


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