PITTSBURGH New mayor vows to promote agenda
The 26-year-old is the youngest mayor in the city's 190-year history.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A year after receiving a huge boost from his predecessor and political mentor, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pledged to continue the work started by Bob O'Connor.
Ravenstahl officially moved Friday into the office previously occupied by O'Connor, a friend and former colleague who died of brain cancer Sept. 1.
Speaking publicly for the first time since taking office hours after O'Connor's death, Ravenstahl showed just how closely he is linked to the former mayor.
"I promise to advance the O'Connor agenda, the O'Connor legacy," said Ravenstahl, at 26 the youngest mayor in Pittsburgh's 190-year history.
"Bob O'Connor was a mentor of mine, really a role model for me. To be honest with you, I wouldn't be sitting here as mayor without his help in the council presidency vote last year."
O'Connor's support put Ravenstahl in a position to be his successor.
Under the city charter, Ravenstahl became the city's 59th mayor because he was city council president when O'Connor died. Ravenstahl was sworn in less than two hours after O'Connor died eight months into his term.
What remains to be seen is how long Ravenstahl's tenure will be.
What charter calls for
The city charter says a replacement must be selected during the "next election permitted by law." Municipal attorneys believe Ravenstahl should serve the remainder of O'Connor's term, through 2009. But others, including former city solicitor Jacqueline Morrow, said Ravenstahl should face re-election in November or during the May primary, at the latest.
Ravenstahl said he'll run for re-election whenever his term ends, and asked the city law department to have a judge rule on the question.
"The residents of the city of Pittsburgh are entitled to have an answer to that question as quickly as possible," Ravenstahl said. "Whether the election is in 2006, 2007, 2008 really is of no interest to me."
Ravenstahl kept O'Connor's staff largely intact. On Friday, he named as chief of staff Yarone Zober, who served as deputy mayor after O'Connor was incapacitated by cancer. Ravenstahl also kept longtime O'Connor adviser Dennis Regan as director of operations.
"When Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Baines Johnson kept many of Kennedy's appointees in high-level positions," said Joseph Sabino Mistick, a Duquesne law professor and top aide to former Mayor Sophie Masloff. "This is not unusual in executive positions all the way from the federal to the local level."
"If he hopes to chart his own course, however, he should remember that in politics, allegiances are often based on personal relationships," Mistick said. "If he is to excel in his own right, he'll eventually have to build his own organization."
Matter of age
For now, Ravenstahl is just trying to keep the city running and convince people that he is up to the job even though he and Zober (age 31) combined are younger than O'Connor was.
"Age is a number. But because it's so rare, because we've never had a 26-year-old mayor, I'm sure there's some uncertainty out there with people," Ravenstahl said.
"I intend to get out into the community to meet the people, to talk to the people, just as Bob did," Ravenstahl said. "And I'm confident that when that takes place, the age question will no longer need to be asked."
Ravenstahl would not offer specific plans for the city but said they will become clear when he presents a tentative budget to city council in a couple of weeks.
Until then, residents should look for the same kind of leadership that O'Connor offered: a highly visible style that brings the mayor into communities to solve smaller neighborhood problems that, bit by bit, improve the city.
"It was overwhelming for me, and I think everybody yesterday, during his funeral and procession, to just really see how much of an impact he made on the residents of Pittsburgh," Ravenstahl said.
O'Connor's secretary, Marlene Rende Cassidy, told a story at the funeral about O'Connor's efforts to "redd up" the city -- a local euphemism for cleaning house and a program Ravenstahl pledged to continue.
During one tour of a blighted neighborhood, O'Connor told a police officer to tow an abandoned vehicle. When the officer noted certain paperwork was required, O'Connor gave the officer his business card saying, "Here's your paperwork," and ordered the car moved.
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