After three years at the helm of the city, Luke Ravenstahl sees Pittsburgh sailing in the right direction.
At 29, the former District 1 representative on City Council already has spent a sixth of his lifetime representing Pittsburghers.
And though he’s still the youngest candidate in the mayoral race, Ravenstahl says his experience remains his strongest card against his two slightly older opponents.
He doesn’t think he’s perfect though.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he admits. “What I can say is that I was not ready for the job when I took it over on Sept. 1, 2006.
“The reality is no matter what your educational background or prior history or work experience is, when you walk into the mayor’s office, it’s a daunting task. And whether you’re 26 or 56, there’s a learning curve for everybody.”
Ravenstahl says successful decision making was the most difficult thing for him to learn as mayor. In asense, he’s learned that acting quickly is not always the best choice.
In his first year, he dealt with the fact that when small details of legislation or day-to-day operations weren’t given due consideration, large complications could arise quickly. Ravenstahl won’t point out specifics here, but constituents will remember the small fiasco over his consideration of promising large, local nonprofits that gifts to The Pittsburgh Promise would exempt them from future tax obligations.
“Now I rely on more people to talk through issues with,” Ravenstahl says. “I carefully consider all sides more than I did before. I’m not as reactive or quick to make a decision as I was in the early stages.”
“When you look at this race, specifically, being that I’m 29, and I’m the experienced candidate in the race…I am a better candidate and a better mayor because of the experiences of the last three years,” he says.
In terms of his actual record on legislation, Ravenstahl calls The Pittsburgh Promise — which the late Bob O’Connor envisioned and Ravenstahl negotiated — the number reason voters resign him for a two year deal.
“It’s one of the big ideas that Pittsburgh needs to turn itself around,” he says with certainty, listing the amount of money the program makes available city students for college. “It allows us to rebuild our neighborhoods and attract people back to Pittsburgh.”
The fact that every public high school student in the city can go to college, should begin attracting more and more families to the city, he says, and cites Kalamazoo, Michigan’s similar program in which home prices and enrollment numbers went up drastically.
He credited The Promise for causing the lower declines in public school enrollment the city has seen this last year, but made no promises that enrollment would grow in the near future, which he said would only happen once more families became aware that their children could receive up to $40,000 for their college education.
On the Northside, the mayor touted what he called the progress toward construction of a community recreation center in Riverview Park, which he announced this spring.
In the budget he’s submitting for 2010, there will be an extra $940,000 earmarked for the center, assuming city council doesn’t put up a fight. This money is in addition to the $941,000 he allotted for the project from this year’s budget.
About the starting date, he’s a little less certain. Zoning changes might have to be worked out.
“I’m impatient, I would have liked to already have a shovel in the ground, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic at all to think we can break ground sometime next year.
“You go to some other neighborhoods in the city, and they have updated facilities. Well, the Northside doesn’t and that has to change.”
Concerning needed infrastructure upgrades on the Northside, Ravenstahl said he couldn’t promise anything, but that development project like Federal Hill and Western Avenue would continue to be his focus.
He’s deliberate when asked about prioritizing certain neighborhoods.
“I think how we will prioritize [development] is the way we’ve always done: neighborhoods and organizations and groups that have their act together and have a vision for their neighborhood…are more likely to receive support from us.”
This leads to his handing of Manchester in the spring. The mayor’s chief of staff, Yarone Zober, sent the Manchester Citizens Corporation a list of 84 houses the city had slated for demolition. In the letter, Zober said without a comprehensive plan for large-scale renovations of the housing stock, all 84 historic homes would meet the wrecking ball.
To meet the mayor’s office half-way, MCC spent most of the summer designing such a plan and just completing one of their first initiatives, a house sale, in mid October.
But Ravenstahl isn’t willing to give communities decades to effect change in their communities. The blight on the community and the penchant for these houses to become conducive to crime, makes their demolition a timely necessity.
When asked about his opponents, Ravenstahl doesn’t care to throw barbs. But if he had to drink a beer with one of them, he says it’d probably be Dok Harris (whose father Franco, interestingly enough, was handpicked by Ravenstahl to chair the Pittsburgh Promise board).
“He just seems more of a fun guy, seems like he’d be someone I would relate [to] perhaps a little bit better.”