Peduto Breaks News
Who would have thought it? Controversy over Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's midnight private jet trip was the knockout punch to take Councilman Bill Peduto out of the Democratic party primary.
The councilman insists the big story of the previous 24-hour news cycle is part of what convinced him that if he stayed in the primary campaign, the race could have taken on a divisive focus on controversies instead of on the issues. He says that's why he chose to get out instead.
At the same time, Peduto acknowledges that he's not disbanding his entire campaign team and that he'll continue to accept contributions. By choosing not to be a candidate in the primary, he preserves his right to run as an independent in the fall.
There's one precedent for a Pittsburgh mayoral candidate running sucessfully as an independent against the endorsed Democratic candidate: Dick Caliguiri. But there's also an important difference; Caliguiri, like Ravenstahl, had the advantage of being an incumbent. Caliguiri ascended from council president to become mayor when Pete Flaherty joined the Carter Administration. In his fall race, the power of incumbency likely gave him more clout than his ad-hoc " Pittsburghers for Caliguiri" party.
(Am I dating myself here? I was just getting started in radio news back then. I remember the endorsed mayoral candidate, Tom Foerster, giving a gracious concession speech the night he lost to Caliguiri... as his campaign manager, Dr. Cyril Wecht fumed: "other people may forget what Dick Caliguiri did here; I will not forget.)
There's already a debate under way in the blogosphere over whether withdrawing from the primary race now preserves Peduto's right to run in the fall. His answers to my questions during his news conference suggest that he believes it does give him that option.
Even if Peduto should opt not to run in November, getting out now may benefit him later. Any campaign funds raised this year and not spent would provide him a financial base to become the leading challenger in 2009.
One more thought: Bill Peduto was a staffer to former Councilman Dan Cohen, who was once regarded as a potential rising star. Cohen bucked the party and mounted a challenge to incumbent Congressman Bill Coyne which included some sharply negative direct-mail campaigning. Cohen lost, and his luster may have been tarnished by the reaction to that negative campaign. He is now in private law practice. Perhaps Councilman Peduto is taking insight from the experience of his mentor.