Pittsburgh's Mayor Faces Battle of Confidence
JACKIE LYDEN, host:
In Pittsburgh, the untimely death of the late mayor has left a 26-year-old in charge of the city. Luke Ravenstahl is now the youngest mayor of any major American city. Katherine Fink of member station WDUQ has this profile.
KATHERINE FINK: Since Luke Ravenstahl took office, he has been getting interview requests from around the country. First it was the New York Times; then he got invited to the Late Show with David Letterman, who made the types of jokes you would expect.
(Soundbite of "Late Show with David Letterman")
Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host): And an appearance like this, does it interfere with your homework?
(Soundbite of laughter)
FINK: Ravenstahl is trying to pitch his youth as a good thing, a sort of fresh start for Pittsburgh. The symbolism was striking as he spoke at the future sight of a new downtown skyscraper. It's the largest construction project in years for Pittsburgh's central business district. As backhoes rumbled behind a chain-link fence, Ravenstahl promised this project was only the beginning.
Mayor LUKE RAVENSTAHL (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania): We in this city have for too long tried to begin projects like this, but it's finally great to see it happening here in downtown Pittsburg, and we certainly could not have done it without the support of the state.
FINK: Patricia Arms(ph) was walking downtown and came over to see what the news conference was all about. She says she doesn't know much about the new mayor yet. She's not even sure what he looks like.
Ms. PATRICIA ARMS (Pittsburgh Resident): Is he here?
FINK: Arms, who is probably old enough to be Ravenstahl's mother, says she won't write him off just because of his age.
Ms. ARMS: Give him a chance, you know? He's a young guy, but give him a chance. You never know.
FINK: John Miller, who is closer to the mayor's age, is optimistic.
Mr. JOHN MILLER (Pittsburgh Resident): Because Pittsburgh was a dying town for a long time. Now, hopefully, he can bring some life back into it.
FINK: The pressure is on Ravenstahl to prove he's a capable leader at a time Pittsburgh's mayor has limited powers. The city entered a form of municipal bankruptcy three years ago. Its finances are now under the control of the state of Pennsylvania. Duquesne University law professor Joe Sabino Mistick says the mayor's biggest responsibility now is appointing policy-makers.
Mr. JOE SABINO MISTICK (Duquesne University): Most of us are accustomed to electing our officials and having them run things. And that's really not what happens here as long as we have this oversight.
FINK: Ravenstahl's major policy initiative so far has been based around technology. He's the first Pittsburgh mayor to put a computer in his office and is pushing for other initiatives he says will make the city run more efficiently.
Mayor RAVENSTAHL: The 21st-century issues, with the purchase of hybrid vehicles for the first time, with using hand-held computers in the Bureau of Building Inspection, because we are, in a lot of ways, behind in where we need to be technologically.
FINK: Ravenstahl may only have a few months to make an impression on voters. City laws conflict on when the next mayoral election should be held. The local elections board has set the date for next year, but the final decision may come from a judge. For NPR News, I'm Katherine Fink in Pittsburgh.
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