Pittsburgh’s mayor credits Catholic upbringingEdit
Luke Ravenstahl, the 26-year-old new mayor of Pittsburgh, says he would not be in the position he is today without his Catholic faith.
“I’m not shy to say it, and I do say it whenever I can,” Ravenstahl said recently. “I would not be where I’m at without my Catholic upbringing and my Catholic education.”
As president of the city council, Ravenstahl became the mayor of Pittsburgh Sept. 1 following the death of Mayor Bob O’Connor from primary central nervous system lymphoma.
“The foundation that was instilled in me and my two brothers, both through my family as well as the school and the church, are something that I use on a daily basis,” said Ravenstahl, who attended Incarnation Academy and North Catholic High School, both on Pittsburgh’s North Side. “It may sound simple, it may sound like a cliché or even a politician, but you treat people like you want to be treated. We live that in my family.
“I continue to do that, even though it is in the political arena and many review it as a cutthroat type environment. I think I’ve been successful because I’ve been willing when we’ve sat down and in individual conversations with people to respect their points of view. You’re not going to agree at all times, but to respect their points of view, and listen and then make a decision.”
From his days as student council president and captain of the football and baseball teams at North Catholic, it appeared Ravenstahl was destined for a position of leadership. He didn’t think such a position would come this quickly, however.
“It was a difficult situation, and one that I had never envisioned and something that I accepted, obviously, but with a heavy heart because Mayor O’Connor was such a good friend of mine,” Ravenstahl said. “I worked with him on city council and throughout the early years of my political career. He was somebody that I looked up to and was a mentor of mine, a close friend of mine and my family’s.
“On the political level and the professional level, you had a job to do, but on the personal level it was difficult because of that relationship. It was a very trying time, and even today, a month into my tenure as mayor, it’s still difficult.”
Ravenstahl said his leadership positions in high school and as captain of the football team at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., helped to prepare him for his future political career and his position of leadership.
“It’s on a lot larger scale now as mayor of the city of Pittsburgh,” he said. “But everything I’ve been involved in all through my life, I’ve always when I got involved, I got involved in a way that enabled me to be in a lot of times a leadership position. That’s just kind of the way that I’ve always approached things. It’s one thing to get involved, but it’s another thing to take an active role and try to be a leader.
“Throughout high school, I was involved in many things — president of the student council, captain of the football and baseball team. When I went to college, the same thing with the football team — captain as a kicker, which is something that’s pretty uncommon.
“It’s something I take pride in, and I think it reflects my ability to work with people and to respect people. Obviously, the respect is reciprocated through some of those past accomplishments. It has been something historically that I’ve done, work my way into leadership positions. It’s not uncommon for me to do that now as mayor. It happened a lot quicker than I would have ever anticipated, but it’s something, I think, from past experience, I’m prepared to handle.”
Ravenstahl’s youth has been highlighted since he took over as mayor, and it has helped to land him spots on TV shows and a story in The New York Times. He took those opportunities to publicize Pittsburgh and right some wrong perceptions about “The Steel City.”
“My age has been a focal point of a lot of conversations, and naturally because it is unprecedented to have a 26-year-old mayor of a city of our size,” he said. “Not only locally, but really anywhere in the United States. It has been the focus, but I’ve used it, I think, to my advantage.
“In terms of my youth, I’m able to work 12-, 14-, 16-hour days, which I’ve done every day for the past month. I’ve used it to get on shows like David Letterman, to do CNN, to change, hopefully, the perception of Pittsburgh. Because the perception nationwide is that Pittsburgh is an older city, that it’s a smoky city. The reality is we’ve changed from that. We don’t have the steel mills anymore. Any opportunity that I can get to talk about the city of Pittsburgh on that national level. It wasn’t so much about myself. Obviously, I was the story to them because of my age, but I used it and viewed it as an opportunity for me not to talk about me, but to talk about the city. I think it went well.”
Ravenstahl was raised in a political atmosphere on Pittsburgh’s North Side. His grandfather, Robert Sr., was a state representative, and his father, Robert Jr., is a district justice.
“At an early age, it was something that I enjoyed and then got involved in, becoming a Democratic committeeman when I was 18 years old, the legal age to vote,” he said. “Through public service and through the excitement and satisfaction I saw primarily on my father’s face, and through his life as a public servant, it was something that always interested me.
“The opportunity presented itself three years ago when I ran for council, and I took advantage of it. I knew politics and public service was something that I always wanted to get into. But if you would have asked me five years ago when I was in college, ‘Did you think it would have happened this quick?’ even with the election to city council, I’d be lying if I told you ‘yes.’ The important thing is I worked tremendously hard, and I absolutely committed myself to it. That’s why I think I’ve been successful.”
Ravenstahl intends to continue most of the policies O’Connor started in his eight months in office before he died. However, Ravenstahl hopes to bring about some of his own initiatives.
“Bob O’Connor for the first time in a long time made Pittsburghers be excited to be from Pittsburgh again,” he said. “That was evident. He was the city’s biggest and best cheerleader. From that aspect, I think it’s something that I plan to continue. Bob O’Connor was Bob O’Connor, and those were some tough shoes to fill. He got on the streets on a regular basis. He was in the communities. He met with the community groups and the constituents of this city, and he did so on a one-on-one level. I intend to continue that, just like Bob did. It’s important to talk with the people that live in their neighborhoods, to hear what their issues might be, to hear what their concerns might be, then to come back here to Grant Street and implement them.
“From that perspective, I definitely want to continue what Bob started. Now that being said, as a 26-year-old, I bring a new perspective. For example, the computer that’s in my office is the first computer ever in the mayor’s office. Those types of things that are unique to my generation, as a 26-year-old, I think I bring that perspective. Hopefully, that will help not only retain young people we have here, but hopefully attract some from the outside.”
The Allegheny County Board of Elections ruled Oct. 12 that Ravenstahl will have to run for election in 2007 if he wants to keep his job. The three-member board voted unanimously that the city will hold a mayoral primary May 15, 2007, followed by a general election Nov. 6, 2007.
The city charter states a replacement must be selected during the “next election permitted by law” following the death of a mayor. However, some legal analysts said Ravenstahl should serve the remainder of O’Connor’s term, which would run through 2009. Others said Ravenstahl should run for election in November or during the May primary.
Ravenstahl and his wife, Erin, live in Pittsburgh’s Summer Hill neighborhood and are members of Holy Wisdom Parish.
“I think my Catholic upbringing gave me that patience, gave me that ability to do that and really has helped me,” he said. “It still does every single day. Myself as a Catholic, it’s something that’s important to me. It’s a group through the church that I remain involved in, and active in and proud to be active in. It’s a community in Pittsburgh that’s a strong community, and I’m proud to be a representative of the Catholic community in the mayor’s office.”