Does Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plan to run for re-election next as a Republican?
Not likely ... although some of his campaign's expenditures last year do raise some interesting questions.
This week, City Paper's Chris Young looks at some of the unusual expenditures made by the mayor's campaign, including country club dues and Super Bowl trips. But in poring through the reports, we also noted that the campaign had made some notable payments to Republicans.
Among them was a $1,000 campaign contribution to Republican state House Majority leader Mike Turzai. Turzai has been a leading supporter of privatizing state stores and a much-maligned voter ID bill -- issues that have been hot-buttons for unions and other Democratic constituencies. Of course, Harrisburg is dominated by Republicans, and currying favor with the leadership might be just good sense. But what makes Ravenstahl's support notable is that he has largely ignored legislative leaders in his own party.
Only two other politicians received donations from the mayor's campaign last year: Both of them -- Jeff Koch and Vince Pallus -- were running for city council against opponents of the mayor. In fact, between 2008 and 2011, Ravenstahl has contributed money to only three Harrisburg Democrats: state Rep. Dan Deasy, a former city councilor who chairs the city's water authority; former state Rep. Todd Eachus of Luzerne Couty; and Keith McCall, a former House speaker from Carbon County.
As the Post-Gazette reported last year, Ravenstahl also hired two well-traveled GOP fund-raisers to handle his $500-a-head kickoff campaign fundraiser last fall. Campaign records show he paid Amy Petraglia and Carey Dunn Sirianni a total of $41,740. While the P-G noted that the pair had done work for Democrat Mark Patrick Flaherty during his failed run for county executive last year, it noted their clients usually included "Gov. Tom Corbett and other Republicans."
Those Republicans, in fact, include: Senator Pat Toomey, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and former Congresswoman Melissa Hart. More recently, the pair have been named to the Western Pa. finance team for Steve Welch, the Republican candidate looking to unseat Sen. Bob Casey in the fall.
The mayor's campaign manager, Paul McKrell, did not return emails seeking comment about the expenditures. But Nancy Patton Mills, who chairs the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, says Ravenstahl has always supported the party. She surmises the Turzai donation might simply reflect Ravenstahl's need to work with all sides.
Still, she added, "The Allegheny County Democratic Committee won't be hiring [Petraglia and Sirianni] and we definitely won't be giving any money to Mr. Turzai."
Another campaign expenditure, meanwhile, may prove the most intriguing. On April 8, 2011, Ravenstahl made a $20,000 loan to an entity called the "Committee for a Better Pittsburgh." According to the campaign finance reports, $17,000 of that loan was paid back later in the year.
At this point, it's not clear what that organization is, or the causes it supports: We could find few records for it other than a mailing address in the city's East End. But last year, the Tribune-Review reported that White Oak businessman John Kostelac planned to form a group called Committee for a Better Pittsburgh, with the intention of running more Republicans for city offices. Kostelac told the paper that "City Republicans realize that a one-party rule for so long created a class of self-serving bureaucrats, relative nepotism, and has become stale and decadent."
Kostelac told the paper that he had not yet formed a political committee, and it's not clear if his organization is the same one the mayor loaned money to. John Kostelac is on vacation until the beginning of April. A call to the owner of the home address given for the committee has also gone unreturned. We'll provide updates as they become available.