Here's some sobering news for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's 2013 re-election effort. Even if he wins the Democratic primary, he could end up facing one of his sharpest critics on city council next year.
Jeanne Clark, a longtime activist and East End political veteran, will be running to fill the council seat left vacant by Bill Peduto, who is challenging Ravenstahl for the mayor's office.
Clark says she's held off making an announcement until the presidential election was over and Peduto made his own plans clear. But the announcement has been a long time coming. "People were getting more and more insistent that they wanted me to consider a run," she says. "I've spent my whole life trying to get other women to run for office, so did I really have the right to say no?"
Clark, of Shadyside, has been an activist on behalf of feminist and LGBT causes for more than three decades; she currently works as director of communications for environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (better known as PennFuture). Within the local blogosphere, however, Clark may be best known for her strident attacks on Ravenstahl, whom she has called out for promoting police officers previously accused of domestic abuse. In August, she wrote a widely circulated blog post detailing an altercation she and Ravensthal had on the issue during a "cookie cruise." Mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven later called Clark "crazy". But in district 8, which includes liberal hotbeds like Squirrel Hill that have never embraced Ravenstahl, such criticism may help Clark far more than an endorsement.
Clark acknowledges that Ravenstahl's controversial promotions -- particularly those involving Assistant Chief George Trosky, who has long been a lightning rod -- "showed me that you have to keep an eye on the ball." But she adds that gunning for Ravenstahl is "not why I'm running." After all, he might not even be in office next year. And anyway, Clark says, while she may sometimes sound like "a wild-eyed radical, I'm also pretty practical," and willing to cross ideological divides.
District 8 includes some of the city's most prosperous East End neighborhoods. But Clark says she "also wants to see what I can do about the wide disparity between rich and poor, and the disparity in the services they get." And as befits someone whose current day job is with an environmental group, Clark says she'll be particularly focused on environmental issues like the overhaul of the city's stormwater system. Like many green-minded observers, Clark argues, "We need to be sure there's a green-infrastructure component" to preventing sewage overflow from contaminating local waterways.
Although this would be Clark's first time holding public office, she doesn't lack for political bona fides. She's the chair of the city Democrats' Seventh Ward committee, and a close ally of county executive Rich Fitzgerald. And through her work with groups like the National Organization for Women, she can boast "of a national reputation, and a national network" that can help support her campaign financially.
She also may pick up some tailwinds from a national climate that has become increasingly favorable to female candidates. There are three women currently on council, two of whom -- Natalia Rudiak and Theresa Kail Smith -- are up for re-election this year. (The third female councilor, of course, is President Darlene Harris.) If Rudiak and Smith win their races, and Clark is elected, four of council's nine members would be women. That would be, I believe, the highest percentage of women on council in Pittsburgh history.
But Clark will likely not have the field to herself for long. Sam Hens-Greco, who chairs the district's 14th ward Democratic committee, is a potential contender, while Dan Gilman, Peduto's chief of staff, is widely expected to run. (UPDATED: In fact, Gilman made it official with a press release sent out at 6 a.m. this morning: I was blogging from home -- in my jammies, old-school style -- and didn't receive the e-mail. More later.) The council contest could put Fitzgerald at odds with Peduto ... even though Fitzgerald has come out foursquare behind Peduto's own mayoral bid.
Clark acknowledges things could get a little messy. Still, she says, "Progressives don't have to eat their young, and I'm going to work hard to try and make sure that doesn't happen."
"People are already yelling at me because there's nowhere to send the checks yet," she says. "But I'm in this race. I'm not going to change my mind."