Obviously the big election story yesterday was the pathetic turnout: Countywide, fewer than one voter out of every four showed up at the polls (according to as-yet unofficial tallies). That's down from about 29 percent in 2007.
No surprise, right? In Pittsburgh, at least, the three-way race for mayor never generated much interest ... as media accounts never lost interest in reminding us.
But here's something I didn't expect: Turnout was lower even in the one place you would expect the race to attract attention -- the East End.
The conventional wisdom was that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's two independent challengers, Kevin Acklin and Dok Harris, would split the "anyone but Luke" vote. That would be the same group of voters who supported Republican Mark DeSantis back in the 2007 November election. As I wrote awhile back, "inevitably the two independents are competing for some of the same neighborhoods."
So you'd expect those neighborhoods, at least, to take an interest in the election, right? They had not one but two options to send the mayor a message -- not one but two candidates seeking their support. Maybe no one else in town would give a shit. But these folks, at least, would have a stake in the race.
DeSantis, you may recall, won two wards in 2007: Ward 7 (Shadyside) and 14 (Squirrel Hill and environs). And according to the county's election data, more than 25 percent of Ward 7 voters turned out to vote that year. Nearly 38 percent of voters in Ward 14 did.
Flash forward to 2009. This time around, only 18.6 percent of Shadyside-area voters bothered to show up at the polls. In Squirrel Hill, only 27 percent of voters came out. That's more than a 10-percentage-point drop from Ward 14's turnout two years ago. Countywide, turnout between 2007 and 2009 only dropped by about 6 percentage points.
How many votes are we talking here? Taken together, turnout in those two wards was down by a total of 2,950 votes from the last mayoral election.
Obviously, those voters wouldn't have swung the election. Ravenstahl beat the second-place Harris by 15,000 votes.
But a higher turnout could have allowed Harris or Acklin to at least win the 7th and 14th wards. Ravenstahl won them only by a combined 300 votes. As it stands now, though, he can boast about having won every freaking ward in the city. Voters in Squirrel Hill could at least have spared his challengers that indignity.
I guess I'm just sort of stunned by this. I mean, the East End prides itself on its high level of political engagement. And it's the part of town where resistance to Ravenstahl has been the strongest. Plus which, Acklin lives in Squirrel Hill, and Harris has a place just down the road in Oakland. If these folks couldn't take an interest, you sure can't fault voters anywhere else for ignoring the election.
One explanation is that back in 2007, DeSantis was running as a Republican, and there are a lot of Republicans out in the East End. This time around, by contrast, the "Republican" on the ballot was Ravenstahl, thanks to a write-in campaign during the May primary. Acklin is a former Republican, but as for fears that he was some GOP "Trojan horse"? He should have been so lucky -- Acklin finished third in both the 7th and 14th wards.
Yes, the enthusiasm for Ravenstahl may well be waning: He got only 55 percent of the vote this time around, as compared to 63 percent against DeSantis. But this campaign didn't just diminish enthusiasm among his supporters -- it wearied the people most opposed to him as well.