With hours to go before tomorrow's primary election, things are heating up in the race for the state House seat currently occupied by Adam Ravenstahl in District 20.
One of Ravenstahl's two opponents, Mark Purcell, sent out a mailer last week accusing the incumbent of blowing off community meetings ... a charge Ravenstahl denies.
The front of the mailer shows a collage of Purcell working in the community with the phrase "Proud Public Servant". On the back, it says "Adam Ravenstahl Missing in Action" and shows 9 chairs with the names of North Side civic groups on it, and phrases like "missing," "absent" and "no show."
Ravenstahl has fired back at the mailer. In a statement released today, Ravenstahl said
"I've been the target of aggressive negative attacks by my opponent ... I've not missed a single vote in Harrisburg and I've attended hundreds of meetings in our community. I promise to continue to fight hard for what is right for our community."
Asked to explain the mailer, Purcell says he's been approached by community groups -- which he declined to name -- that they have felt Ravenstahl hasn't been present in the district.
City Paper reached out to the nine community groups named on the mailer. Only two responded, though we'll post more responses as they come in. Leaders of both groups declined to evaluate Ravenstahl's work in office, but said he has been accessible when approached.
"He has come to general membership meetings ... We have five each year, he's been to most of them," says Pete Bellisario, president of the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation, adding that they requested he attend their Memorial Day event May 28 and that his office has purchased advertisements in programs for their other events. "Honestly I don't recall him coming to clean-ups or the Halloween parade but that doesn't mean anything." Bellisario says Ravenstahl hasn't been different than any other elected officials on the North Side who have to juggle multiple community groups, functions and responsibilities.
"When they come, I'm happy but I understand the competing priorities that they have ... Adam has provided some support to organizations on the North Side."
Mark Fatla, the executive director of the North Side Leadership Conference, says his organization didn't know about the mailer, "and no one asked us about [Ravenstahl's] attendance" at Conference gatherings.
"Adam has not been at conference board meetings, but we have never asked him to attend," Fatla adds. "Our meetings are open, but we've never asked him or expected him to attend," he says. "In fairness to Ravenstahl, when we've asked for a meeting with him or his staff, they've accommodated us."
The empty-chairs mailer has not been Purcell's only attack.
On the back of a second mailer, Purcell displays two photos of Ravenstahl. The first is a portrait with a black box over his mouth reading "not one word not one time" and the other is a photo of Ravenstahl with his eyes closed. Underneath, lines of text begin with "He rolled up his sleeves and FELL ASLEEP in Harrisburg…."
Purcell was initially called out about the "closed eye" photo by the blog North Pittsburgh Politics last week, which took aim at Purcell's use of the photo:
"To put a fuzzy still from a video of someone with their eyes closed as 'proof' that they are sleeping is just ridiculous. If you have a video of Ravenstahl sleeping, that would be proof, but generally speaking people do blink sometimes."
In an earlier interview with City Paper, Ravenstahl disputed claims he's too quiet in session or not in the district. He said it's not his style "to get up and make speeches every day ... I prefer to legislate from the community." With Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office, Ravenstahl said, "it's difficult for Democrats to get anything done ... It's not just me."
"It's unfortunate one opponent in particular has been extremely negative," Ravenstahl said at the time. "I'm at community meetings. I try to help the community anyway I can."
Ravenstahl's statement today accused Purcell of doctoring the photo. Purcell denied that, and the challenger stood by his flyers' criticisms. Ravenstahl, he says, "has been one of the most ineffective legislators I've ever seen ...You can go on the PA House of Representatives web site and watch verbatim [the minutes] and you won't see his name anywhere. I went over every session."