Les Ludwig has run for mayor before -- as a write-in candidate. Voters wrote him off instead. But the Squirrel Hill resident is hoping to change all of that. On the November ballot this year, Ludwig's name will appear on the ballot as an Independent candidate, challenging presumptive front-runner Democratic nominee Bill Peduto. And while you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes that Ludwig has any shot of defeating Peduto, the 80-year-old candidate believes it can happen.
"I'm gradually beginning to think from what people tell me that I'm not that much of an underdog as you might consider," Ludwig says. "I needed 895 signatures to get on the ballot, and I went out and got 1600.
"Of those people who signed they either signed because they said they didn't like Bill Peduto or they signed because they wanted someone as mayor who was independent because they are sick and tired of the politics."
He says his campaign will be entirely self-funded; he will take no contributions. By contrast, he says, Peduto took more than a million dollars in campaign donations: "Sooner or later he'll have to pay back the people who gave him that money."
Ludwig is short on details when how he expects to beat not only Peduto but a Democratic party that hasn't lost a mayor's race in decades. He says he's getting a bit more media exposure and has been doing some advertising.
He also says he expects to lose some votes to Republican nominee Joshua Wander, a prospect that angers him in light of news that Wander recently sold his Squirrel Hill home and has been living and working with his family in Israel. Ludwig says he became aware of Wander's situation about three weeks ago, but was told by the county elections bureau that nothing outside of a court order could remove Wander's name from the ballot.
"I think it's patently unfair to both me and Bill for [Wander] to be considered a candidate," Ludwig says. "But even if I got a lawyer to challenge it, I'm sure the Democratic Party would want him to remain on the ballot to take votes away from me. So, I'll just have to do the best I can under the circumstances. But I think it's a farce and ridiculous for him to be considered a candidate in this race."
And although it's hard to imagine even without Wander on the ballot that Ludwig could mount a successful campaign against Peduto, the Independent says he believes it's possible.
While he says he's still working on the math, Ludwig says being a committed voice for the African-American community will go a long way to getting him the numbers he needs.
He says its time city officials make redevelopment projects in African American communities like $13 million in city funds for housing in Larimer the city's number-one priority. He says investing in black neighborhoods is the only way to truly stem the violence that is occurring in those lower-income neighborhoods. "The project in Larimer will come first," Ludwig says. "And I believe that statement and commitment will help carry me."
"I went to a budget meeting in Beechview a few weeks ago and they were talking about wanting to build a new senior center," Ludwig says. "Now, certainly this building could maybe use some paint and some fixing up -- as could a lot of buildings and centers in the city -- but I think maybe we should put those projects on hold and instead pledge to put communities like Larimer first."
"This city has a racism problem and it's been going on for years. We need to change our position and start putting those neighborhoods first."
Ludwig says there also needs to be a greater effort in recruiting African-American police officers. He says by continuing to ignore black communities, the city is "making its own future problems. Sooner or later we will pay” for years of ignoring those communities."
Ludwig, who previously worked as a food chemist, says he has the experience and insights needed to help bring the city back to its feet financially. He says that when his family business went under -- a frozen-egg company started by his father-in-law -- he was given $200 by his in-laws and told he needed to find another way to support for his family. He and his wife gathered up their possessions that they didn't need and sold it that weekend at a flea market and made $500. He took that $500 and began buying liquidated cold-storage units and reselling them, including a load of thawed and refrozen dill pickles that he turned into a $5,000 profit when he resold them to a relish factory.
"I have a history of making things happen. That's who I've been my whole life," Ludwig says. "I want to bring that desire and attitude to the city of Pittsburgh."
Ludwig says he has long been a proponent -- and claims to be the first person to bring the idea to a public forum -- of monetizing the city's assets through a Market Based Revenue Opportunities program. The program would allow advertising on city assets like city uniforms and vehicles and buildings -- except police, fire and EMT uniforms and vehicles. The program would also allow for exclusive agreements with corporate partners, like allowing a company like Coke or Pepsi to have exclusive vending rights in city-owned buildings.
A revenue plan was passed earlier this year, with officials predicting it would bring in $500,000 the first year. But Ludwig says the plan has been handcuffed by zoning and planning restrictions. A more expansive program, he says, could put millions into city coffers, for use in eliminating property taxes or providing money for development in Larimer or the Hill District.
"This program is currently working successfully in seven American cities," Ludwig says. "We have to get this program working on a large scale and we have to remove the stumbling blocks so we can fully realize its potential."
Ludwig says he would also be open to ideas from the public that would help the city increase revenues or save money. In fact, he would incentivize the public by offering a 10 percent bonus on suggestions that create or save revenue. For example if you have a plan that would save the city a $100,000 a year, you would get a $10,000 finder's fee.
Ludwig says it's just another example of "finding a way" to improve the city.
"I have eight grandkids and three sons and daughters-in-law," Ludwig says. "I have created a program that will help strengthen the dollar and this city. I owe it to them to try and run and make a difference for their futures.
"And if I don't hit the target, at least I know I gave it my best shot and did the best I could. But I plan to work like hell until Nov. 5, because I've got a job to do."