What Fresh Hell Is This?

September 5, 2006

Democracy in Action. Not

The subject of exactly how long Luke Ravenstahl's term as mayor should be has been up for debate in the media (here and here), as well as in the local blogosphere (Angry Drunk Bureaucrat, Fester's Place, Mark Rauterkus, MacYapper and The Conversation).

First, yes, it's OK to discuss this NOW as policy is already being set.

According to the Post-Gazette:
A letter from the City of Pittsburgh Law Department to new Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, released yesterday, says that his term will extend to November 2009.

The letter is the first document addressing the contentious issue of when Mr. Ravenstahl, who succeeded the late Bob O'Connor Friday night, will face the voters.

[snip}

The letter from city attorney Ronald H. Pferdehirt was delivered to Mr. Ravenstahl just before he was sworn in. It officially advises him of Mr. O'Connor's death and says he is in line to serve as mayor until "the municipal election in November 2009."
Here's what the city charter has to say on the election of a Mayor and on vacancies in the Office of Mayor:


ARTICLE 2 EXECUTIVE BRANCH
§ 203. ELECTION AND TERM OF THE MAYOR.

The mayor shall be chosen by the qualified electors of the City at the municipal election, and shall serve for a term of four years from the first Monday of January following election until a successor is elected and qualified.

[snip]

§ 206. VACANCY IN THE OFFICE OF THE MAYOR.
A vacancy in the mayor's office shall be filled at the next election permitted by law. The person elected shall be a resident of the city of Pittsburgh and shall take office as soon as possible after the certification of election and shall serve the remaining portion of the vacated term.

Until the vacancy is filled by an election, the president of council shall serve as Mayor. If the president of council accepts the position of mayor, he/she shall immediately relinquish his/her position as council member. Council shall then elect a new president of council.

If the president of council shall be unable or unwilling to serve as mayor, a mayor shall be elected by a majority vote of all the members of council. The person elected shall be a resident of the city of Pittsburgh. If a member of council is elected and accepts the position of mayor, he/she shall immediately relinquish his/her position as council member.
At first, the argument as to when the next election would occur seemed to rest on upon what "next election" in § 206 meant with some arguing that meant next "municipal election" (as in § 203) which would be May 2007 and others arguing next mayoral election (2009).

First, let's say right now that on this basis alone, the argument for 2009 is, well, RETARDED. That would just be "finish out the term." That's what it used to be, or what the charter was interpreted to say, BEFORE THEY CHANGED THE LANGUAGE that's there now. It doesn't say "next mayoral election," it says "next election permitted by law."

OK, have we cleared that up?

But wait, a Post-Gazette article from yesterday says there's something else at play:


However, city lawyers have apparently hung their legal opinion on another section of the home rule charter that prohibits the city controller's election in the same year as the mayoral election. The controller's office is up for election next year.

That interpretation bumps the mayoral election into 2009, the next municipal election year. That would permit Mr. Ravenstahl to effectively complete the term of Mayor Bob O'Connor without facing the voters.
Here's the language that we are told the lawyer's are resting their hat on:


ARTICLE 4 CONTROLLER
§ 403. ELECTION AND TERM.
The controller shall be chosen by the qualified electors of the City at a non-mayoralty municipal election. The controller shall serve for a term of four years from the first Monday of January following election until a successor is elected and qualified.
Yesterday's P-G quotes City Councilman Peduto as follows:


"The [home rule charter] provision under the controller's office has nothing to do with a vacancy election, otherwise there would not be a vacancy provision for the mayor's race," Mr. Peduto said.

"It doesn't make any sense."
Here's my take on that:

According to the charter's language, it's the controller's race that's conditional on when the mayor's race is. It's says, the Controller can't be elected during a mayoral municipal election, not that a mayoral race can't be held during a controller's election.

Article 2 (mayor) comes before Article 4 (controller) for a reason: the mayor is more important than the controller!

Article 2 lays out when and how a mayor is to be elected and when and how a vacancy in that office is to be filled. Then, it says when a controller may be elected contingent on when a mayor is elected.

But, hell. What do I know? I'm no lawyer, so have at it at my interpretation.

However, I am a voter.

Hell, I'm a "super voter" (well, that's what all the walk lists tell me anyway).

Here's what I do know:

  • 59,961 people voted for mayor in November 2005.

  • 5,898 voted for Luke Ravenstahl for City Council in District 1 in November 2003.

  • 8 people voted for Ravenstahl as City Council President in January 2006.
  • Our Pittsburgh City Charter sure looks to be saying that the people get to vote for the next mayor as "soon as possible" when a tragedy occurs.

    Not just 10% of the voters (one district), nor just 8 people.

    I don't know about you, but I'll take real democracy over the alternative every time.

    *****************************************************************
    Oh yeah, not that most people usually give a shit, but Pittsburgh City Council will be electing a new president today. Maybe more folks will actually pay attention this time around...

    3 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    While the rest of the city mourns, some ruthlessly try to usurp the political process. Why did the city law office draw up this memo, isn't it a county responsibility?

    Anonymous said...

    My guess is it will be overturned in court, and there will be an election next year. (I think there should be--merely for the sake of the democratic process).

    That said, Ravenstahl probably wins that election. Though, if a Republican is ever going to win, they'll win in a special election where there's one viable Republican against 3 or 4 viable Democrats.

    Say hello to Mayor Roddey or Mayor Diven?

    Mark Rauterkus said...

    Roddey is NOT a resident of the City. Roddey could NOT win in the city anyway. He says so himself.

    Diven would NOT win an election for Mayor.

    A viable R is still needed to have that thought process play out as a saga. I'll stay tuned.

    I think, however, that a viable 3rd party person would have a better chance at winning, given a field that has 3 or 4 solid Ds, if the Rs ran NOBODY.