Last Wednesday at about 11 in the morning, Bill Peduto got a phone call from KDKA's political analyst Jon Delano. Delano, Peduto told me this evening, was calling to ask about some rumors he'd been hearing that morning - rumors that Peduto was withdrawing from the Mayoral race.
That day, Peduto was going to get a lot of phone calls like that. E-mails, too. He's still returning those calls to explain what he did last Wednesday and why he did it.
I imagine it's got to be tiring having the same 15 minute conversation over and over again. Like a bad Twilight Zone episode except Rod Serling's no where to be found and there are no Chevy commercials to break up the monotony.
I talked with Councilman Peduto this evening at his campaign headquarters in Shadyside. I'd seen the place a while ago, when it was colder outside and there were more people inside, but he says the place is still up and running and will be until at least May.
During the interview Peduto himself seemed a bit tired and as we talked he spent most of the time with his arms folded in front of him, his cell phone and PDA neatly squared in front of him. He seemed resigned to tell the whole story one more time.
He told me that by last Monday and Tuesday he realized he faced an unwinnable situation. If he ran the campaign he wanted to run, focussing on the city's budget, neighborhoods, and economic development, he was going to lose - and lose big. Mayor Ravenstahls poll numbers were just so overpowering that nothing (not the Heinz Field handcuffs nor the almost secret jet flights to NYC) could have budged them. The only way, Peduto said, to make the playing field a bit more level would have been to go negative. But even that wasn't much of an option. His negatives were already climbing and in some areas of the city, his negatives were even higher than his positives. And any mention of Ravehstahl's stumbles only raised Peduto's negatives - unbelievable, but true.
And that's not good place for a politician running for office to be in.
He believes that had he gone negative, he would have lost sizeable chunks of his own support - upwards of a 1/3 of his more idealistic Peduto supporters who want more than anything else a clean campaign.
So a loss it was to be and it would have been so overwhelming that it threatened to derail whatever movement for reform there is in Pittsburgh. And that, to Bill Peduto, was unacceptable.
I had to check all the bases. The campaign, Peduto said, was not in any dire financial need. He said they'd raised $200k and had commitments to $400k more. There's enough cash to run the office until May. So money wasn't a part of the story.
Ravenstahl's Poll Numbers
When asked why Raventahl's numbers were so high Peduto use the metaphor of a "perfect storm" made up of three parts.
The first was Ravehstah's "prolonged honeymoon period" with the media. Each misstep, he said, each minor incident where Peduto "called him on it" the media was silent or it parrotted the Mayor's oft-used charge that Peduto was "just being political." Mix that in with a still present sympathy for the Late Bob O'Connor (one that morphed into an emotional connection forthe voters between the late mayor and the current one) and add that all together with what Peduto called a "coalescing of the political machine" around the Ravenstahl administration. This machine is different from past machines - it's not the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, for instance - it's those businesses that thrive under the current state of city contracts and those people who depend on them. The defenders of the status quo.
Mix all those things together and you have what supports the Ravenstahl image. An image, Peduto reminded me, that came from a blank slate. No one knew who Ravenstahl was a few short months ago.
The idee fixe
Throughout the interview Peduto kept returning to one fixed idea. He said that while he understands how his supporters are hurt, in order to continue the fight for reform in this city, there had to be a tactical retreat. If not, then everything they'd fought for over the last 10 years could be erased Possibly losing it all just in order to finish the fight seems less than wise. One can lose with honor, but this time that wasn't an option.
As for Peduto's future, it's open. The only thing that was decided was the May 15th primary.