Declaring His Independence

There seem to be absolutes when it comes to Pittsburgh and the region. The sun rises in the East. The Pirates will finish with a losing record. Baseball season ends around here when training camp begins. Somebody, at some point in the day, will invariably stop before the tunnels to hear the ending of their favorite song.

Oh yes, there’s one more: a democrat will will Pittsburgh’s race for mayor. It’s been one of the surest best in the region for years. It’s why the democratic primary holds such importance. The winner of that usually can feel confident headed into the general election in the fall.

The reason? Tradition, history and money. The democratic candidate holds all three heading into the general election – and if that person is the incumbent, it seems the race is all but won. Once only in recent memory has someone other that the democratic candidate won the race … and that was Richard Caliguiri in 1977. A breakthrough? Hardly. He was a democrat who lost the primary and ran as an independent and won. Still, he was always seen first and foremost as a democrat.

Which brings us to 2009. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won the democratic primary, and with the news that the city has landed the prestigious G-20 Summit, it looks good for Ravenstahl to repeat.

However, a couple of candidates believe otherwise and one of those would be challengers announced his plans to run. His name is Kevin Acklin, a Squirrel Hill attorney who held a rally last night in Shadyside amid friends and supporters. I was there as well to listen briefly to what Acklin has to say and what he stands for. While his positions aren’t really that much different from those of Carmen Robinson or councilman Patrick Dowd ( public safety, economic responsibility, ethical government ), his story is.


Attorney Kevin Acklin throws his hat into the ring. ( Courtesy Heidi Murrin, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review )

Acklin was raised by a single mom and went from South Oakland through Central Catholic to Harvard before getting his law degree from Georgetown. He could have worked in D.C., but came back to Pittsburgh where he’s now going for the ultimate job: mayor. He faces long odds no doubt, but there seems to be a certain confidence in listening to him. He truly believes he can win … as an independent.

Sure, he’s rough around the edges and needs to avoid making the ultimate mistake: not being good on television. However, I get the sense that he’s not in this to make a statement. He’s in this to win it and become mayor of Pittsburgh. It might make for an interesting fall if he is able to make this  a race.

I am not a political expert, especially when it comes to Pittsburgh. However, I have watched the machinations of political contests for a few years now. I enjoy debates because it really is an exchange of new ideas and the chance to see those who may lead in the future take their first steps. Such was the case with Carmen Robinson who I believe will eventually earn a position of power on the city’s political scene.

The same maybe true for Acklin depending on how he fares in the fall. The same might be true for Franco “Dok” Harris, the son of Steeler legend Franco Harris, who announced in May he too was running as an independent. However, I have heard very little of  Harris since the announcement.

We’ll see how things turn out for Harris, Acklin and our current mayor this fall. History says the race is all but decided. Then again, history is not everyone’s strong suit.

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