Ravenstahl: I've learned a lot

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Governing magazine talks to young mayors around the country to discuss the energy they bring to public office and the challenges of being in the spotlight. Luke Ravenstahl is one of those interviewed:

Sometimes the tug of war between political and personal life can have very real consequences. That's true for any public official, of course, but especially for those unaccustomed to the limelight. Less than a year after he became mayor, Ravenstahl was criticized for appearing at a celebrity golf invitational sponsored by some groups, including a university medical center, that have frequent dealings with the city. The same year, he caught flak for driving a publicly funded homeland security SUV to a country music concert. Some of that scrutiny was probably connected to his age, Ravenstahl says, but he also admits that he didn't fully understand the attention that comes with being mayor in those days. "I underestimated the lens that I was under," he says. "I've learned a lot, and I do approach things a lot differently than I did in the beginning."

Ravenstahl assumed office in 2006 when Mayor Bob O'Connor died and Ravenstahl was sitting council president -- a promotion he was granted only because he was viewed, in his youth, as the least threatening candidate by other council members. Some dubbed him "The Accidental Mayor." The stress of the position took a toll on Ravenstahl's personal life. He and his wife, with whom he shares a 4-year-old son, separated in 2009, when Ravenstahl was 29. While Ravenstahl says he wouldn't go back and change his mind about seeking public office, he acknowledges that the divorce has been one of the toughest unintended consequences of his decision to become a public figure at such a young age. "The hardest thing for me is how this job impacts my family and those that didn't choose to have their name in the paper and be a public servant," he says. "It's something that I didn't foresee or expect."

In the years since he took office, Ravenstahl has grown into the position and become a stronger leader, says Pat Altdorfer, a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "You play the hand you're dealt. From that perspective, he did step up," Altdorfer says. "Everyone's got a learning curve, and I would certainly say he's a better mayor today than he was when he first started."

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