County Councilman Bill Robinson is laying the groundwork for a bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor as a variety of African-American leaders consider how best to leverage the votes of a key Democratic constituency in the May primary.
Mr. Robinson, a former state legislator and city of Pittsburgh councilman, said Tuesday that supporters were already at work gathering the 250 signatures needed to secure a place on the ballot. "I'm in the race as of now,'' he said. "I am circulating petitions and I anticipate talking in depth with a number of people and organizations that are telling me I should run.''
Mr. Robinson said he planned to announce a final decision in a news conference Tuesday, the deadline for filing nominating petitions. He said he had had an extensive conversation about the race, and the best way to use it to advance the interests of the city's black community, with city Councilman Ricky Burgess, another African-American who also has been mentioned as a potential Democratic contender. Mr. Burgess said he too had been encouraged to run for the post "by a slew of people from a wide range of our city.'' While saying that he was "very flattered by the interest,'' he declined to comment on whether he was inclined to go forward with a candidacy.
"My focus at the moment continues to be on what's best for our low and moderate income communities,'' he said.
Several prominent Democrats have also mentioned state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, another African-American lawmaker, as a potential Democratic candidate, but Mr. Wheatley has not responded to requests for comment on the race. Blacks represent roughly a quarter of the city's voters, so that the emergence of a significant African-American candidacy would have the potential to be a major force in the race, particularly in the multi-candidate field that appears to be shaping up.
The planning and uncertainty surrounding those potential candidacies reflects the overall ferment prompted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's surprise announcement last week that he was abandoning his bid for re-election. At that point, city Councilman Bill Peduto and city Controller Michael Lamb were the only other candidates for the Democratic nomination, but since then, hardly a day has passed without a new name entering the mix. Council President Darlene Harris is preparing nominating petitions, as is Jack Wagner, the former state auditor general. State Sens. Jim Ferlo and Wayne Fontana have said that they are also considering the race, though Mr. Fontana said he would defer to his Senate colleague if he were to enter the race. The fast shifting picture will be clearer by next Tuesday, the deadline to submit nominating petitions for a spot on the May 21 ballot.