Wednesday, January 03, 2001

The Man Who Would Be Mayor (InPgh news article)

Article by Charlie Deitch, ran on January 3, 2001, in the now defunct InPGH , a weekly newspaper.
Unless, he says, there's anyone else better qualified.

It's fascinating to watch mark Rauterkus watch the political process.

As he sits in a council meeting or in a public hearing, this stay-at-home dad and inactive swimming coach is constantly observing what is going on around him while taking care of his children -- who may have a better attendance record than some current council members.

Rauterkus assists his oldest son, Erik, who is coloring a picture he just drew, while helping his youngest son, Grant, build a car out of Legos. All the while, Rauterkus listens to citizens' concerns like a man with the power to help them.

But he's not that man -- at least, not yet.

Republican Mark Rauterkus wants to become mayor of the city of Pittsburgh so the next time he hears someone complaining to city council about a problem, he can do something about it.

Mark

"That's all I've been doing since August," says the 41-year-old between bites of a tuna sandwich at Mario's on the South Side. "I've been listening to as many people who will take a moment and talk to me."

It was, in fact, the current administation's inability to listen that prompted Rauterkus, a political rookie unknown to the Grant Street contigent, to enter the upcoming mayoral race.

"This city needs a new mayor, whether it's me or somone else," he says. "They need a myor who will listen to their concerns and then actually do something about them."

Rauterkus was upset at Myor Tom Murphy's refusal to listen to anyone concerning Fifth and Forbes development, but something more personal prompted his decision to run: the city's refusal to allow him to serve on a new task force designed to study how best to use the city's 32 swimming pools. He says he was rebuffed despite his knowlege and ideas.

In fact, Rauterkus announced his mayor candidacy at the very August city council meeting at which we was turned down for the pools committee. And since that one public forum, his candidacy has been ignored.

The mainstream press, along with political watchers and insiders, has only been touting the upcoming primary clash between Murpy and Council President Bob O'Connor, the guy who fell short in the primary four years ago.

"The Post-Gazette may as well just sponsor Tom Murphy's campaign," Rauterkus muses. "And the Trib?"

Shortly after Rauterkus announce his candidacy, a Tribune-Review reporter intervied Rauterkus and a Trib photographer took pictures of him at home. But don't search through the paper's archives looking for the peice, because it has never run.

"I don't know when or if it will ever appear, but it's been done for months," Rauterkus says. "When I asked the editors about it, all they did was offer to sell me ads. It is hard to run a campaign when the city's two major newspapers refuse to give you any coverage."

But that doesn't mean he plans to stop. His campaign homepage -- www.Rauterkus.com -- is up and running and full of his views on city happenings. The site is so comrehensive that it linked to this article weeks before it existed.

In the meantime, Rauterkus is still in the listening stage. There are many problems facing the city, he opines: if elected, he says, he will have a lot of ideas on how to make things better. Bu for now he is spending time in the streets, time talking to people and of course time in council chambers, addressing its members.

When he does speak before the panel, he's not just sonding off, he's proposing solutions so that others can listen -- unlike, say, the recently decessed half-billion dollar Downtown plan Pittsburghers found themseves shut out of.

"Nothing ever seems to be organized or planned out," he explains. "There is no political will in this city to do the best thing. We find the worst option and then do one step above that."

That's why Rauterkus says it's important to pose solutions, not just to harp on problems. At a council meeting last month, for example, Rauterkus noticed tension building among several residents who had to come to address council members. Several emotional speakers were upset over what they called harassment by officers assigned to the meeetings and by a perception that council members, who constantly start meetings late, didn't respect them or care about their problems.

Rauterkus took to the podium in their defense. While it may have seemed trivial to political insiders used to grandstanding, it seemed genuinely important to Rauterkus.

He suggested a resolution be passed that the cable access cameras be turned on at the regularly scheduled 10 a.m. meeting time. Whether the meeting had officially started or not, to 'let the people speak for a while. I guarantee after one meeting you guys will start getting here on time."

Would his idea redevelop Downtown or fix the city's multi-million dollar structural deficts? No. But by actually reacting to the will of the people, Rauterkus has shown the characteristic most lacking in many current city leaders.

He is no readying his campiagn headquarters on the ground floor of his home -- an old South Side shoemaker's shop on South 12th Street. Hi snext step is deciding how he wants to run the campaign.

A former Democrat, Rauterkus is trying to decide wheter to make a run under the GOP banner or to go under the flag of one of the third parties. None of these options is the ideal way to take a stab at unseating the city's Democratic machine and a two-term mayor in prosperous times.

Ideally, Rauterkus says, O'Connor would defeat Murphy and become complacent about a November showdown with the Republicans, who usually aren't worth fearing in a citywide election. That's where he says he will need public support and every bit of the $100,000 he hopes to raise.

O'Connor would be better than Murphy, Rauterkus says, but having any consummate politician ack in the driver's seat would just lead to more of the same in city politics. And change is what Rauterkus' campaign is all about.

"I've said all along. I don't have to run for mayor," Rauterkus says. "If someone else came along who was better qualified and wanted to make a serious run, I would step aside in a minute and work diligently for them.

"We need a new mayor a whole lot more than I need to be mayor."

Photo showed me holding Grant, my son, in our home/office. Caption: Mark Rauterkus' only political experience has been dealing with teh lobbying of his kids, like three-year-old Grant, above. Apparently Rauterkus can handle the pressure.

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