PITTSBURGH Democrats have nominated a spunky grandmother who, in all likelihood, will be the city's first elected woman mayor. Sophie Masloff had stepped into the top city post last year following the sudden passing of Mayor Richard Caliguiri. But pundits often described her as a transition figure who could not win a citywide election.
On Tuesday, she proved the pundits wrong.
She defeated five male candidates, winning 28 percent of the Democratic vote. The city is overwhelmingly Democratic and, unless one of her challengers makes a surprise switch to the Republican ticket, she is expected to win hands down next fall. No one ran for the Republican nomination.
``We are like a family,'' Mayor Masloff said, saluting all her challengers and their supporters in her victory speech. And ``we have just had a talk about the future.''
The future, however, may not belong to Masloff so much as to the reform wing of the local Democratic Party, according to political experts.
The runner-up to Masloff was state Rep. Tom Murphy, whose campaign was likened to the new-Democrat, new-ideas approach of former presidential candidate Gary Hart. With little money or visibility, Representative Murphy came from nowhere to beat a well-known, well-financed Democrat for second-place with 23 percent of the vote, five percentage points behind Masloff.
Although Murphy did not disclose his future plans, his strong showing this year suggests he will be an important contender for the next mayoral contest in 1993.
``Win or lose in the election, we won this,'' he said as the election returns poured in. ``We are going to change the shape of Pittsburgh politics one way or another.''
With several new Democrats nominated for City Council on Tuesday, the party's reform wing looks to be gaining strength.
``The Tom Murphy wing of the Democratic Party is in the ascendancy in Pittsburgh,'' says Tari Renner, a political science professor at Duquesne University. Historically, the party's reform wing was usually steamrollered by traditional Democrats in city elections.
But defeat of the acting City Council president and victories by a reformist Democrat and two other somewhat reform-minded politicians in the City Council races represent a break from the past, Professor Renner adds.
Statewide, Pennsylvanians voted by a 3-to-1 margin against a highly visible but controversial tax-reform package. The rejection was seen as a blow to local governing bodies and large cities, such as Pittsburgh, which hoped to lessen their dependence on property taxes by adding a local income and sales tax.