Four vie for city council president position

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The selection for council president is often fraught with drama and acrimony as new alliances are brokered and old ones dissolve. And it's usually a process hashed out behind closed doors.

But Wednesday, Councilman Ricky Burgess brought the fight to lead council into the public eye, declaring that if the current president, Darlene Harris, were to lose her bid, the next president should be an African-American -- either himself or Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle.

Councilman Bruce Kraus, a longtime ally of Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, followed suit, announcing he has his "hat in the ring" and acknowledged he had been campaigning to get other council members to back him. And Ms. Harris, who has held the job for four years, affirmed her desire to keep the post.

Council, which chooses a president every two years, is set to take a vote on its new leader at the start of 2014 with two new members. Dan Gilman, chief of staff in Mr. Peduto's council office, will take his boss' former seat. Deb Gross will be sworn in next month to replace former Councilman Patrick Dowd, who resigned over the summer to take another job.

The council president has a number of administrative responsibilities, including scheduling meetings and overseeing the clerk's office and council budget office.

The president is also first in line if the mayor doesn't complete his term.

But the vote is often the best indicator of which council members form the majority coalition. And who becomes council president can signal whether the body will be supportive or combative with the mayoral administration.

Given that Mr. Peduto will take office next year, the vote is especially critical, even if the mayor-elect said through his spokeswoman that it is "not his business" who is the next council president.

Mr. Burgess, one of two African-Americans on council, read a statement at the end of Wednesday's standing committee meeting saying that council should be "prioritizing diversity in council leadership" by either retaining Ms. Harris, council's second female president, or by electing an African-American to the post.

"African-Americans deserve full participation in the political process," he said. "Only an African-American president of council will prove this city's commitment to diversity and its concern for low- and moderate-income communities."

The only previous African-American president of council was Louis Mason of the Hill District in 1970.

Mr. Burgess said that if Ms. Harris can't get the votes for the position, he will either back Mr. Lavelle or campaign for the position himself. Mr. Lavelle said he believes Mr. Burgess is more qualified than him for the role.

Mr. Kraus, who is openly gay, told Mr. Burgess he was offended that he suggested diversity means inclusion of racial minorities and women, but not lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. He said he'd like to rebuild council's relationship with the mayor's office.

"With the new administration, I see hope and change ... where we are colleagues and not combatants," he said.

Ms. Harris said she hasn't put any thought to who she might vote for if she can't get the support herself for the role.

But she questioned Mr. Kraus' ability to hold the job, citing the fact that he sometimes misses meetings and public hearings.

Council members Teresa Kail-Smith and Corey O'Connor, who both backed Ms. Harris two years ago, declined to say who they would support. But both said they would like to see someone who is cooperative with the mayor but also respects the independence of the body.

Mr. Gilman also declined to say who would get his vote. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and Ms. Gross could not be reached for comment.

Moriah Balingit:, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published November 13, 2013 12:23 PM


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