New council leader vows independence, cooperation

Bruce Kraus, an ally of mayor-elect, favorite for city council presidency

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Pittsburgh City Council's new president vowed Monday to keep the body independent while building a cooperative relationship with Mayor Bill Peduto -- a fine line to walk when the new mayor is a friend who's looking to make his mark on the city.

Councilman Bruce Kraus, 59, who holds the District 3 seat representing the South Side and Hilltop neighborhoods, was elected by a 7-2 vote at council's reorganization meeting. He unseated Darlene Harris, who had held the position for four years.

Voting against Mr. Kraus were Mrs. Harris and Ricky Burgess. Mrs. Harris said she couldn't support Mr. Kraus because he missed too many council meetings in recent years, and Mr. Burgess had demanded that Mrs. Harris stay in the role or, to emphasize the importance of diversity, relinquish it to a black council member.

In addition to electing a president, council seated a new member, Dan Gilman, who holds the District 8 seat Mr. Peduto gave up to run for mayor, and three members -- R. Daniel Lavelle, Theresa Kail-Smith and Natalia Rudiak -- were sworn in to new terms.

Appearing at the reorganization meeting a few hours before his own swearing-in, Mr. Peduto told council that its impact on the city is "up to you and how much you want to push it."

"Do great things," he said.

Mr. Kraus, who joined council in 2008, has waged a multi-year campaign to bring the South Side's nightclub scene under control. He has been known to walk the streets on weekends, photographing the filth revelers leave behind. He's demanded a coordinated approach to traffic control, parking, code enforcement and other issues, saying lives are at stake.

The public feuding over the council presidency, which broke out last fall, provided a sharp departure from the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that usually precedes the election of a president every two years. Mr. Kraus, who is gay, said in November that he was offended that Mr. Burgess did not have a broader definition of diversity.

The council president presides over weekly business meetings, schedules hearings, appoints committee chairmen and is first in line to succeed the mayor. Council presidents sometimes have cleared the way for a mayor's agenda and at other times, as Mrs. Harris did with former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's proposed parking lease in 2010, marshaled the forces to defeat mayoral initiatives.

In past years, the fight over the council presidency was resolved only after multiple nominations and votes. On Monday, Mr. Kraus was the only person nominated, a sign that his election was a foregone conclusion and that the new council will be amenable -- in the short term, at least -- to the new mayor.

Mr. Peduto had said he was staying out of the debate over the presidency. However, Mr. Kraus, a friend and ally during Mr. Peduto's many clashes with former mayor Luke Ravenstahl, was seen as the new mayor's choice and a likely partner on administration proposals.

Mr. Kraus made clear his respect for Mr. Peduto but said he knows where to draw the line.

"We will be a body that is independent and will do the job we were sent here to do," he said. "At the same time, with your help and support, we'll have a great relationship with the new mayor to serve the people we came here to serve."

Council had an often-rocky relationship with Mr. Ravenstahl. Mrs. Harris complained that she couldn't get meetings with him, and other members also described him as inaccessible.

In an interview, Mr. Kraus said he is known as an independent and progressive voice -- and gets along with Mr. Peduto because he's the same way. He said he won't sacrifice his independence to Mr. Peduto.

"It would change who I am fundamentally," he said. "It would also change who Bill is fundamentally."

Mr. Kraus appointed Ms. Rudiak chairwoman of the influential committee on finance and law and Mr. Gilman chairman of the committee on intergovernmental affairs, a position former Councilman Patrick Dowd adroitly used to stall legislation on Buncher Co.'s proposed riverfront development.

He appointed Mr. Lavelle, who as recently as a few days ago was undecided on who to support for president, chairman of the important committee on public safety services and Ms. Kail-Smith chairwoman of public works. He named Deb Gross to head the committee on land use and economic development and Corey O'Connor to head urban recreation. He named Mrs. Harris chairwoman of the committee on performance and asset management and Mr. Burgess to head the committee on human resources, not considered a prestigious post.

Mr. Gilman, 31, who was chief of staff in Mr. Peduto's council office for eight years, will represent part of the East End. Though Pittsburgh has been lauded as the nation's most livable city, he said, not all social and economic groups might feel that way.

"I ran for public office because I believe Pittsburgh is the greatest city in the world," he said. "However, there is more that can be done."

Ms. Kail-Smith, 54, holds the District 2 seat representing mostly western neighborhoods; Ms. Rudiak, 34, the District 4 seat representing southern neighborhoods; and Mr. Lavelle, 36, the District 6 seat representing part of the North Side and Hill District, among other areas.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548. First Published January 5, 2014 11:33 PM

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