Darlene Harris wins City Council presidency

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A bitterly divided Pittsburgh City Council reached a surprise decision in the race for its new president today, picking Darlene Harris in a 5-4 vote.

William Peduto and Ricky Burgess, two candidates who had prepared bids for the leadership post, failed to come up with the necessary five votes.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office got involved in an effort to prevent Mr. Peduto or outgoing president Doug Shields from winning, and was successful to that extent. But their success was limited.

Council broke into two camps. Ricky Burgess, Patrick Dowd and newcomer R. Daniel Lavelle coalesced around Theresa Smith. Doug Shields, Bruce Kraus and newcomer Natalia Rudiak backed Mr. Peduto.

In talks that went into this morning, Mr. Peduto and his supporters swung to Ms. Harris.

Councilman Patrick Dowd nominated Ms. Smith, but she never came up for a vote, as Ms. Harris was nominated first and won. Ms. Smith's supporters voted against Ms. Harris.

Ms. Harris, of Spring Hill, took the seat formerly held by Mr. Ravenstahl in a 2006 special election. Prior to that, she had been a school board member and at one time president of that body, but was bested at the polls by Mr. Dowd. Though often a pro-Ravenstahl vote, she has bucked the mayor on some issues, fought to bring funds and services to her North Side district, and launched initiatives not sanctioned by the administration, like a council push to buy a pavement recycling system.

"I know there have tried to be divisions between us, and I would hope for solidarity," Ms. Harris said.

"There isn't anything that I wish more for than this council to work together as a whole" and to work with the mayor, she said. "It's really important to me that we focus our attention to this city, and to each and every one of our communities."

Ms. Harris chose Mr. Peduto for the prestigious post of finance chair. He held the post for the last two years.

Other chairs are Ms. Smith for public safety and for president pro tem, Mr. Kraus for public works, Mr. Shields for land use and economic development, Ms. Rudiak for general and governmental services. She did not assign committees to Mr. Burgess, Mr. Dowd or Mr. Lavelle, pending discussions with them.

"Enjoy today, because it's a downhill slope from here," Mr. Ravenstahl told new council members Ms. Rudiak and Mr. Lavelle, who were sworn in today. Mr. Ravenstahl will be sworn in to a four-year term as mayor at 2 p.m. at The Pittsburgh Project in Perry South.

He kept his speech short. "I'm fighting a bad cough, and I hope I can get through it both this morning and this afternoon," he said.

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. First Published January 4, 2010 4:00 PM


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