Choose wisely: Pittsburgh needs the best council president

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Because all nine members have equal voting power on Pittsburgh City Council, their choice of a president may not seem terribly significant. That’s dangerous thinking.

It’s especially troubling now because four members already have expressed at least a passing interest in the job. They include the current president, Darlene Harris, as well as Bruce Kraus, Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle.

A four-way race in which only nine people vote creates the potential for the kind of compromise that has come back to bite city council. Squabbling in 2005 backfired with the selection of the inexperienced Luke Ravenstahl who, nine months later, inherited the mayor’s office by virtue of his council presidency.

Based on that lesson alone, members should carefully choose the best candidate for the post. The president has important administrative functions, such as appointing committee leadership and scheduling meetings. The president also should be a person who can work well with the mayor’s office and bridge divides among council members.

It looks like that skill will be particularly important given the tenor of the lobbying for the presidency, which already has lost the focus on the leadership skills of contenders.

Rev. Burgess has declared that, if Mrs. Harris isn’t successful in her bid for the presidency, council’s next leader should be an African American — either he or Mr. Lavelle. He said that would demonstrate the city’s commitment to diversity. Mr. Kraus, who is gay, quickly took offense, pointing out that diversity means more than racial minorities.

We’re all for diversity, but it doesn’t matter if council’s next president is black, female or gay — only that the choice is the most qualified person to do this important job.

Council members have a lot to discuss before they select their leader for the next two years. They’re already off to a bad start.


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