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City Council To Have New Look In New Year

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Eight of nine members of Pittsburgh City Council will be returning when the body convenes Jan. 6. But council will have a different look once that meeting is over. 

Council President Bruce Kraus, who has headed the body since Mayor Bill Peduto took office in 2014, said he will step aside this year. 

"I have not put my hat in the ring," said Kraus, who will continue to represent District 3 on council. "I think one of the things that is important for leadership to do is to make way for younger, or fresher leadership to emerge. I think that's a very important role. So several members are considering taking the run for council president." 

Among those seeking the seat, according to council members, are Ricky Burgess and Corey O'Connor.  O'Connor represents Squirrel Hill and other East End areas in District 5. He was reelected to a third term without opposition last year.  Burgess, whose District 9 encompasses Homewood and other eastern neighborhoods, was reelected to a fourth term in 2019, although with only 38.7 percent of the vote in a five-way Democratic primary.  

Neither Burgess nor O'Connor returned calls for comment.

Councilors serve two-year terms as president. After being selected, a president's earliest task is assigning other councilors to committee posts — some of which are more sought-after than others. After that, the post's responsibilities include scheduling public hearings and post-agenda meetings of council, speaking on council's behalf to the mayor's administration, and taking the role of mayor if the elected mayor is unable to finish a term. 

Most of those tasks attract little public attention, but the post can loom large in times of crisis. In 2005, Luke Ravenstahl became the youngest president of council, and ascended to mayor the following year after the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor, who is Corey O'Connor's father.  Sophie Masloff similarly ascended to the mayor's office from the presidency in 1988, after the death of Richard Caliguiri. 

The competition for the presidency has a tendency to become heated, and the field can change dramatically at the 11th hour. In 2010, Councilor Daniel Lavelle cast a vote that upset then-councilor Peduto's plans to become council president, a move that altered their relationship for years. Outgoing Councilor Darlene Harris won the post instead, and held it for two terms -- first by siding with Peduto and then by opposing him.

Kraus' tenure has been less contentious, although Burgess urged that Harris be given a third term in 2014, when Kraus won the office. Burgess urged the importance of diversity in leadership — to which Kraus, the first openly gay person to serve on council, took offense. 

Six years later, Kraus said he has learned one important thing from the post. 

"I believe that there are those who seek position for what position brings to them and there are those that seek position for what they bring to position," he said. "I have learned that it's really not a position of power, but rather a position of service." 

Chris Potter contributed to this story.