Pittsburgh City Council unanimously voted to make District 2 Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith Council President on Monday. Kail-Smith said her choice to run for the seat was an 11th-hour decision.
"I think that we wanted to make sure our council was unified and working together," she said. "Hopefully my colleagues feel that I'll be able to do that."
Councilors Corey O'Connor and Ricky Burgess were both in contention for the seat, but neither could obtain the five votes needed for the position. Kail-Smith said conversations about her assuming the position, which was vacated by Bruce Kraus, took place over the weekend.
Similar dynamics have determined the presidency before. Luke Ravenstahl became council president in late 2005, when he emerged as a compromise choice acceptable to factions that couldn't get a majority on their own. Ravenstahl became mayor the following year, following the death of the late Bob O'Connor.
While Kraus broadly supported the agenda of Mayor Bill Peduto, his new replacement has opposed some initiatives backed by the administration and a majority of council. She opposed passing local gun-control ordinances and has raised concerns over a half-mill "parks tax" passed by voters this fall. Still, Kail-Smith said she doesn't think those positions will strain working relationships.
"I think I've done all those things while respecting the mayor and respecting that position and that office, and that's not going to change," she said. "We're going to work with the mayor through our differences and through our concerns and I'm eager to do it."
O'Connor, who co-sponsored the gun legislation, said he was flattered that members thought of him for council president.
"But also, you look at it and you want the city to move forward and when you come together and everybody agrees on a compromise candidate that's the best thing for the city," he said.
Kail-Smith said her first priority is working with councilmembers and the administration to get more equitable results for residents.
Her first duty as council president was to name her colleagues to council's various committees.
After becoming president, Kail-Smith assigned councilmembers to the following committees: Burgess to Parks and Recreation; O'Connor to Public Safety; Anthony Coghill to Public Works; Gross to Intergovernmental Affairs; Kraus to Human Resources; Daniel Lavelle to Finance and Law; Erika Strassburger to Innovations and Performance; and council newcomer Bobby Wilson to Land Use.
Burgess was elected as council president pro-tem, besting Gross by a 6-3 vote with Coghill, Kraus and Gross opposed.
This story was updated at 4:21 p.m. to correct the name of the committee that Erika Strassburger will oversee.
Chris Potter contributed to this story.