Monday, November 07, 2005

Pittsburgh City Council members jockey for presidency

Pittsburgh City Council members jockey for presidency 'Council should not be a department of the new administration,' said Mr. Peduto. 'We need to have as much independence as the [fiscal overseers] if we're going to remain a relevant voice.'
Sorry. City Council has become less and less meaningful -- thanks to pushes from Peduto. Peduto wanted the overlords. Now Peduto wants to be with as much independence as the overlords. Peduto wants to be equal with the overloards.

The vote to remain relevant happened when the overlords were invited into this city. The last relevant vote council took was to give up its power and accept the oversight boards. The reason that the overlords were called to the city is because city council and the mayor miss-managed public funds. The overlords were called to Pittsburgh for good reason.

The overlords are goiong to need to see good reason to depart and it is the job of city council to prove that it is relevant again. That is my call. I'll be running for city council to prove that council is again a relevant voice -- and it is necessary for the city to thrive again.

I want to help push the oversight boards out of town by doing a great job with the budget and democracy. We need to fix ourselves. We need to heal the city -- in acts, deeds and determined leadership from all elements of the city's population and political systems.

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Pittsburgh City Council members jockey for presidency

Monday, November 07, 2005
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Political junkies take heart: There is a hotly contested election coming up.

It's not one of the contests on tomorrow's ballot, but rather the race for the presidency of Pittsburgh City Council, in which only the nine council members vote.

There are nearly as many candidates as voters.

Usually, council picks a president every other January.

But current President Gene Ricciardi plans to resign the post on Nov. 15 if any council member can muster the five votes necessary to replace him.

Mr. Ricciardi is almost certain to be elected to a district judgeship tomorrow, and said he wants to spend his last weeks on council focusing on his district's needs and preparing for his next job.

Council members Jim Motznik, Doug Shields, Sala Udin, Len Bodack, Twanda Carlisle and Luke Ravenstahl are all viewed as contenders. That leaves only Mr. Ricciardi and Councilmen Bill Peduto and Dan Deasy as non-candidates for the presidency. (Mr. Motznik and Mr. Deasy aren't shoo-ins for re-election because they both face challengers in tomorrow's election.)

The choice is important not only because council presidents run the body's Tuesday meetings and replace the mayor should he be unable to complete his term, as Sophie Masloff did in 1988. The presidency has also been a key stepping stone for politicians including state Sen. Jim Ferlo, Auditor General Jack Wagner and Democratic mayoral nominee Bob O'Connor.

The early front-runner is Mr. Motznik, who said he has support from four other council members -- enough to win the post.

Mr. Ricciardi said he'll vote for Mr. Motznik, who he named to the post of president pro tem and who he often allows to run portions of council's Tuesday meetings.

"I think as a president pro tem, he's shined," he said.

"He's a candidate who I think would be ideal as president," said Mr. Ravenstahl. "He's been around a long time."

Actually, Mr. Motznik only took office in March 2001. Before that, he spent three years as an aide to then-Councilman Michael Diven. If he wins re-election tomorrow, in January he'll be the senior member of an inexperienced council.

Mr. Motznik said council needs a president who would "know when to put up a fight and know when to go along."

He hasn't been afraid to fight against moves like the sale of the city's asphalt plant, privatization of its vehicle maintenance unit and competitive bidding of some trash collection.

One of his fights may hurt his chances. In the spring, he supported now-state Rep. Diven's losing bid for Senate. The problem: In January, Mr. Diven switched from Democrat to Republican.

"You've got to give me points for being loyal," said Mr. Motznik, who, like all current council members, is a Democrat.

The General Assembly's top Democrats are not giving him points. Several City Council members said legislative leaders were calling around trying to thwart his bid.

"I've heard that the leadership in Harrisburg wasn't crazy about me being president of council," he said.

"I think it's important that you have someone as the president of council who creates a positive working relationship with all levels of government," said Mr. Wagner, who has backed Democratic opponents of Mr. Motznik.

Mr. Shields has emerged as a serious contender.

"I've let members know if they wanted me as a president, I'd gladly serve," he said.

Currently council's finance chairman, he knows the budget better than any other member. He was Mr. O'Connor's top aide when the nominee was a council member. That suggests he'd be close to the likely next mayor -- maybe too close, some members privately say.

Mr. Shields may have helped turn one swing voter into a competitor recently when he made a behind-the-scenes push to rewrite Mr. Bodack's legislation on panhandling. That ordinance won unanimous approval Tuesday, and Mr. Bodack was credited with crafting a bill that won the support of council, business leaders and advocates for the homeless. Council sources say the rewrite effort rubbed Mr. Bodack the wrong way.

Mr. Bodack has the trust of Democratic stalwarts and labor leaders, who hold some sway on council. One knock against him: He has less than three years' experience in government.

Mr. Udin, on the other hand, is a 10-year veteran, though also a lame duck. He lost the Democratic primary to Tonya Payne.

There's some sentiment on council that Mr. Udin should go out as president. That's fueled in part by the fact that he'd be the city's first African-American council president, and in part by sympathy stemming from the Oct. 9 murder of his 29-year-old son, Patrice Amilcar Howze.

Mr. Udin said he never comments on presidency bids.

Some members might vote for him precisely because he couldn't use the last six weeks of the year to cement his position for January, when council will vote again for president.

Ms. Carlisle, council's other African American, would be a logical supporter. She's also viewed as a candidate who might win Mr. O'Connor's blessing.

"It would be a wonderful statement for women and minorities," she said.

Mr. O'Connor's spokesman said the nominee is staying out of the presidency race.

"I could see myself at the end of the day being some sort of compromise candidate," said Mr. Ravenstahl, council's youngest member, at age 24. "I'd bring the perspective of a younger, fresher face."

He'd also bring a relative lack of political baggage.

The scrum occurs as council grapples with two state-appointed fiscal overseers and readies for a new mayor. With overseers cutting the city's budget and critics calling for a smaller council, the next president may have a lot to say about the future role of the city's little legislature.

"Council should not be a department of the new administration," said Mr. Peduto. "We need to have as much independence as the [fiscal overseers] if we're going to remain a relevant voice."

(Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.)