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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Don't be shut out of pointless council presidency speculation

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 3:56 PM

Lots of chatter surrounding the upcoming council presidency vote. Part of that's the result of Rich Lord's story about the political battle ensuing. But folks like Infinonymous (and yours truly) have been dwelling on it for awhile.

Most of this stuff is idle speculation and horse-race nonsense. But what the hell, 'tis the season. I'll get my own bet down here, and if I'm wrong, I'm pretty sure I'll be in good company. 

I'm wagering that the next council president will be Bill Peduto. And if not, then Theresa Kail-Smith will emerge as a consensus choice.

To the best of my knowledge, neither Peduto nor Ricky Burgess, his chief rival, has lined up five votes at this point. But everything I hear tells me that Peduto is closer. He's got three rock-solid votes right off the bat: his own as well as that of Bruce Kraus and Doug Shields. (Shields, the incumbent, is giving up the gavel. And who can blame him?) Burgess has only two solid votes: his own and that of Patrick Dowd.

And as I write in a story this week, Peduto actively helped newcomers Natalia Rudiak and Robert Daniel Lavelle win their races. That would be five votes right there, you'd think. Except that Lavelle is publicly wavering -- apparently because of machinations being engineered by the Udin faction up in the Hill District.

Still, I find it hard to believe that he and Rudiak would both turn on Peduto ... if only because a guy just shouldn't be that unlucky. Which means Peduto might have to get one more vote, from either Darlene Harris or Theresa Kail-Smith.

Today's Tribune-Review reports that Harris would abstain in a Peduto/Burgess match-up. That isn't surprising: Harris is closer to the mayor than she is to Peduto, certainly, and Burgess has to be the guy the mayor would prefer to work with. But Harris will surprise you sometimes. Plus, Harris and Dowd are longtime rivals -- he beat her in a school board race long ago. The fact that Burgess has pledged the powerful law/finance chair to Dowd is probably a factor here.

As for Kail-Smith, she told the P-G she thought that Peduto was too far from the mayor ... while Burgess was too close. Peduto might be able to convince her, though. As others have noted, Peduto is like a kinder, gentler Doug Shields: He's criticized Ravenstahl, but worked alongside him too ... and generally speaking, Peduto conducts himself with much less rancor than Shields.

In any case, even if Peduto can't get a five-member majority together, that doesn't mean Burgess can do better. He seems certain of getting Pat Dowd's vote, but with Harris on the sidelines, he'd have to get all of the following three: Kail-Smith, Lavelle, and Rudiak. As we've seen, Kail-Smith has expressed her misgivings.

So basically, Peduto only has to convince two leaners, while Burgess has to convince three. These guys are like a couple of teams in the AFC wildcard race. Burgess' chances are similar to those of the Pittsburgh Steelers: Several things have to go right to fulfill their playoff dreams ... and any one of them might. But it's hard to imagine how all of them could. Peduto feels a bit more like one of the other 8-7 AFC contenders ... he'd need something to break his way too, but the odds feel less insurmountable. 

In any case, if it ain't Peduto, I'm guessing it will be someone else entirely. A compromise candidate. 

And I think the most likely choice would be Theresa Kail-Smith.

Why her as opposed to anyone else? Just because Kail-Smith demonstrated a lot of finesse in handling the tuition tax debate. She seemed an honest broker throughout, and I was impressed with her performance in a panel discussion we held in mid-December. She was the only person involved in that discussion who wasn't resolutely opposed to the tax, but she handled herself very nicely.

Yes, Kail-Smith is only in her first year. But let's recall that Luke Ravenstahl took the council presidency after only two years in office. And I've seen this dynamic before. You've got two ambitious politicians vying against each other, but neither can do more than frustrate each others' ambitions. At some point, they decide that somebody has to lead council ... and since it can't be either of them, they look for the next best thing: someone who they think they can win over, or who will at least hear them out. Kail-Smith might look pretty good to both camps. 

Truth is, I don't get the sense that Kail-Smith wants the headache. But see, that would be another reason to support her: To borrow from Douglas Adams, "It is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it."

Much less likely, I think, is the possibility of councilors following the suggestion made by the Pittsburgh Comet

[L]et me give a shout-out: PATRICK DOWD FOR FINANCE CHAIR. That's your unity-government move right there, you guys might want to suggest it to Bill if you haven't already.

Ehhhhhhh... I think you might suggest this to Peduto only if you wanted to see him shoot milk -- or fire -- out of his nose. Peduto currently holds the finance chair, and the level of animosity between he and Dowd is intense. Suggesting he give Dowd the seat for the sake of "unity" would be like ... like ... like asking if you could bring along his ex-girlfriend so you could all go on a double-date. Or something.

And as I noted above, Peduto ain't the only guy on council who might have misgivings about Dowd in that spot. 

But hey, who the hell am I to say? Even at this late hour, no one can be sure of what's going to happen. And votes have been known to flip at the last moment on questions like this anyway. It's all just speculation, with nothing more at stake than some pundit bragging rights going into 2010.

OK, well that and perhaps the future of the city. As we saw with Ravenstahl's selection ... there's no telling where this stuff can end up. 

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