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Monday, January 4, 2010

As expected, the unexpected happens in council presidency pick

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 12:22 PM

By now you've heard the news that Darlene Harris has been selected as city council's new president, by a vote of 5-4. She won with the support of the Bill Peduto faction: Bruce Kraus, Peduto, former President Doug Shields and newcomer Natalia Rudiak. 

Harris, who has voted with the mayor far more often than not, was clearly not the Peduto crowd's first choice. But she was the only weak vote in the faction lining up behind Theresa Kail-Smith. More importantly, after being selected, Harris gave key committee spots to those who'd supported her. Bill Peduto will continue as finance chair, while Bruce Kraus will shift from Public Safety to Public Works. (Kraus assures me that he wanted the new post: "An interior decorator with a work crew? Helll-oooooo! We're going to make this city look incredible!") Shields takes over the Land Use/Development spot, while Rudiak got General Services. 

"Sometimes you have to give away the crown to save the kingdom," Peduto explained after the vote. Council insiders say that it became clear last night and early this morning that Harris -- who'd long expressed interest in the presidency, but couldn't put together any votes until 24 hours ago -- would only join them in voting for herself. And that was the only way to prevent Kail-Smith, the mayor's choice, from taking the post.

Harris did have kind words for Kail-Smith, and made her the Public Safety chair. Kail-Smith was also chosen unanimously as president pro tempore. But that was a rare moment of harmony today.

It was clear before the meeting began that Harris had the votes she needed, but Patrick Dowd nominated Kail Smith anyway, with Ricky Burgess seconding. Peduto had already nominated Harris first, and the 5-4 vote in her favor made the Kail-Smith nomination moot. Some Harris backers are already seeing that as a lack of class.

Meanwhile, the loneliest person in the room was Robert Daniel Lavelle, who surprised everyone by lining up against Peduto weeks ago -- even though Peduto helped Lavelle get elected. Lavelle sat wedged between Peduto and Shields; neither spoke a word to him as far as I could see.

In fact, I watched Lavelle and Peduto for the better part of the hour-long gathering. They applauded each other's swearing-in politely, but I didn't see them exchange a word with each other -- or even make eye contact -- a single time. When Lavelle returned from his swearing in, for example, Peduto began looking down and adjusting his cuffs. (Peduto's conversation with Rudiak, who sat on his other side, was much more animated.)

Fans of such detail may be interested to note that when Harris was sworn in as president, she called for a Bible. Peduto loaned her his -- which had belonged to his late brother. But you can only read so much into these metaphors: Shortly afterward, Harris nearly forgot to call Peduto up for a ritual speech, and she initially didn't identify his committee post by name either. 

So how to score this? For starters, it's a loss for all the pundits, including me, who saw the likely choice as being Peduto, or Kail-Smith, or Kraus, or ... well, as almost anyone other than Harris. 

Beyond that, it's a win -- on points -- for the Peduto faction. Peduto had no hope of getting a fifth vote on his own, and making Harris president was the only viable option. But Peduto's camp says the committee appointments are vital. (Harris has not named committee posts for any of the dissenting faction except Kail-Smith.)

They also point out that, while Harris has generally been aligned with the mayor, she does sometimes get her back up on an issue. She did, for example, cast a vote to subpoena Mayor Ravenstahl to appear before council on budgetary matters.

And, let's face it: Some of this is about putting the screws to Lavelle, who several councilors feel betrayed by, and Dowd. Harris and Dowd are long-time rivals, dating back to when Dowd bested Harris in a school-board race years abck.

After the meeting, Harris reiterated a public plea that councilors put aside their divisions and work with each other -- and the mayor. She acknowledged that Ravenstahl's 11th-hour veto of prevailing wage legislation -- legislation she supported -- "surprised" her ... and said that if the measure comes up again, she'll support it.  But she also added that despite such past issues, "From today on, I think we can work together." 

How would she square that with the fact that she gave plum committee spots to people in one camp, while leaving folks in the other camp guessing? "I'm sure some councilors are concerned, but unfortunately you can only talk to so many people at one time," she said.

In any case, there's a chance that Kail-Smith may handle the gavel soon enough. In addition to everything else that's gone right for Harris this week, she's expecting the birth of her first grandchild on Wednesday -- which is also her birthday.

"I might not be able to make it to work that day," she told me. 

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