New Pittsburgh City Council president hasn't won favor of all
By Melissa Daniels
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
When Brian Oswald wanted to stop the city from removing staircases on Monastery Street in the South Side Slopes last fall, he called Councilman Bruce Kraus.
They scheduled meetings. They talked to public works officials. The steps got torn down anyway, but Oswald remains thankful for the help Kraus provided.
“He was crucial in getting at least our voice heard and feeling like we may be able to find a resolution,” said Oswald, president of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association.
Kraus, 59, of the South Side was elected president of Pittsburgh City Council on Monday in a 7-2 vote. Touting the day as a new chapter in Pittsburgh history, Kraus said he looked forward to a cooperative relationship with former council colleague Mayor Bill Peduto and other council members.
“My first order of business would be to open lines of communication with every member, around any and every issue they might have,” he said. In his first day, he said he touched base with at least three council members, and Peduto.
He enters the job lacking unanimous support. Councilwoman Darlene Harris, of Spring Hill, who was president for the past two terms, and Councilman Ricky Burgess of Homewood voted against Kraus on Monday.
Though Harris said she is open to working with Kraus, she is concerned that he has participated in council meetings by phone or arrived late. She said she would arrive an hour before meetings.
“When I see those things happening, then I'll feel different,” she said. “But it's a big responsibility.”
Kraus said he uses technology to stay in touch, as opposed to fixed hours. His voicemail tells callers to text him instead of leaving a message. He typically keeps a laptop or tablet nearby.
“I don't think one can be the hands-on, people person that I am, solely confined within the four walls of an office,” he said.
Kraus joined council in 2008, and was re-elected in 2011. Born and raised in the South Side, Kraus was an interior design consultant before making a foray into community activism, becoming president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce and receiving an appointment to the Clean Pittsburgh Commission.
Council District 3 covers the South Side and parts of Oakland, where Kraus opened a district satellite office in late 2013. The district includes Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville and Mt. Oliver.
District Justice Gene Riccardi, who represented the district for 16 years and served as council president, said it has diverse needs. While the South Side gets plenty of attention because of its restaurants and bars, Riccardi said Kraus hasn't favored one neighborhood over the other, and he often sees him at community meetings.
“The gentleman is just driven to public service,” he said. “It's not just his passion, it's his life.”
Riccardi said being president requires leadership while respecting district autonomy. He used to hold weekly lunch meetings with individual council members and Mayor Tom Murphy.
Kraus is Pittsburgh's first openly gay council member and president. Early in his tenure, he spearheaded efforts to establish the Domestic Partner Registry to allow unmarried couples to register as partners. In July, he sponsored legislation to require companies with city contracts to offer benefits to their employees' domestic partners regardless of their gender.
Gary Van Horn Jr., president of the Delta Foundation, said Kraus excelled at building coalitions in City Council to support those measures, the latter of which passed unanimously.
“I think he's been an advocate of not only our community, but for Pittsburgh as a whole,” Van Horn said.
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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