The first order of business after City Council swears in its newly elected members Jan. 6 is to choose a new president who will run the council for the next two years. The semi-annual election is always fraught with back room deals and unlikely alliances.
“That vote won’t be decided until five minutes before that meeting,” said Jim Motznik, former Pittsburgh City Councilman (2001-2010) and current District Municipal Court Justice.
Councilmen Ricky Burgess and Bruce Kraus have publically said they are interested in holding the post but Motznik said he doubts either will be chosen.
“Just from past histories and past experiences someone will come out on top and it won’t be one of those two,” Motznik said. “They will find a compromise candidate who a majority of five will wind up supporting.”
At times the vote has been so contentious that the body had to take several recesses after unexpected names were placed into nomination.
“Me and some of the other senior members of council weren’t able to agree on a candidate and I had more votes than anyone else and I gave him (Luke Ravenstahl) my four votes to be council president,” Motznik said. The same type of compromise was later reached when Doug Shields and Darlene Harris each ascended to the top spot.
Motznik said the position is too important and too hard of a job to be allowed to fall to a compromise candidate.
“You have to be able to lead the leaders,” Motznik said. “That’s not easy to do simply because egos get in the way… so you need someone in there who is able to work with everyone and put egos aside to realize we are all in this for the same reason hopefully.”
Motznik’s first served under Council President Bob O’Connor who later went on to be mayor. Gene Ricciardi, who Motznik said held the post well, followed O’Connor.
“He would meet with council members every Thursday and he would go over our wants and needs for our district and then he would go in and meet with Mayor (Tom) Murphy on Friday … He would come back and say ‘the mayor said okay on this one and no on that one.’ It was a good working relationship.”
Motznik said not all of the presidents he served under had skills needed to pull the council together and work closely with the mayor’s office.
“As a councilmember that just creates nine different council members fending for themselves instead of the body working together for the betterment of the city,” Motznik said.
The city charter envisions council serving as a check to the Mayor’s power but Motznik said that is not always the case. The mayor has veto power and the ability to selectively enforce legislation as he or she see fit.
“So if you don’t have the working relationship with the mayor’s office you’re not going to get anything done in your district,” said Motznik who has seen many new council members learn that lesson the hard way.
However, Motznik said the council can’t just be a “rubber stamp” for the mayor and he thinks that is why Krauss will have a hard time getting elected president.
“You need someone who is willing to push back when the time is right and not for their own personal agenda but for the benefit of the city of Pittsburgh,” said Motznik.