What Fresh Hell Is This?

December 8, 2005

Another View on The Pittsburgh City Council

Recently the Other Political Junkie wrote this about the recent election for a new President of Pittsburgh City Council.

Local Political Analyist Jon Delano (remember him? I interviewed him here.) has some more info on the newest President of Pittsburgh City Council. Here is what Jon wrote in a recent "PSP" e-mail:
So what's the real story behind Luke Ravenstahl becoming, at age 25, the youngest Pittsburgh city council president in history? Well, it depends who you talk to. Here's a possible scenario, but get out a play card because it gets complicated. First, the incumbent city council president, Gene Ricciardi, decided earlier this year to leave council and was elected district magistrate for the Southside in November. Ricciardi takes office on Monday, January 2 (remember that date) and will resign from city council that morning. He was not obligated to resign his council presidency beforehand, but decided to do so to help his long-time friend, city councilman Jim Motznik, secure the presidency for himself.

Motznik thought he had five votes lined up -- his own, Ricciardi, Ravenstahl, Dan Deasey, and Len Bodack. But Bodack (former director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee) bailed out, apparently because Motznik was under attack by other Democrats for his support of Republican Michael Diven over Democrat (now state Sen.) Wayne Fontana in that special state Senate election to replace former state Sen. Jack Wagner (now auditor general). Motznik used to work for Diven when he was a Democratic city councilman, and he stuck with Diven against his fellow Democrats. To party loyalists like Bodack, that may have proved to be too much. In any case, Motznik lost his fifth vote, and could not win the presidency.

So Motznik, in some quarters, masterminds the election of young Ravenstahl. Why? To get back at Bodack and the other council members who refused to support him. Others say that gives Motznik too much credit -- that Luke was just a good compromise choice. In any case, Motznik, Ricciardi, Deasey agree to back Ravenstahl, but, of course, Luke still needs a fifth vote. Enter, according to some sources, Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor. The story, which is vehemently denied by others, is that O'Connor got his protege and one-time top aide, councilman Doug Shields, to give Ravenstahl the fifth vote -- and the council presidency. Why would O'Connor and Shields do that? Well, nothing helps a mayor more than a city council president who owes him something.

But this story is not over yet. Ravenstahl is only president until Tuesday, January 3, when an eight-member city council reorganizes and elects its new president (again with five votes). At that time, Ricciardi (a vote for Ravenstahl) will be gone and his replacement unknown until a special election in March, and Tonya Payne will have replaced Sala Udin (whom she defeated). So Ravenstahl will have four votes (Motznik, Deasey, Shields, and his own), if they all stick with him for Round II. But he will need one more from either Payne, Bodack, Twanda Carlisle, or Bill Peduto. Insiders think Payne holds all the cards in this game. She can wheel-and-deal to help Ravenstahl or maybe back someone else who can put together five votes. Of course, the same is true for Bodack, Carlisle, and Peduto. Luke needs one of those four (Tonya, Twanda, Len, or Bill) to win a full two-year term as! president. It's also conceivable that no one on City Council has five votes. In that case, the council clerk, Linda Johnson-Wasler, presides until council sorts it all out.

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