Oh, the fickle heart of Darlene Harris | Slag Heap

Oh, the fickle heart of Darlene Harris

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In the ongoing soap opera that is city council, 2012 begins with the attempt to capture a woman's heart. The heart in question: that of Darlene Harris ... who, like the heroine of some romance novel, strives to preserve her own position even as everyone around her seems intent on taking it away.

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Or something.

I hope to have a fuller account of today's city council presidency vote in the near future. But a few things can be said right off the bat.

First, Harris' defection to lead a council bloc allied with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl should come as little surprise. Though she spent the past two years heading up council's "progressive" wing, opposed to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, her marriage to council's progressive faction was always one of convenience. (Many progressive voters I spoke with at the time were shocked by the events.) I've talked to people on both sides of today's vote, and there's one point that everyone agrees on: The mayor's supporters took a page from his opponents' playbook.

In 2009, progressives were able to woo Harris with the presidency; in 2011, Ravenstahl's council allies were able to woo her back, in part because she perceived a threat from Bruce Kraus, a member of the progressive bloc.

Second, there were plenty of machinations going on here, some of which will have to await a fuller accounting. (Was Kraus seeking to topple Harris ... or merely offering himself as a viable alternative should she not be able to reach five votes?) But at the end of the day, maybe everyone got something they want. Harris got to keep the presidency. Ravenstahl can expect a more pliant council, as opposed to the one that, for the past few years, has often spearheaded policy making to a degree unusual in Pittsburgh politics. Councilor Ricky Burgess won the chairmanship of council's finance committee -- a plum position -- but it's not like progressives suffered too much. Kraus, for one, got to remain as chair of council's public-works committee ... a position he coveted and won back in 2009.

The obvious loser here would seem to be city councilor Bill Peduto, a Ravenstahl rival who formerly held the finance chair. On the other hand, it's no secret that Peduto is eying a mayoral challenge in 2013. Being part of a "loyal opposition" on council may help define his opposition.

Of course, he may feel differently if the new council begins rescinding the progressive policies Harris helped establish while heading up the old one. (These would include a raft of legislation attaching environmental and labor rules to developers accepting subsidies.) But it's too soon to say whether that will happen.

Third, there's been talk about how Corey O'Connor, newly elected to council in the seat once held by his father, cast the "deciding vote" in the race for president. That's obviously true in terms of the chronology of voting -- O'Connor was the fifth person to vote "aye" for her. But I'm not sure it's true in the more important sense.

From what I'm told, it's not as if council were divided 4-4, with O'Connor splitting the tie. Harris had the 5 votes she needed: her own, along with those of Ricky Burgess, Patrick Dowd, Daniel Lavelle, and Theresa Kail Smith. Had O'Connor voted against her, he'd have ended up on the losing end of a 5-4 vote. He had nothing to gain by that -- and considering this was his very first vote, he had everything to lose.

At any rate, so far I have heard very little rancor directed toward O'Connor from the progressives. Instead, there seems to be an understanding that voting against Harris would have been a pointless sacrifice on his part. It is, in other words, a VERY different response from the one that greeted Daniel Lavelle back in 2009. Then, you may recall, Peduto charged that Lavelle had betrayed him by refusing to support Peduto's own council-presidency bid. (That falling-out is what precipitated the alliance with Harris in the first place.) For the moment, at least, I see little sign that O'Connor's vote is being held against him.

Of course, these messages may be crafted for my ears in hopes of currying favor with O'Connor: Council's new minority may need O'Connor more than he needs them. Today's council reorganization was, in fact, marked by poignant tributes to his late father, Mayor Bob O'Connor -- and by the younger O'Connor's announcement that he'd gotten engaged the night before.

So in the spirit of affirming such ties, Slag Heap wishes O'Connor every happiness on his upcoming nuptials. May his marriage prove more lasting than those typically announced in council chambers.

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