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Birds of a Feather Form Council Majority

City Hall pauses in game of budgetary chicken -- but only briefly

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Pittsburgh Council's Jan. 5 inauguration ceremony was all sweetness and light. Councilors thanked Mayor Tom Murphy for spurring development. Murphy called council "a group of people who want to do the right thing." And council unanimously elected Gene Ricciardi to a second straight term as president. Councilors and administration members even shared chicken wings after the ceremony. But the circumstances of Ricciardi's re-election suggest that the fifth floor of the City-County Building, where Murphy and council have their offices, could erupt into a battle over pecking order at any moment.

 

Just days before his re-election, Ricciardi was far from a lock to keep the presidency. He told City Paper on Dec. 30 that the post was up in the air, and that council machinations didn't much matter anyway, because in Pittsburgh, "the mayor basically gets his way."

 

Through Dec. 30, Ricciardi had voted against both the mayor's budget and an alternative backed by several councilors, calling the battle over how to balance the books "a chess game" that he'd just as soon sit out. On Dec. 31, though, Ricciardi joined four other councilors in passing a cost-cutting budget over Murphy's strong opposition. (See Political Footballs, page 15.)

 

On Jan. 2, councilors Bill Peduto, Twanda Carlisle, Doug Shields and Luke Ravenstahl met to discuss the presidency. "It was really between Gene and Sala [Udin] at that point," says Peduto, one of the authors of the council budget. The four decided to swing behind Ricciardi rather than Udin, who had championed the mayor's budgets. "A lot of that had to do with [Ricciardi's] actions on the budget. ... That showed independence," Peduto says. "If he had voted against both budgets, I might have looked for somebody else."

 

Ricciardi vows to continue working with Murphy, but says the budget vote and his subsequent re-election represent the emergence of an increasingly bold council majority. "I think there is a working majority there ... and I think the catalyst was the budget process," he says. "I think our role is going to be more visible, more active and probably more aggressive."

 

That could spell trouble for Murphy, who says he hasn't decided whether to veto council's budget. If he does, expect feathers -- and maybe even chicken wings -- to fly.

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