Councilman Kraus meets with Pitt students

By Keith Gillogly

City Councilman Bruce Kraus spoke to a group of students in the William Pitt Union to try to get… City Councilman Bruce Kraus spoke to a group of students in the William Pitt Union to try to get to know his Oakland constituents better. But first, he wanted to know what students thought of him.

“Anybody have a bad opinion of me? I’m dead serious,” he said.

Pitt junior Benjamin Robinson raised his hand.

“When people think of you, they don’t really think of students,” he said.

Kraus said it’s true that his image is much more associated with the South Side than Oakland because it’s a bigger and sexier area. He represents many Pitt students in District Three, which includes most of South and Central Oakland.

Through the question-and-answer session, Kraus, who is up for re-election this fall, laid out issues he’s addressed as a councilman. It is the second such visit Kraus made to Pitt’s campus this year. His first was a similar session before a watch party for the State of the Union Address in January.

Kraus said he’s known to be strict when it comes to policy on alcohol consumption and nightlife. But as someone who was once college-aged, he said nightlife is an important part of the college experience and maintaining a safe and lively evening scene in Pittsburgh is one of his goals.

“[Students] deserve to enjoy nightlife in a safe environment that’s well policed and well lit,” he said.

As Pittsburgh’s library system has faced economic strain over the past few years, Kraus said he’s working to ensure the continued functioning of the Carnegie Library in Oakland, but the City Council has found it difficult to coordinate with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his administration on this issue.

Mike Waalkes, a member of Pitt Democrats, was glad for any effort to save the Carnegie library system.

“I personally enjoy going to the Carnegie library. There’s so many budget cuts going on, at least there’s an attempt to save the institution,” Waalkes said.

Members of Pitt Democrats also asked about the ailing pension system the city faces.

The city managed to avoid a state takeover of its pension fund by a few hours. But if the state had taken over, the result might not have been too bad, given the state’s record of managing pension funds compared to the city’s.

“Given our record and the state’s … it’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said.

Kraus also distanced himself from the proposed Fair Share Tax, a 1-percent tax on tuition for Pittsburgh’s college students that was introduced in 2009 but not enacted. He said there was a gap in understanding about students’ feelings when the tax was proposed. But the vehement student response made their opinions clear, he said.

“The stupidest thing you can do as an elected official is assume you know what people are thinking,” he said.

The councilman also spoke about his history. When he first ran for election, he directly addressed his personal life.

“I’m gonna go out there and say, ‘Hello, I’m Bruce Kraus and I’m a homosexual and alcoholic. Will you vote for me?’”

But Kraus didn’t think of defining himself as the first openly gay public official in Pittsburgh. He was a public official who happened to be gay. He also said he’s been sober for more than 22 years.

Kraus is seeking re-election and he could have to form relationships with new City Council members, depending on the results. A petition to put his name on the Democratic ballot was on a table in the room.

“When you’re in the business that I’m in, every relationship is the most important one,” he said.

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