City Council President Bruce Kraus calls himself a “perfect Pittsburgh story.”
He was born in the former St. Joseph’s Hospital in the South Side, where his parents lived. Although he moved around growing up and as an adult, Kraus now lives in the house that his parents brought him home to as a baby and has lived there for more than 30 years.
Active on multiple boards, including the Carnegie Library Board of Trustees and the Board of Trustees for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Kraus said it’s projects about public space that he takes extra interest in.
There are “huge rewards for those kind of investments,” he said.
That can be anything from multi-million dollar renovations to the East Carson Street and Knoxville branches of the Carnegie Library to fighting for two spray parks in his district to curbing complaints with an improved Giant Eagle in the South Side. It also includes the rebuilding of East Warrington Avenue to be a “viable component in the resurgence of Allentown.”
Kraus is also outspoken about his struggles with drugs and alcohol — he’ll be 29-years sober later this year — and said he’s passionate about the issue of fighting opioid addiction. For far too long, he said focus has been on supply of drugs and not demand, but asked if there was a way to prevent addiction, and in turn, decrease demand. The councilmember said he’s been in several discussions about ways to find the red flags for children who are prone to addiction so it can be addressed and prevented at a young age instead of when someone is in their 30s and addicted.
For the third installment in our nine-part series on City Council, The Incline talked with Kraus in his office about his district, challenges and why City Council is the highest office he wants. This Q&A is part of that conversation, edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Bruce Kraus 101
First elected to council: 2007; elected as council president in 2014 (a four-year term)
Next city council election: 2019
District 3 includes: Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Central Oakland, Knoxville, Mount Oliver, Oakcliffe, South Oakland, South Side Flats, South Side Slopes and St. Clair. See the map.
Contact: Call the District 3 office at 412-255-2130. Or email Kraus and Neil Manganaro, chief of staff.
Q: What is District 3’s biggest issue?
A: “We could talk all day,” Kraus said about the issues facing District 3, which he said is one of the “most complex and complicated” of the city’s nine districts.
But at the top, he said, are issues that go back to the high number of students living in off-campus housing throughout the district. A majority of those roughy 20,000 students live in the South Side Flats and south and central Oakland, but students also live in the South Side Slopes, Allentown and Knoxville, Kraus said.
“So you can imagine the impact, and I don’t mean to frame that as negative by any means,” he said. That impact includes neighborhood trash and parking, or as Kraus likes to call the latter, “mobility” and “how you move people in a modern, 21st century 24/7/365 world.”
After that, he said the biggest issue is housing. Partly, it’s affordable housing, he said. But in a district of so many rental units, housing safety is also a major concern for Kraus.
“I was a huge proponent of the rental registry ordinance,” he said, and added: “I wish we would have called it licensing, like landlord licensing or something, as a city we license a multitude of different businesses.”
Renting houses is a business, and it’s “fair and legal” for the city “to know where rental property is and who’s operating it and if it’s operating to the standard that we’ve set,” Kraus said.
Kraus’ office has a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh on this issue and is working to develop a similar relationship with Duquesne University.
“I feel fairly comfortable that we are on the right track for demanding affordable and appropriate housing for students,” he said.
Q: How is the issue of housing reflected citywide?
A: Affordable housing is “probably the No. 1 public conversation,” Kraus said, adding that it’s a topic that multiple members of council are talking about. The council passed an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, but is still looking for ways to fund it, he said.
In District 3, Kraus said he wants to push the conversation to not just be about new housing, even though that’s an important piece.
“There’s an incredible housing stock that we have throughout the hilltop. Pick your neighborhood … really solidly-built houses [from] around the turn of the century that deserve to be renovated and returned to the housing market,” Kraus said. “I think they are perfect opportunities for affordable housing.”
Q: What’s your favorite part about living in District 3?
A: “Walking is my favorite thing. I live where I live because I’m a walker, I like the freedom,” Kraus said. “I have a car, and I use a car, and there are parts of my life where it’s absolutely necessary, but when it’s not necessary, you’ll find me on foot. … So my favorite thing about living in the South Side is that you can walk to everything, and I think people like that. You’re beginning to see this whole return to the urban environment.”
And his love of the walkability of the South Side is something that’s always been there, Kraus said.
“It gets in your blood. I don’t know how to describe it,” he said.
Q: What have you learned about being a public official?
A: “There are two things that I’ve learned definitively while being in office,” Kraus said.
First, he said that voting is “an emotional process. … People want to connect with you on a very authentic and human level. They may not believe all of your policies, or they might see certain things differently than what you do, but if they make that inherent connection with you and it’s authentic and they genuinely believe and trust you, they’ll vote for you forever.”
But officials have to treat that commitment as sacred, because it is, Kraus said.
Second, “One’s ability to to accomplish what they set out to accomplish is directly connected to your ability to build relationships. That if you think you’re going to come into a public office and be an island, you will fail,” Kraus said.
He said public officials have to bring people with them and be willing to go along with people when they need it.
Q: What was your proudest moment in office?
A: Kraus said he can’t limit it to one, but the first thing that came to his mind was a party in Mount Washington the day he was sworn in to city council. He said there were at least 500 people there.
Kraus said he turned to a friend and said, “Look at this crowd.”
The friend responded with, “Yeah, look at all the people.”
“I said, ‘No, not all the people. Look at who is here.’ Because it was this wonderful, again, hodgepodge of people of all different sizes and shapes and colors and ethnicities and orientations, and I just remember it was such a very proud moment for me to see how diverse, on so many different levels, this crowd of people supporting me [was],” Kraus said.
He said he’d argue that District 3 is the “most diverse council district,” in terms of ethnicity, income, education and orientation.
Q: What are your future plans for public service?
A: Kraus still has nearly three years on his latest council term, but said City Council is “a good fit.”
“All indications are that I will seek another term, but I never have been interested in a higher office,” Kraus said.
The beauty of being on City Council is the interaction that comes with it, he said, adding that someone at the supermarket is comfortable enough to approach him and ask for help.
“I just love getting that kind of stuff done,” Kraus said. “It’s a neighborly kind of job. I love that about it.”
Q: What is your advice for getting involved in District 3 or any Pittsburgh community?
A: Kraus said he’s learned from every board he’s a member of, especially the Carnegie Library board. The library isn’t just a place for books, it’s a community center, a place for after school programming and a place for job searching.
It’s important to be involved, he said, adding that can be through a community council or chamber or by working with a strong community leader or with local government.
“We need your help. That’s it, short and sweet,” Kraus said.