We asked the councilman what he thinks about the war.
"The war? What war?" he asked, innocently. We explained it.
"Yeah, that's what I want to do is fight the mayor for four years," he answered, dryly.
"Where I'm sitting from, there is no war. It's about principles. It's always about principles, it's never about personality. I'm interested in good government. I'm interested in..."
The day we spoke, City Council had just passed the six-month moratorium on new billboards proposed by Mr. Kraus by a 9-0 vote, after altering some language.
The changes were made after a meeting between himself, Council president Doug Shields, and City solicitor George Specter. Shields for a while resisted the idea of holding some sort of executive session with Specter on the matter. Kraus describes that as more of an initial reaction.
"It wasn't an executive session," Kraus clarified, because it was just the three of them. The bill as written turned out to be "overlanguaged," and in a way that may have been construed to forbid what are in fact permitted uses.
That would have been illegal, Kraus now concedes. The new language says that you can replace vinyl-for-vinyl, and make other normally permitted upgrades -- but nothing new, no enlargements, and no vinyl-for-electronic.
We asked if the new language was open to any other interpretations, based on precedent perhaps, that might negate the purpose of the moratorium.
The councilman brandished the document. "What this is saying is, no."
We tried to get a sense from Mr. Kraus relating to other hot-button issues in the pipeline -- cuts to council's staff budget, for example, and eliminating the...
"Oh, the 'slush fund'," he said, making quotation marks with his hands. "I'll talk about that when we talk about it tomorrow."
Of course, we agreed. Important first to consult with one's colleagues on council, right?
He held our gaze for a second. "Oh, I know how I'm going to vote."
We asked about recent initiatives by Councilman Dowd -- legislation to change the way the city pensions board is appointed, for example.
"You know, honestly, I haven't had a chance to take a look at that yet," Kraus said. We asked whether it was on the agenda for a vote tomorrow.
"No, I don't think so, unless ... did they waive Rule 8 on that?" Rule 8 demands that legislation introduced on a Tuesday cannot be acted upon until the following Wednesday. It can be, and frequently is, "waived" by a majority vote of council itself.
"That's another thing. What's this [redacted] of waiving Rule 8?" Kraus would prefer to take the time to research new legislation, and ponder it. "So it sits for a week, and it gets up to speed."
Kraus made sure to make us aware of a Will of Council resolution calling on the Postal Service to offer the Adopt-A-Mailbox program in Pittsburgh. This dovetails with the councilman's crusade against graffiti -- a major priority of his term in office.
Graffiti vandals like to tag mailboxes, Kraus explains -- but the Post Office does little to maintain them.
Bruce Kraus gets truly wound up on the subject of graffiti. It's costly and time-consuming to clean up, it's bad for businesses, it makes a neighborhood appear dangerous. He wants to crack down on graffiti vandals in any way that he can.
We admitted that in some cases there are some graffiti artists that we have some sympathy for -- the really talented ones, or the ones that climb to outlandish, out-of-the-way places.
The Councilman would not give an inch. "If you vandalize my home, if you vandalize my business, if you vandalize my neighborhood, you should be made to pay for it."
Constituents are concerned about vandalism just as they are about violent crime, about crack houses and guns on the street. These all together you could call his number one issue: crime and public safety.
We asked what a City Councilman can do about such problems as crack houses and guns on the street.
"Well, first, you have to be aware of it."
Kraus joined Shields on a lobbying trip to Harrisburg in support of mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms. He believes this can have an impact on straw purchasing of handguns.
One gets the impression talking to Kraus that a million small things need to be done in order to make progress on any of his major issues -- another good reason that ongoing pitched battles among branches of city government are undesirable.
We referred back to the Bruce Kraus's comment about not wanting to spend "four years" fighting the mayor -- and asked if that meant he was definitely ruling out a run for mayor in 2009.
"I'm so happy to be here," Kraus began. He took the suggestion with good humor, made his explanations as to how much work there is before him on council, and concluded in a mumble, "It's not something that I'm at all considering at this time."
Oh my goodness, we asked. Does that mean he won't rule it out?
"Well, don't ask me to -- oh, do you mean in 2009?" He thought we were talking about some future year. "Oh, that I can rule out. No."