Clarke's colleagues praised his calm leadership; one called his handling of Mayor Nutter's property tax reform "masterful."
"That's really the way he operates: 'What's the best way to get this done? What's the most efficient process?' " said Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
Clarke - and Council in general - have not lacked for critics, though, especially after the messy fight for education funding, which stretched from City Hall to Harrisburg and ended without a clear resolution.
Education advocates blamed Council in particular for not backing - or even voting on - bills to raise a liquor-by-the-drink tax and the business Use and Occupancy tax to help close the School District's $304 million deficit.
Instead, Council passed a $2-a-pack cigarette tax that needed state approval to enact, and the legislature's permission never came.
"Too little, too late," was how Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, described it.
"They came up really short," she said. "They gambled that the state would let them do cigarettes and they lost. . . . They blew it."
Councilman James F. Kenney, like many of his colleagues, said the problem lies with the state, which has control of the schools.
"It's almost like I take over your car but you have to keep putting in gas while I drive it," he said. "Why am I responsible when I'm not the one in charge?"
While the School District's financial distress was predictable, the district did not ask the city for an extra $60 million until the end of April, with little more than two months to pass a budget. (The rest of the money was to come from the state and union concessions.)
Before the School District made its request, Council had been consumed with implementing Nutter's property tax reform, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), which had been delayed in 2012 to await the results of a reassessment of every parcel in the city.
When those numbers arrived in February, many residents were either confused by the new system or angered by what they saw as inaccurate assessments and potential tax hikes. Council members, feeling the pressure, lashed out against AVI.
Then, in mid-April, Council technical staff released an analysis that found 72 percent of homeowners would see lower bills with the right tax-relief measures, which eventually were adopted.
The more-than-400-page briefing book - compiled largely by senior staffers Sade Olanipekun-Lewis, Matthew Stitt, and Herb Wetzel, along with Econsult Solutions - changed the game, adding light to a debate filled with heat.
"The analysis . . . actually sealed the deal and upended the debate," Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. said. "AVI was handled masterfully."
In 2012, Council had to rely mostly on administration projections on the impact of AVI, without hard numbers.
"I'm never going to be in that situation again, where we're responding to other people's information at the last minute," Clarke said. "I said, 'Why don't we just do it ourselves?' "
Most of the AVI and budget bills that eventually passed did not leave committee before having the necessary nine votes to pass the full Council.
Council members said Clarke constantly surveyed his colleagues, taking their pulse on various proposals and only "running" legislation when there was plenty of support.
That also kept to a minimum the number of times Council members called for futile votes merely to make a political statement.
"If you don't have the votes, what's the point of running the bill? You want to embarrass people?" Clarke asked. "It's just not my personal style."
His preference for consensus-building also was reflected in the school funding debate.
After the cigarette tax passed unanimously, Clarke said there was no sense pushing the much-less-popular proposal to raise the drinks tax - even though he was the one who suggested it.
Donna Cooper, the executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, praised Council's deliberations on school funding - though she called Clarke's decision to cut off public comment at the last Council session with more than 50 people waiting to speak "a low point."
The question now, she said, is whether Nutter and Council have a Plan B.
"We are short," she said. "The gap has got to be closed before school starts."
Clarke acknowledged the need to do more for the schools during a meeting this week with the Inquirer Editorial Board. He said he hoped the state would pass the cigarette tax in the fall, and talked about other ideas to raise money for the schools, like selling city tax liens to private investors and advertising on public property.
But he made clear that more direct action favored by some schools advocates - like giving the schools a portion of the city's budget surplus - wouldn't happen.
That's a position typical of Clarke - one that reflects political and fiscal reality.
"His job is not to push his agenda or to push the administration's agenda," Kenney said. "His job is to speak for Council, and he does it well."
Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.