If the name State Representative Ed Gainey doesn’t mean anything to you now, that’s likely to change by May. Gainey, the District 24 State Representative, is running to become the next Mayor of Pittsburgh.
“I want to build a city for everybody. I know what it feels like to be skipped over. I’m not skipping nobody. That’s why I know I can build it, because I come from it,” Gainey said.
Gainey comes from a family lineage in the historic Hill District, while he was born on Lawn Street in South Oakland. At seven, his family moved to East Liberty, where he lived in the Liberty Park High Rise & Low Rise.
Gainey’s focus now lies on where he can take the future of Pittsburgh. His main motivation for entering the mayoral race comes from what he sees as “broken promises” that have occurred during the administration of Mayor Bill Peduto, who has served since 2014. One of the most recent examples he cites is the record snowfalls Pittsburgh has experienced so far this winter.
“They ran on snow removal and making sure the roads looked good… well, we know that didn’t happen. That’s a broken promise. Affordable housing. That didn’t happen, that’s a broken promise.”
The broken promises Gainey lists extend to other issues such as public education and police-community relations.
“If you haven’t planted the seed of change in the past eight years, you’re not going to do it in the next four,” he said.
Over his 11 years serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Gainey has been planting seeds. He has supported raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, legalizing medical marijuana, and introduced a bill with fellow State Rep. Summer Lee to change use of force laws in Pennsylvania.
“I’m a fighter for everybody. Always have been,” he said.
He is also a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus in Harrisburg alongside State Representatives Brian Sims and Malcolm Kenyatta. Sims and Kenyatta are both gay and recently announced their campaigns for Lt. Governor and the U.S. Senate, respectively. Gainey was proud to support the legislation introduced by Sims and Kenyatta to update Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in regards to housing and employment.
Gainey seeks to re-empower the City of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ Commission. In June of 2020, Peduto forwarded legislation to make the LGBTQIA+ Commission permanent within city code. It was formerly known as the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council and was introduced by Peduto in 2016. A letter was sent by the Advisory Council in the summer of 2019 to the city demanding a meeting with Mayor Peduto to address a lack of support from the mayor’s office.
Gainey feels like it’s currently hard to measure the effectiveness of the Commission.
“[The mayor] shouldn’t be the one who sets the agenda, but the one who works with the Commission to accomplish the agenda,” said Gainey.
He emphasized the importance of setting quarterly goals to measure true progress on the Commission’s objectives, along with actively communicating with niche media like QBurgh to help spread awareness of the LGBTQIA+ Commission’s activity. Gainey said, “You can’t build a relationship with no communication.”
One major communication issue Gainey felt divided the City more than it unified it was the “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race” report published by the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission. This Commission was also created in 2016 by Mayor Peduto and City Council to “achieve equity for women and girls in the City of Pittsburgh” as well as envision “a future in which everyone in the City of Pittsburgh, regardless of gender identity and expression, is safe in all spaces, empowered to achieve their full potential, and no longer faces structural or institutional barriers to economic, social, and political equality.”
This study exposed that despite being heralded as one of America’s most livable cities, Pittsburgh is one of the worst places for black women to live in just about every indicator of livability. Gainey said, “It’s irresponsible to put out a report without recommendations on how you are going to make it better. Do we say, ‘this is the worst place for African American women’ or do we say ‘this is how we are going to make it better’? It allows people to feel like they are a liability and not an asset. I don’t want anyone in this city to feel like they are a liability. All my life I’ve been labeled all types of things. I’m not one to label nobody, because I’ve been labeled my whole life.”
This past summer, the GEC released “Building an Equitable New Normal: Responding to the Crises of Racist Violence and COVID-19,” which provided 11 policy recommendations to remedy the findings of their initial report. The GEC’s first policy recommendation is to “address police violence immediately.” The Commission advocated for HB1664 on use of deadly force, which was introduced by Gainey himself along with State Rep. Summer Lee.
Another element of police reform on which the GEC mirrors Gainey’s own views is the importance of accountability and moving “from a militarized police force to a more community-oriented police force” to emphasize that the Pittsburgh Police are not at war with the communities they take an oath to uphold.
Gainey was present at protests held in East Liberty, Wilkinsburg, and Downtown and called them “beautiful,” as they showed him a unification among “black, white, young, old, LGBTQ, straight” citizens of Pittsburgh.
“Everybody showed up. That’s Pittsburgh,” he said.
It’s this sense of community that he believes will draw young people to commit to the city. “That when they come, they’ll stay. They’ll raise a family,” he said.
He lauded the “organizing skills, preparation, and execution” of the young people who assembled many of the protests that drew thousands. Gainey celebrated this same pride in community organizing on Twitter after the Alliance for Police Accountability received enough signatures on their petitions for solitary confinement and no-knock warrant ballot questions to be on the ballot this May.
Mayor Peduto has come under fire because of his responses to the protests last summer, most recently in January when he equated protestors with the radical right. Protests lasted for days outside Peduto’s house in Point Breeze after a bike marshal was arrested during an August Civil Saturdays march in Oakland. On Peduto’s effect on police-community relations, Gainey said, “You ran on that. Eight years later, and it’s worse now than it ever has been.”
Many activists, especially queer and trans activists of color, feel they have been specifically targeted by the City Police and Peduto for arrests and re-filing of charges. Gainey questions why there wasn’t a meeting called between members of the LGBTQ+ community and Pittsburgh Police leaders. He is confident that “If the Mayor had said ‘We are not tolerating this and I’m going to listen to the community,’ it would have made the LGBTQ+ community feel welcomed and respected.”
Gainey emphasized the need to have someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ on one’s staff to effectively provide insight into the issues of the community. This communication is something that shouldn’t only occur when conflict is occurring but, rather, consistently.
“You have to periodically be able to say, ‘Let me go talk to the LGBTQ community, let me give them some love, let’s see what’s going on.’”
It is Gainey’s hope that this relationship would allow the administration to share what they are working on to benefit the community, as well as giving LGBTQ+ people the chance to offer their testimony.
Gainey will be busy for the next three months as the primary election approaches on May 18th. This primary will essentially determine the outcome of who will be the next Mayor of Pittsburgh. Gainey is currently fundraising and seeking 10,000 signatures with the start of the petition period on February 16th. He has been endorsed by the SEIU Healthcare union, the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, activist group OnePA and is seeking the endorsement of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, which has endorsed him in the past for State Representative. Gainey said, “We need to join together. We need to expand the congregation and make everybody feel welcome.”
The congregation of Gainey understands progress isn’t possible unless we are accepting of one another. If elected, Gainey would make Pittsburgh history as the first black mayor. It’s a historic possibility that he recognizes, but not one he is focused on.
“Regardless of color, gender or sexual orientation–justice is justice. My record shows that. I have done it. My journey shows it. I can actually say that I was involved and that I did it–that I fought for everybody to have civil and human rights.”
QBurgh has reached out to Mayor Peduto for an interview and will run that feature when we receive a response.