When State Rep. Ed Gainey is congratulated for his primary defeat of incumbent Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, he reminds his friends that there is still a long way to go.

Gainey of Lincoln-Lemington could well be the city’s first African-American mayor, but another of Peduto’s challengers, retired Pittsburgh police officer Tony Moreno of Brighton Heights, received enough write-in votes to qualify for the Republican nomination, if he accepts it.

And then there is a new candidate, Marlin Woods of East Liberty, an employee benefits consultant who announced on June 10 that he intends to run for mayor as an independent candidate.

Ed Gainey. Photo by Ann Belser.

Even given that Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1, and that Herbert Hoover was president the last time a Republican was elected as mayor in Pittsburgh, Gainey said he is not planning to coast to a win.

“I can’t take nothing for granted,” Gainey says. “I have to run to win.”

“This ain’t just an ordinary race,” he adds, even before Woods announced his candidacy.

While Moreno has not announced he will run as a Republican, he is attending public events, such as the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Doughboy Memorial in Lawrenceville.

Peduto of Point Breeze also received enough write-in votes, 285, to accept the Republican nomination if Moreno declines.

Meeting the people

The primary campaign was conducted socially distanced, online and through mailers. Every Friday night Gainey held sessions on Zoom that 100 people would attend, where they could ask questions.

With few parades or public events, none of the candidates could work crowds the way a campaign would normally be conducted.

As the pandemic restrictions lift, Gainey is a presence wherever he goes.

Sitting outside of Tazza D’Oro Cafe in Highland Park, Gainey talks to person after person.

“How y’all doing?” he shouts at a passing car that has just blown its horn as the occupants all waved. 

He is in his element speaking before a crowd, raising his voice to talk about injustice.

At 51, Gainey has spent nearly his entire life in Pittsburgh. He grew up in East Liberty and graduated from Peabody High School. He was the first member of his family to attend college and said when he arrived at Morgan State University the young man in front of him declared his major as business management, so Gainey said the same thing.

After college, he worked for State Rep. Joseph Preston, Jr. for six years, then in the administrations of mayors Tom Murphy and Luke Ravenstahl, while running successive bids to unseat Preston, a race he won in 2012.

Gainey has served in the state House of Representatives since 2013.

State Rep. Summer Lee talks to State Rep. Ed Gainey during a victory party. Photo by Ann Belser.

Plans for policing

Gainey says the polling in the race showed that in all neighborhoods the relationship between the police and city residents was the number one concern.

He says one of his goals is to get police officers back to walking beats in city neighborhoods.

That way, he says, officers would “get to know the community; get inside the community; know what’s going on in the community; learn who the community leaders are and who the people are in the community, and build those relationships again. They used to be there. And this was part of prominent policing in the day. We can do that again and that is one of the things that I’m going to push.”

He also says he wants to bring equity to policing.

“We don’t have to over-police in the neighborhoods of color. You can’t get that trust over-policing. Over-policing means you think there’s a problem. And we’re not going to solve the problem by over-policing.”

He says when there is a heavy police presence in minority neighborhoods, motorists get pulled over for minor violations: “It’s not about the violation as much, it’s about them wanting to check to see what’s inside the car.”

And while he sees the need for the Special Weapons and Tactics Team to have military-style weapons, he says the officers who cover protests should not be dressed for riots, nor should they deploy tear gas or shoot “less lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets into crowds.

While those aspects of policing directly affect the way officers are in communities, he says the city also needs to take a public health approach to violence.

“We need a public health plan to deal with some of the violence and that needs to be seen as a public safety measure as well,” he says.

Personal tragedy

Gainey was personally affected by violence in 2016 when his younger sister, Janese Talton-Jackson, was killed outside of a bar in Homewood by a man whose advances she refused.

“That was a painful time and that was when my father really became my hero,” Gainey says.

The night of the shooting he was there and watched as his sister was put into a body bag.

After the shooting, he says, his father stepped in to care for his sister’s three young children.

“It’s difficult. That’s why I never really talked about it. It’s hard to put that level of emotion in words,” he says.

Gainey, who now has six living brothers and sisters, is married to Michelle Gainey and they are the parents of three children, Mariah Peeples, 25, Alexa, 13 and Darius, 11. Alexa and Darius are both students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Ed Gainey
At a victory party on June 13, Ed Gainey, right, fists bumps his campaign treasurer, Jonathan Mayo of Squirrel Hill. Photo by Ann Belser.

Issues of fairness

Another issue that voters kept bringing up, and that the poll reflected, was local concern about the lack of affordable housing in the city.

In every neighborhood, Gainey says, residents were concerned about rising real estate prices keeping their children from living in the city.

He says he wants the city to adopt inclusionary zoning to make affordable housing part of every project. He also wants to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, of which he is currently vice chair, to increase the city’s spending on affordable housing.

The third big issue he heard about was UPMC, the state’s largest employer, paying its fair share. The hospital chain, which is also an insurance company, has non-profit status, which means it does not pay any property taxes.

“The number one thing with UPMC is people just want them to pay their fair share,” he says.

That “fair share” includes paying some sort of property tax to the city, paying its workers livable wages and reducing the health care disparities between black and white residents in the region.

For now, Gainey says, he will be campaigning through the summer and raising money for the fall election.

As for the city, he is optimistic about its future.

“There are so many opportunities, but there are also so many challenges, but without challenges, you can’t have opportunities,” he says. “You can’t be a better version of yourself without challenges.”

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.