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Ed Gainey Wins Democratic Nomination for Pittsburgh Mayor

The state representative will almost certainly be the city’s first Black mayor, and his victory follows a year of nationwide social upheaval over police and racial justice issues.

State Representative Ed GaineyPhoto by Gainey for Mayor.

State Representative Ed Gainey won the Democratic nomination for Pittsburgh mayor on Tuesday, ousting Mayor Bill Peduto and defeating two other candidates.

As of 11 p.m., unofficial results had Gainey leading Peduto 45 percent to 41 percent, with his lead growing as votes continued to be counted. Peduto called to concede the race to Gainey around 10:30 p.m. The other two candidates, Tony Moreno and Michael Thompson, were at 13 percent and 1 percent of the vote, respectively.

Gainey will almost surely be the city’s first Black mayor at a moment when Pittsburgh’s Black residents are leaving the city in high numbers and when racial justice issues like policing and affordable housing have emerged as key issues locally and nationwide. He will need to win the general election in November to become mayor, but Pittsburgh voters overwhelmingly swing Democratic and there is currently no Republican nominee.

“I’m honored, humbled, and proud that the people of Pittsburgh have placed their faith in me by making me their Democratic Nominee for the office of Mayor,” Gainey said in a statement Tuesday. “This election made history, and I’m ready to go to work building a Pittsburgh where all can belong, contribute, and succeed.”

Peduto, who was first elected as mayor in 2013, has faced significant criticism and at least two federal civil rights lawsuits during his campaign. The lawsuits allege that as mayor, he failed to properly control Pittsburgh Bureau of Police officers during last summer’s protests following the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The lawsuits also allege that the police department used excessive force against protesters in the city and at times ordered protesters to disperse, blocked their ability to leave, and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them.

Peduto had acknowledged the need to “re-imagine policing” during his campaign and, as mayor, implemented some reforms, including mandating de-escalation and implicit bias training and implementing a set of reforms aimed at reducing police use of force known as “8 Can’t Wait.” But he opposed reducing the police department budget and said during a town hall meeting in October that crime was falling in the city “because our police budget has been increasing.”

Gainey told The Appeal in April that Peduto’s reforms amounted to a lot of talk but little concrete action. “We’ve got so many reports that we’ve done and they sit on the shelf,” Gainey said. “We say we’re going to implement X, Y and Z and still haven’t implemented anything. It’s just talk.”

Part of Gainey’s plan to address over-policing in minority communities includes spreading officers equally across the city, though this approach has been criticized by some community activists as not going far enough. Pittsburgh residents have called for, among other reforms, a 50 percent reduction in the police budget and moving towards abolishing the department.

“To paraphrase Grover Norquist, the police department needs to be shrunk to a size that is small enough to drown in the bathtub,” Bret Grote, legal director for the Abolitionist Law Center, told The Appeal in April. 

Gainey has also criticized Peduto’s affordable housing record, as have community activists. Pittsburgh’s Black population fell by more than 8,000 people between 2013 and 2019—a nearly 10 percent drop, according to five year estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. At the same time the white population fell by a little more than 1,000 people, or less than 1 percent.

“In Pittsburgh, over the last four decades politicians have promised a city that would be economically and racially diverse,” Carl Redwood, a housing activist and chairperson of the Hill District Consensus Group’s board of directors, said during a city council public hearing in May. “But one mayor after another and one City Council after another has accelerated existing class- and race-based inequities.” 

Gainey also accused Peduto of failing to deliver on his promise to make housing affordable during his eight years in office. He told The Appeal that he wanted to use inclusionary zoning to guarantee affordable housing was built into any plan for development with the city, and said in April that the $10 million allocated annually from the Housing Opportunity Fund, set up for the development and upkeep of affordable housing,  was not enough to address the city’s needs.

Peduto has acknowledged that there are “two Pittsburghs”: one white, which has reaped the benefits of growth, and one Black, which has been left to deal with many of its negative consequences, such as rising or unaffordable rental and home prices.

During his tenure, Peduto signed legislation passed by the City Council to create the Housing Opportunity Fund; supported inclusionary zoning, which requires private developers to build affordable housing units as part of all new housing construction; and announced the OwnPGH program in March to provide housing loans to low-income families and those who can’t access traditional financing for a home.

Peduto also joined a national pilot program to provide a monthly stipend of $500 to 200 people in the city. He said that his office prioritized distribution of the money to households run by Black women.

During his concession speech on Tuesday, Peduto said he pledged “to do my work to elect the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh.”