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Politics & Government

New Mailer From Outside-Spending Group Escalates Attacks In Mayoral Campaign

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A new mailer from pro-Peduto group Good Jobs Pittsburgh seeks to portray rival Ed Gainey as an ally of former GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and state Rep. Ed Gainey were once political allies. But the mayoral race between the two men is growing increasingly ugly, thanks in no small part to outside spending groups. Such groups can raise as much money as they want, and campaigns are barred from communicating with them (and thus can avoid taking responsibility for their actions).

An independent-expenditure committee tied to Gainey, Justice for All, opened up the fight two weeks ago when it blasted Peduto as having failed to address inequality in an online ad. But Good Jobs Pittsburgh -- which is backed by a service-workers union and other labor groups -- is returning the favor in a mailer that denounces Gainey with an arguably lopsided depiction of his voting record in Harrisburg.

The mailer, which hit city mailboxes earlier this week, asserts that “We can’t trust Ed Gainey.” Its central claim is that Gainey has voted with Republicans in the state legislature, including former Speaker Mike Turzai, on “regressive measures opposed by the ACLU.”

The mailer cites four bills in particular, each of which were indeed opposed by the ACLU. But a check of the legislative record shows that the measures were backed heavily by legislators in both parties -- one was signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf -- and that Gainey’s voting history was more complicated than the mailer acknowledges.

In a statement, the Gainey campaign said the measures cited “received broad, bi-partisan support from both parties. Presenting them as examples of Rep. Gainey voting with the Republican caucus is a feeble attempt to mischaracterize his progressive voting record.” Through a representative, Good Jobs Pittsburgh declined comment on the mailer.

The four bills cited, which date from the 2019-2020 legislative session, included two measures to expand the ability of minors and people with autism or intellectual disabilities to offer testimony out of court. The bill’s Republican co-sponsors touted the measures as part of a multi-bill package intended “to better protect crime victims ... by helping those who are victimized to testify against and confront their abusers.”

The ACLU opposed the bills, which it argued would result in “further eroding due process rights of the accused.” Both bills passed the House, with 186 and 193 affirmative votes, respectively, in a chamber of 203 House members. (Both bills died in a Senate committee later that session.)

Another bill was a measure to put “Marsy’s Law” reforms -- which enshrine so-called victim’s rights in the state Constitution -- before voters. Gainey voted in favor of putting the question on the November 2019 ballot, along with 189 of his colleagues in both parties. Voters supported the measure by a three-to-one margin, but it was later tossed out by a state appeals court as unconstitutional.

The fourth bill cited in the mailer extended the period that people convicted of certain crimes would have to wait before reapplying for parole after being denied. The ACLU argued that the measure amounted to “arbitrary and excessive punishment resulting in longer prison stays.” But the measure passed by a vote of 194-7 in the state House, by 46-3 in the Senate and was signed by Gov. Wolf.

Gainey’s voting record on the bills was arguably less progressive than that of fellow Allegheny County legislator Summer Lee, who voted against all the bills except the Marsy’s Law measure. But even on those bills Gainey, who has an 82 rating from the state ACLU, took votes on amendments and procedural questions that were consistent with the ACLU’s position.

The mailer also dings Gainey for a nearly 21-year-old quote that appeared in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about the future of East Liberty. The story quotes Gainey, who is identified as a “part time real-estate agent,” saying that provisions of the federal Section 8 affordable-housing program “have brought people into the community who don't have a sense of pride."

Section 8 vouchers help low-income households pay the rent: They are considered a key affordable-housing program, but are opposed in some communities and not accepted by many landlords. (The city passed an ordinance that prohibits landlords from discriminating against voucher holders -- an ordinance Peduto's administration is defending before the state Supreme Court.)

Gainey’s campaign said that Gainey, “a former Section 8 beneficiary himself, supports the Section 8 program and believes that program beneficiaries are valuable contributors to the communities in which they live.” It said Gainey’s statement was taken out of context and that his point was that “disinvestment in low income communities creates a vicious cycle of hopelessness that reinforces the ways in which the deck is already stacked against those communities.”

Finally, the mailer notes that Gainey sits on the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, a key agency in advancing affordable housing. It asserts that Gainey, who was appointed to the board by Peduto when the two men were political allies, “hasn’t used his URA position to advance development policy to benefit low-income residents.”

That may sound like a criticism that the URA itself has failed to advance such policy. But that reading is unlikely; Good Jobs Pittsburgh counts among its union supporters SEIU 32BJ -- one of whose top local officers, Sam Williamson, chairs the URA board. Instead, the mailer appears to be faulting Gainey for not doing more to advance, or challenge his fellow board members with, the more aggressive policies he is calling for in his mayoral bid.

Gainey has not made a point of criticizing the agency from the board table: When he was reappointed as vice-chair in a reorganizational meeting of the board earlier this year, for example, he offered no criticisms and thanked Williamson and others for their work. His campaign said that as a board member he has advocated for affordable housing and economic opportunities for people of color, but that his influence is limited by the city's and the URA's development priorities.

"If elected Mayor," the statement added, "he intends to set out a more ambitious agenda for investing in affordable housing and protecting neighborhoods from predatory development.”