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Peduto Outraises, Outspends Rivals, But Gainey Draws On Outside Union Support In Bitter Campaign

Pennsylvania State Rep. Ed Gainey speaks to a crowd on the North Shore on Monday, May 10, 2021.
Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
Pennsylvania State Rep. Ed Gainey speaks to a crowd on the North Shore on Monday, May 10, 2021.

As Pittsburgh’s mayoral campaign entered its final weeks, campaign finance records show Mayor Bill Peduto decisively outspending and outraising his rivals. But state Rep. Ed Gainey could yet erase that advantage thanks to one union’s unprecedented level of support — even as he complained Monday about the tenor of the campaign.

Financial reports filed late last week show that, as of two weeks before the May 18th election, Peduto had $206,628.78 in his bank account. That amount was inflated by a $12,500 loan Peduto made to his own bid in April — a move candidates sometimes make to boost their cash haul to a more impressive round number. Peduto went into the home stretch of the campaign with more than triple the amount of money held on hand by Gainey, who reported having $67,475.78 as of last week.

Peduto’s political campaign spent nearly $480,000 in the last month — roughly three-and-a-half times Gainey’s spending of just over $138,000. And Peduto outraised Gainey as well, garnering over $262,000 to Gainey’s total of more than $92,000.

Retired city police officer Tony Moreno raised $11,539.80 in April and the first few days of May. Michael Thompson, a ride-sharing driver from Oakland, has not reported any financial activity in the campaign.

But there is an X factor in the race — political spending carried out by allies independent of the campaign may erase Peduto’s edge.

So-called “independent expenditure” groups are able to raise and spend money unburdened by the city’s campaign-finance limits, provided they don’t coordinate their efforts with the candidates’ campaigns. And as the race entered its final two weeks, a pro-Gainey committee called Justice for All was sitting on $413,489 in cash. Most of that money — a whopping $350,000 — has been contributed by political committees tied to SEIU Healthcare, which has been Gainey’s biggest political ally. The total was swelled by a $92,000 check received May 7.

Justice for All does not need to spend any of that money on Gainey’s behalf, or indeed spend it at all by May 18. But the size of its bank account proves how easily outside-spending groups can make mincemeat of campaign-finance limits: SEIU Healthcare’s donations to Justice for All dwarf the total fundraising of Gainey’s own campaign, which has raised just under $307,000 since the beginning of the year.

An independent expenditure group supporting Peduto, Good Jobs Pittsburgh, has not kept pace with the healthcare union’s generosity. The committee raised $133,000 earlier in the year from Steamfitters, Laborers and teachers unions. But it added nothing to that total last month, even as it incurred nearly $135,000 in expenses, mostly from a Brooklyn-based political consultant.

But on Monday, it was Gainey who complained about the tone the campaign had taken during a morning press conference that was, symbolically enough, located at the Fred Rogers memorial on the North Side.

“In my years of being politics — and I’ve worked for two mayors — I’ve never seen the amount of negative literature, negative television commercials that has come out like it’s come out under this administration,” Gainey told reporters, as a recording of Mr. Rogers singing about friendship tinkled in the background.

Both Peduto and his campaign have been sharply critical of Gainey, particularly over a WTAE Channel 4 report alleging financial irregularities at a political committee, African Americans for Good Government, long tied to Gainey.

“The mayor has said a lot of things that don’t make sense,” Gainey said Monday when asked about some of Peduto’s criticism. “I’m not gonna stop my campaign to help him run a negative campaign that at the end of the day only defines him. … The mayor can say whatever he wants. This city is ready for leadership that is about bringing us together.”

In debates and campaign mailers, Peduto has also argued that Gainey has taken positions — as on a state tax subsidy for fossil-fuel companies, and a controversial “E-Verify” bill to check the work status of employees — in exchange for union support.

“That was a tough vote. I took the vote, but it was the building trades that wanted it [and] they’re supporting the mayor,” Gainey told WESA about the E-Verify vote.

On that and other issues, he said, Peduto’s criticism is “hypocritical in many ways,” because the mayor’s own supporters include unions that urged Gainey to vote as he did. “You want to blast me for something but you want to take donations. ... Everything he’s saying is hypocritical.”

Peduto has received support from pro-fracking unions like the Steamfitters. But his supporters have noted that even so, he has been vocal when he has differed from their agenda. (Peduto’s opposition to “cracker plants” which rely on fracked natural gas, for example, drew criticism from many labor groups.) And backers note that Gainey himself has often criticized Peduto’s record — though in debates, he typically does so without naming the mayor directly.

Peduto’s team offered no apologies for its attacks on Monday.

“Mayor Peduto has highlighted his record on environmental stewardship, government reform and ethics, equity, and economic recovery,” said a statement from the campaign. “Our campaign has also illustrated a contrast in these areas based on the candidate's records. In comparison, Rep. Gainey and his independent expenditure (which has put in more money than Gainey's campaign itself has raised) have focused purely on attacks from the beginning of the campaign.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.