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Gainey names transition team members, offers current city appointees a chance to remain

In this file photo from Oct. 13, 2021, Ed Gainey, Democratic candidate for Pittsburgh mayor, addresses people gathered for Josh Shapiro's campaign launch for Pennsylvania governor, in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic
Mayor-elect Ed Gainey's transition team will be co-chaired by two prominent activists who supported his efforts to replace Mayor Bill Peduto.

Mayor-elect Ed Gainey announced a transition team that includes some of his staunchest backers — including key figures in a health care union that was a critical ally in his election bid. But he is also offering appointees of the outgoing administration a chance to be part of the city going forward.

The Gainey transition team, which a Wednesday-morning statement said would assist him with staffing, public outreach and forming policy committees to set his agenda, will be led by two prominent activists who supported his efforts to replace Mayor Bill Peduto.

The effort will be chaired by Angel Gober, meaning that Gainey's planning will be shepherded by a prominent progressive advocate — she's the western Pennsylvania director of activist group One Pennsylvania — and a Black woman. She will lead the committee's efforts to convene policy committees that will advise Gainey, according to the statement. Details about the make-up and scope of those committees will be released next month, with work beginning in the New Year and reports anticipated in the spring.

Gober will be joined by co-chair Silas Russell, the political director of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a union whose break with Peduto was a key dynamic in the May primary, and who spent more than $350,000 supporting Gainey last spring. The union has been in a long-running battle with health care giant UPMC will be a key item on Gainey's agenda.

Serving as transition director will be Jake Pawlak, who long has been expected to serve as Gainey's chief of staff. Pawlak is versed in city government, having worked for the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. His resume also includes work as a top aide to former state Sen. Matt Smith. He has been meeting with city councilors, several of whom said he would be a solid choice for Gainey's team, and other leaders since this past summer.

Pawlak will manage day-to-day operations of the transition team. He'll be joined in his work by transition advisor Lisa Frank, who co-chaired Gainey's campaign and who, like Russell, has ties to SEIU Healthcare. Frank, a longtime progressive activist in the city, is the union's executive vice president of strategic campaigns. She will be advising Gainey on policy matters while "organiz[ing] strategic partnerships during the transition period."

Biographies of transition team members are available at a transition team website Gainey launched today.

Pawlak said that Russell and Frank's role in the transition team shouldn't be read as a sign that they would serve in the administration itself. Asked whether their role reflected SEIU's future influence in the administration, Pawlak said the two "are trusted advisors to the mayor-elect" for the same reason they supported his election: "Because they share the same values and vision about how to serve the working people of our region."

Gainey's statement also indicates that there will be no immediate housecleaning in the ranks of city government. "The Gainey Administration will not be asking all city employees in politically appointed positions to resign as has sometimes been the practice in the past," it said.

Instead, it said it has "sent a letter...advising those who are interested in remaining with the City to contact the transition team."

Such letters have been sent to fewer than 100 city employees in managerial-level posts, who aren't protected by civil service laws or union contracts. Those employees will be given the opportunity to hold onto their jobs when and if the administration decides to post them.

Today's announcement does not address the future of current mayoral appointees to city Boards, Authorities, and Commissions. While such appointees often serve fixed terms, it is not unusual for an incoming administration to request resignations from them, so a new mayor can put his or her stamp on civic agencies and shape their direction. (Peduto himself took that step in 2014.) Pawlak said decisions about such appointees would be forthcoming: "Our focus right now is on the city workforce first and foremost," he said.

* This story was updated at 3:12 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2021 to provide additional detail about the transition team's offer to city workers, and other responses from the administration.

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.