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Politics & Government

Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Ed Gainey announces transition team goals, members

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Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Longtime Gwen's Girls executive director Kathi Elliott is among those chosen for Mayor-elect Ed Gainey's transition team.

Mayor-elect Ed Gainey unveiled the goals and personnel for his administration's transition team on Monday afternoon. And while the long-expected move may have seemed upstaged by Gainey's disclosure that he had tested positive for COVID, the team's work could shape city government for years to come.

Transition co-chair Silas Russell told reporters during an online press conference that the team would look at "issues like affordable housing, educational opportunities and worker voice, transportation and public safety reforms. ... We're undertaking this work through an equity and empowerment lens."

The roster of team members is itself a sign of a commitment to "centering voices and communities that have generally been left out of conversations like this one," he added.

Gainey ran on a platform of community — with a heavy focus on unity — and team members included a wide array of activists, nonprofit leaders, and union leaders. They'll be divided into four committees: Equitable development, infrastructure and environment, education and workforce development, and community health and safety. Women of color — a long-neglected constituency in the city — play key roles in almost all.

The infrastructure committee, for example, will be co-chaired by Jamil Bey, the cofounder of progressive policy think tank the UrbanKind Institute, and Christine Mondor, who chairs the city's Planning Commission. Other members include bicycling advocate Scott Bricker and public-transit advocate Laura Chu Wiens.

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Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Christine Mondor, pictured in 2020.

The health and safety committee will focus both on community well-being and police policy. Co-chair Kathi Elliott heads Gwen's Girls, an organization dedicated to Black female empowerment formed by her late mother, a former city police commander. Her counterpart is Wasi Mohamed, a Pittsburgh Foundation program officer whose civil-rights work includes a stint heading the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. Other members include law professor David Harris, whose work has focused on police-community relationships, and racial-justice advocate Miracle Jones.

The workforce development and education committee pairs the region's top labor official, Darrin Kelly, with former city school-board member and longtime educator Regina Holley. Their committee will include Moira Kaleida, another former school-board member who worked as a City Council aide, and University of Pittsburgh associate professor Jeff Shook, who has studied wage conditions for local workers and the juvenile justice system.

The equitable development committee is headed by affordable-housing expert Bob Damewood and Monica Ruiz, the longtime leader of Latino community advocacy group Casa San José. Their committee includes hip-hop activist Jasiri X and Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, the executive director of activist group Pittsburgh United.

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Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Jasiri X speaks during a social justice demonstration in downtown Pittsburgh in 2020.

Together, the committees will bring forth recommendations for issues like affordable housing, public safety, transportation and educational opportunities. Each group will meet every other week starting in January and release their recommendations by mid-April.

Elliott told reporters that while she had a "love-hate relationship" with Pittsburgh — a city notoriously difficult for Black women — she looked forward to working with Gainey to address the inequities highlighted in the city’s 2018 Gender Equity Commission Report.

“It’s so important to emphasize that those data points are the everyday lived experiences of me, girls that look like me, our families and our communities,” Elliott said. “It is an opportunity for all of us to come together to create and demonstrate the collective impact which will lead to the change that mayor-elect Gainey has envisioned for years.”

Ruiz said she wants Pittsburgh to be a welcoming city for new residents.

“Our population is steadily declining and the only population growing is the immigrant population,” Ruiz said. “So if we don’t get in front of some of these things now and have equitable development for everyone, then we’re not doing justice to our communities.”

Gainey will have decisions to make well before the transition committees release their recommendations, as he chooses leadership for critical city functions like policing. Gainey ran his campaign with a heavy emphasis on police reform, and said Monday that he will have conversations with public safety officials on concerns that, for example, Black neighborhoods are overpoliced. But he said it was too soon to discuss hiring decisions.

"In regards to personnel, I have not had that conversation and I will not have it publicly right now, we have not made any decisions on personnel at all," he said.

Gainey will be sworn in on Jan. 3. It is unclear what effect his COVID diagnosis may have on those preparations. Angel Gober, who chairs the transition team, said it has not made a decision on how to handle the inauguration but will make one in a few days.

Chris Potter contributed to this story.