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Ed Gainey inaugurated as 61st mayor — and first Black mayor — of Pittsburgh

Mayor Ed Gainey speaking at his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 2, 2022.
Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
Mayor Ed Gainey speaking at his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 2, 2022.

Amid gospel hymns, drumming performances and prayers, Ed Gainey was sworn in as Pittsburgh’s 61st mayor, and its first Black mayor, on Monday afternoon.

“I love this city. Without this city I would not be who I am today,” Gainey said after being sworn in shortly before 2 p.m. “We will work to make Pittsburgh the Pittsburgh you voted for.”

That, he said, would be “a city where affordability isn’t a luxury,” and one that leads in areas such as police-community relations, just as it has in areas such as medical and computer research.

“We will be bold,” Gainey said in an impassioned inaugural speech. “We will aim high, and we will work tirelessly until we get there. My administration will be progressive, principled and always on the side of the people.”

And he urged that people be involved in that effort going forward: “I can’t do it alone … and I’m asking you to join me on this journey.

“We cannot forget that our real power is not necessarily to change the world,” he said. “It’s to make a world of change in the people that we encounter every single day.”

The hour-long event was attended by the city’s three living former mayors — Bill Peduto, Luke Ravenstahl and Tom Murphy. Of the four, Gainey’s rise to the post may be the most surprising. As Michael Smith, pastor of Destiny International Ministries, recalled, Gainey reached the office after a childhood in public housing, a college career at Baltimore’s Morgan State University that he nearly gave up on, and a pair of earlier defeats running for state legislature.

Ed Gainey, Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, was sworn in Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Gainey credited a number of influences for his rise to the city’s top post: his father, his late stepfather and his mother, Darlene Gainey-Craig.

“I watched her make a way out of no way,” said Gainey of her struggles while raising him and his sister in public housing.

Hopes were clearly high for his administration and his ability to resolve tensions — racial, political and economic — with which the city has wrestled for decades.

School board member Devon Taliaferro, speaking at the event, said she hoped “our district can build a bridge toward a stronger partnership with the city of Pittsburgh.” Relations between the two entities have been strained for years, though the school board issued a proclamation honoring Gainey, a graduate of the former Peabody High School.

Even Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, who administered the oath of office, seemed stunned by an election which brought not just Gainey to the mayor’s office but elected four Black judges to the county bench.

“I did not think that I would experience this,” she said. “I’m so overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening here … the hope that it is bringing for many people who look like me.”

Gainey said, “I didn’t decide to run for mayor to make history. I decided to run for mayor to make change.” But he acknowledged the significance of the city electing its first Black mayor.

“My victory represents another step forward in advancing the vision of our country that all people have access to opportunity,” he said. “Our city is at its best when every resident has a seat at the table. ... And we are at our best when we all rise together.”

Gainey's address, which recalled the passion of many of his campaign speeches, ended with him imploring the city, "Let's go get it!", which has emerged as a personal motto — one that was picked up by the audience.

Shortly after, Gainey spoke with reporters down the hall in the mayor's conference room. He was asked about changes to policing — a crucial issue during his campaign — but offered little in the way of specifics. He confirmed that he would soon announce a replacement for Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, and said police Chief Scott Schubert would remain in his post for the time being.

Notably, Gainey said he didn't see a need to change staffing of the city's police: Some activists have sought to reduce funding and the bureau's force size, and Gainey himself has said that some neighborhoods have been overpoliced. Gainey also declined to comment on the city's efforts to discipline officers and change policies involved in the death of a man Tased last fall by police. He said he had not been briefed on the situation.

Gainey said he would announce members of his leadership team soon: They are widely expected to include transition team director Jake Pawlak and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, though it is not clear exactly what roles they will play.

‘What’s going to make us stronger is working together’

Even as change comes to the mayor’s office, City Council sent a message of continuity Monday — while pledging to work closely with the new administration.

Four councilors who won re-election last year against little to no opposition were sworn in for new four-year terms during a special session Monday morning: Theresa Kail-Smith in District 2, Anthony Coghill in District 4, Daniel Lavelle in District 6 and Erika Strassburger in District 8.

Council also renewed Kail-Smith’s tenure as council president, and she, in turn, reappointed councilors to the same committees they had chaired previously. Lavelle will retain chairmanship of the coveted Law and Finance committee, while Corey O’Connor will retain his post on the committee that handles public safety.

Gainey’s ascension to the mayor’s office appeared to have little impact on committee posts. Deb Gross, the lone councilor to endorse him during the Democratic primary, retained the helm of council’s intergovernmental affairs committee; Ricky Burgess, whose relations with Gainey have been cool at best in the past, returns to chair the urban recreation committee and hold down the president pro tem position.

Kail-Smith described that consistency as a strength for council going forward.

“We are probably the most senior council we have had in recent memory,” she said. “We get along well. … All those things make us a strong council. But I think what’s going to make us stronger is working together with our new mayor for the betterment of the city.”

After his own swearing-in, Lavelle similarly extended a hand to Gainey, while still asserting council’s role as a policy driver.

“The issues that you’ve articulated about inclusivity and equity, diversity, reimagining policing, the services that you really want to bring to this city, I believe we have done the hard work of [planting] that seed,” he said. “And now through your administration, we have an opportunity to collectively see it grow.”

Gainey’s relationship with council will be a key dynamic as his administration gets underway: In the latter part of 2021, the body has proceeded with initiatives in areas ranging from police reform to allocating federal COVID-19 relief money, despite requests from some quarters that it hold off on changes until the new administration was in place. Pittsburgh’s municipal government is structured as a “strong mayor” system in which the executive drives policy, but on Day One of the Gainey era, at least, council members seemed to have a more equal partnership in mind.

Still, the mood was friendly, with Coghill noting that when he had first been elected four years ago, he had doubts about how well he could work with the Peduto administration. But “over the past four years, I think we’ve achieved many good things,” he said, and now, “I’m looking forward to this guy, Mr. Ed Gainey.”

Noting that he and Gainey were both graduates of Pittsburgh high schools, he said, “We’ve got a Peabody guy with a Brashear guy here working together, and I’m excited about it.”

In his own brief remarks, meanwhile, Gainey noted that he’d been able to tour each councilor’s districts with them.

“I see the way that your district relies on you,” he said. And he struck an optimistic note about the challenges ahead.

“The beauty of all this is that we have issues and problems,” he said. “If we didn’t have disparity we wouldn’t have opportunity. And the fact that we have opportunity to build the best out of each one of your districts, that speaks about a relationship of building bridges throughout this region that doesn’t help a district but helps the overall city of Pittsburgh. … I look forward to bringing prosperity that involves all of us.”

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.