State Rep. Ed Gainey launched a bid to challenge Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s re-election Tuesday night, issuing an emailed statement that said he was running “because I know that the working people of Pittsburgh need opportunities for good union jobs with a living wage and benefits, affordable housing, genuine public safety, and a city where we can all belong and contribute.”
The statement said Gainey, 50, plans an official kick-off event to be held Saturday afternoon, which will almost certainly mark the beginning of Peduto’s most serious challenge.
Gainey has a deep background in local government, having worked on community development for former Mayors Tom Murphy and Luke Ravenstahl prior to being elected to represent the 24th state House District – which is centered on largely Black East End neighborhoods – in 2012. He’s also been active in the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. If he were to win, he would be the the city's first Black mayor.
Gainey is a former Peduto ally, previously backed Peduto’s 2013 campaign and his re-election effort in 2017: Peduto’s 2013 general election victory party was held in Gainey’s district, in the Homewood Coliseum.
Gainey’s statement on Tuesday night did not mention Peduto by name, though it did say the city “deserves a mayor who will fight with all they’ve got to see the vision through. I’m ready for that fight, and as the next Mayor of the city of Pittsburgh, I’ll be a Mayor for all of us.”
Still, while the timing of Gainey’s announcement – one day before the Presidential inauguration – caught some off-guard, the news came as little surprise. Rumors that Gainey would run have been circulating since last fall. And he will likely find support from progressives who have been frustrated by the city’s slow pace of change on crucial issues like affordable housing and police reform.
“A lot of politicians talk the talk but don’t walk the walk,” said Bethany Hallam, an Allegheny County Councilor and progressive standard-bearer who is on Gainey’s campaign committee. “Since the first day I met Ed, he’s been the opposite: If he says he will be there, he’s there. And what people need more than anything is a mayor who will show up for them regardless of who they are.”
She cited policing as an example. Like cities across the country, Pittsburgh was the site of numerous protests demanding police reform this summer. And while most proceeded without incident, Peduto has been heavily criticized for the police use of crowd-control weaponry and mass arrests at some demonstrations.
“I think there was a unique opportunity for leaders to emerge in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests,” Hallam said. Citing Gainey's support of Democratic bills seeking reforms to use-of-force and other policies, she said, “Ed Gainey was outspoken against police violence and legislating for police reform in Harrisburg. There was a hole that Ed filled.”
Gainey will face a difficult challenge. No incumbent Pittsburgh mayor has lost a re-election bid in the post-World War II era, and Gainey’s fundraising prowess has been little tested in his own reelection bids. In 2020, he’d raised less than $35,000 by the end of November for his state House re-election bid, with some of his largest donations coming from unions that include locals for the Laborers, the Operating Engineers and Steamfitters.
But Gainey has a reputation as a skilled retail politician with a commanding presence on stage, and Hallam says he should have little trouble tapping into an energized network of Pittsburgh activists. “To me, there is one candidate in this race who is going to show up,” she said. “And it’s Ed Gainey.”
The primary will be held May 18.
Clarification: This story was updated at 2:33 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2021 to clarify that the unions identified as supporting Gainey did so for his 2020 state House re-election bid, not his mayoral campaign.