Taking the reins, new Pgh Mayor Ed Gainey addresses questions of police-community relations

Pittsburgh’s first Black chief executive promised ‘a city where affordability isn’t a luxury, and a city that is prepared to lead into the future’

By: - January 4, 2022 8:52 am

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey during his swearing-in ceremony on 1/3/21 (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).

By Jordana Rosenfeld

PITTSBURGH — Ed Gainey, a former Democratic state representative, was sworn in Monday as the 61st mayor of Pittsburgh, making history as the city’s first Black mayor, and the first mayor to beat an incumbent in the last 90 years.

Due to concerns about rising COVID cases in Allegheny County, Gainey’s transition team made a last-minute decision to pivot the inauguration ceremony to a mostly-virtual event held in Pittsburgh’s City Council chambers and streamed live on social media instead of a large public gathering at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, as originally planned.

“I love this city,” he said in his inaugural address, moments after his official swearing-in. “Without this city, I would not be who I am today.” He called his inauguration both a celebration and “an appreciation of our city and [its residents].”

Gainey served Pittsburghers as state representative for the 24th Pennsylvania House District from 2013 to 2021 and became a well-known progressive ally on such issues as criminal justice reformmarijuana policy, labor, public transit, and the Black Lives Matter movement. He and his wife Michelle (Coburn) Gainey have three children and live in the city’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood.

Speakers, including the new mayor himself, emphasized his Pittsburgh roots. Gainey grew up in East Liberty and graduated from Peabody High School, which is now called Obama Academy.

The program, hosted by journalist Natalie Bencivenga, was largely recorded in advance and featured a drum and dance performance by Sankofa Village of the Arts; a rendition of the national anthem by Erica Perri; performances by The Mount Ararat Choir, Vanessa German, and Pittsburgh CAPA student Francesca Rose; and remarks by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Devon Taliaferro, who proclaimed Jan. 3, 2022 “Mayor Ed Gainey Day” in the school district.

In his inaugural address, Gainey reiterated his commitment not to change the world, but “to make a world of change to the people we encounter every single day,” and spoke about and to the people who have supported his growth, including his wife and their three children, his father, his mother Darlene Gainey-Craig, and his late step-father. Gainey’s living family members attended the ceremony.

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Gainey also promised to work to make “a city where affordability isn’t a luxury, and a city that is prepared to lead into the future,” with leadership that is “a direct reflection of the people we serve.” Gainey said that although Pittsburgh already leads economically in health care, technology, and higher education, his administration will “ensure that Pittsburgh is also a leader in community and police relations, economic inclusion, affordability,” and “transportation access.”

Speaking with reporters after the ceremony, Gainey struck a measured and optimistic tone, fielding several questions about how his administration plans to address police-community relations.

When asked if he supports the city’s plan, as reported by WPXI-TV, to terminate six of the Pittsburgh police officers involved in the tasing of Jim Rogers, the mayor declined to comment until he has been fully briefed on the issue.

Gainey also stated that he does not think the number of police officers employed by the city should be reduced and that he plans to announce his pick for Public Safety Director shortly. The previous director, Wendell Hissrich, was not retained in the mayoral transition from Bill Peduto’s administration. Gainey also briefly addressed the story of the Pittsburgh Police officer who used his work email to sign up for the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist organization, saying “We don’t need that in our law enforcement, period.”

He said he would be announcing several initiatives in the coming weeks and months, including working with Pittsburgh City Councilor Deb Gross (D-Highland Park) on a possible inclusionary zoning policy, which is a rule that requires new, large development to include percentages of permanently affordable housing.

Jordan Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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