More than five decades after Cleveland became the first, followed by Cincinnati, Detroit and virtually every other major city in the Midwest and Northeast, Pittsburgh is finally poised to join their ranks and make history this fall by electing a Black mayor.
The all-but-certain victory of state Rep. Ed Gainey (D) comes as the once-battered former steel town, these days dubbed one of America’s most livable cities, looks hard at the racial inequities that have meant vastly different experiences and opportunities for its African American residents. Gainey’s campaign this spring reflected such soul-searching, especially in the wake of nationwide protests over police force in communities of color.
“I believe this city right now is thinking differently,” the 51-year-old native says. “For so long, there has been isolation. There has been institutional racism that has dominated the area in many ways, and I think what you are seeing is a new city emerging.”
Gainey is the first candidate to defeat a sitting mayor here in nearly 90 years. He received 46.1 percent of the vote in the May 18 Democratic primary to Bill Peduto’s 39.5 percent; given that only one political party has power locally, primaries serve as the de facto election.
During the campaign, the incumbent also had talked about the separation of “White Pittsburgh and Black Pittsburgh” and how he had “worked hard to change that, but we’re not there yet.”
The challenger, however, highlighted priorities that responded specifically to Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the 2020 murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. He would ban no-knock warrants, he pledged, strengthen the Citizen Police Review Board and redirect police funding for military-style gear to other public safety needs.
The ideas won out. “Gainey putting forth a plan to redirect funding away from military equipment for the police to better training is a small step in the right direction,” said Matt Frankwitt, a hospital administrative assistant and former Peduto voter. And Gainey’s proposal to deploy trained professionals on 911 calls involving mental health issues “is an even bigger step in the right direction.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Nick Keppler