By unseating incumbent Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto Tuesday night, Ed Gainey made history by likely becoming the city’s first Black mayor.
In fact, Peduto even mentioned it in his concession speech, “I pledge to do my work in order to help to elect the first Black mayor in Pittsburgh, and I’m asking you to do the same.”
For Gainey though it seems, the title of “First Black Mayor” isn’t as important as what he plans to do with the job.
“Thank you for your support. I appreciate your prayers, inspiration, and motivation during this Mayoral Campaign,” Gainey tweeted Tuesday night. “Without you this victory could not have been possible. It is because of you we made history and have an opportunity to build a city for all.”
Thank you for your support. I appreciate your prayers, inspiration, and motivation during this Mayoral Campaign. Without you this victory could not have been possible. It is because of you we made history and have an opportunity to build a city for all. Gainey Elect For Mayor. pic.twitter.com/cnjWiuXcwO
— Ed Gainey (@gainey_ed) May 19, 2021
But becoming Pittsburgh’s first Black Mayor-elect isn’t the only way that Gainey made history Tuesday night.
Gainey became the first person to unseat an incumbent Pittsburgh Mayor since William McNair beat John S. Herron by 27,000 votes in 1933. This is significant because that election wrested control of the Mayor’s office from Republicans who held the seat for 28 years. McNair spent less than one term in office, resigning in 1936.
From that point to Tuesday, May 18, the city’s mayors have served as long as they wanted to. But when you look back at the history of these men in office, many of them should have been replaced a lot sooner and some did damage that Mayor’s for decades had to live with.
David Lawrence is often considered one of the city’s greatest mayors for his Pittsburgh Renaissance project. Among other positives, he was instrumental in cleaning up Pittsburgh’s smokey skyline and received praise for his attempts at Urban Renewal. The fact is, Lawrence was responsible for the destruction of the Hill District. In 1956, the city demolished nearly 1,300 buildings in the Hill District, to make way for the now demolished Civic Arena.
In the two terms that Pete Flaherty served as mayor he was accused of being an “expert racist” by many in the Black community for his stance against busing desegregation. In later years, the same cycle continued. The mayor was the mayor until he decided differently.
But on Tuesday night Ed Gainey beat Bill Peduto decisively with 46 percent of the votes to Peduto’s 39 percent. When Peduto was elected eight years ago he looked like the person who would work toward that meaningful change. His hiring of Police Chief Cameron McLay was a truly positive step in September 2014. He was a reformer so much so that he was despised by the Pittsburgh FOP and pushed out in November 2016. An internal hire was made and things have gone back to the way they were before.
The city’s voters are ready for real, lasting change and they believe Ed Gainey when he says he can give it to them.
Y’all heard him right?! To the FIRST BLACK MAYOR ELECT of PGH, we believe in you. Ed Gainey, Here’s to more equitable, just, fulfilling, historic, peaceful, abundant, revolutionary LIFE. Congratulations Pittsburgh, especially my people, we f’n did it! pic.twitter.com/YvJv8dEOGp
— You feel a way? Oh, wow. (@la_honeybadger) May 19, 2021
Gainey inherits a city on fairly stable financial footing but is extremely unstable in the areas of social and economic justice. There are severe gaps in services in loer income neighborhoods. It’s also the worst place you can live if you are a Black woman.The past year has seen police consistently use force on Black Lives Matter Protesters. They have been teargassed, shot with “less-than-lethal” projectiles, targeted for arrest and even abducted off the streets for executing their rights to protest. One protester lost an eye to a rubber bullet in the face and was then charged with felony riot and several other misdemeanors.
Systemic racism and police violence aren’t new things in Pittsburgh. But finally, after Tuesday’s election, placing someone in office who will actually fix these issues is.