2021 Mayoral candidates on Pittsburgh insurance policies: Ed Gainey | Information | Pittsburgh

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CP photo: Jared Wickerham

Pa. State Rep. Ed Gainey poses for a portrait in his East Liberty office in December 2020.

Like most political races, the 2021 Pittsburgh mayoral contest has been filled with attacks, broad goals, and debates, as it should. But what gets lost sometimes, is a focus on what a mayor of Pittsburgh can actually accomplish. Every politician loves to comment on national stories, but in reality, there are many limitations to being a mayor of a second class city in Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh City Paper has conducted policy interviews with all four of the Pittsburgh mayoral candidates who will appear on the Democratic Primary ballot with these factors in mind. All interviews were conducted before publishing, as to ensure fairness, and all discussed topics are the same. Links have been added in places to provide more detail on certain topics.

This is in hopes of discussing each candidate’s goals and specific plans concerning the city’s ability to tackling climate change and environmental issues, transit and land-use, and police reform. City Paper chose these topics because they are areas where a Pittsburgh mayor can make both immediate and long lasting change.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was interviewed first, and next up is state Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Lincoln-Lemington), who has served since 2013 and before that, worked in Pittsburgh city government. Gainey announced his candidacy for mayor this January and had focused on his progressive voting record, and his support of several local grassroots advocacy groups. If elected, he would be the first Black mayor in Pittsburgh’s history. This interview was conducted on March 29 and has been edited for clarity and length.

CITY PAPER: For my first question, it’s about climate change and it’s about the environment. Basically, there are a lot of really big plans to tackle this issue, but those plans require a lot of federal investment or outside coordination or things that maybe a mayor can support and lobby for, but might not be able to do in the immediate. What would a Gainey administration do in the immediate to tackle climate change and clean up the environment on a municipal level, and what can Pittsburghers expect to see if you were elected?

ED GAINEY: You’re right. 1000%. That does require collaboration and being able to work across multiple government lines. But I think there’s some things that we can get done right here. The lead ordinance is one because we understand the impact of lead, particularly in communities where we’ve had a whole lot of demolition. And a lot of particles are being put into the soil. And we know that that causes a lot of issues and we know that a lot of what we are dealing with [environmentally] is lead, and even lead from chipped paint. So the one thing that we can do is, we can pass a lead ordinance to let people know how we’re going to do the construction. And how we’re going to do demolition and what we’re going to do that’s gonna be different that doesn’t require going across government lines, that’s something that we could do right here. So that’s number one.

Number two was that I think that we have to really talk about alleviating a lot of attention on what’s gonna happen with PWSA [Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority]. I know there’s a lot of conversation around that. And my stand is that we’ve seen what happens when you sell utilities off to private markets. We witnessed what happened in Texas, how the rates went up higher than normal. I pledge to not privatize PWSA.

That’s my word. I do understand that it’s easy for someone to say, “Well, I’m not going to, I don’t want to do it,” but when you bring in different people that’s going to investigate how you are going to [privatize], that sends two different messages. So for me, I want to make sure that people understand that PWSA is a priority.

And then thirdly, I think that you have to have an environmental table where you’re taking suggestions. You don’t want to be the one that says I have all the answers. I think it’s good the things I just spoke about, what we can get done in the immediate. But the third one is being able to just sit down and talk with some of the environmentalists and figuring out what is the low-hanging fruit that we can get done.

The reason why I believe the environment is important is because I believe that we can create an environmentally friendly Pittsburgh, then we become more welcoming to people that want to be here. There’s no question that I think that we haven’t worked towards that. We talk about climate change. We talk in regards to [the Paris Agreement]. We talk in terms of support. I mean, it’s easy to write a letter of support, but when you think about what’s actually been done, that changes things, you know? A No Lead ordinance would have been better, that would have been powerful, right? That would have showed that we were moving in the right direction. Making sure that we support PWSA would have been moving in the right direction. The lead lines [replacement], all that’s being done because it was mandatory. I think number one is just working together across lines with environmentalists to see what we can get done in the first 100 days.

CP: You have any idea what that might be?

GAINEY: I want to talk to them. But the [policy] that I would really be focused on is the lead ordinance. That’s number one. But I think there’s people that have more wisdom than me because they do this every day. It’s like our ministry. And it would be unwise for me not to have a conversation with them, to be able to discuss the things that we can get done in the first 100 days to show that we’re moving towards that.

And there’s some other things that, again, like you said, take cooperation. Whether we’re talking about clean air, clean water, we know that that takes collaboration across the board. And those are long range [conversations] that we have to have; they’re going to be necessary. If you don’t begin to have these conversations, then we don’t grow.

So, for me, it’s about, how do we move from a long range point, and how do we have these conversations? And how do we work together to put together new policies that are going to make sense that we can all agree on? But the low-hanging fruit — no lead ordinance, showing people that we will not sell off public assets, and three, being able to work with environmental groups to see what other low-hanging fruits out there that we can get. Because the third thing is important for me because it brings people together.

And I think the more that we bring people together, the more we get accomplished. And that’s something that we haven’t done. We haven’t brought people together in a meaningful way that can be measured. You know, like I know, everyone is good for task forces and commissions. You know, I mean, let’s be honest. But if you don’t have a vision or mission objective, then it can’t be measured. And if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t mean anything. I think whatever we come up with has to be measured.

CP: So that kind of leads into my next line of questioning. Public transportation policies. Mayors in a big city like Pittsburgh have a lot of sway in shaping transit policies on a municipal level, whether that’s providing certain services that can help people increase mobility or capital investments that might make it better to use public transit or to lower traffic deaths or to decrease congestion. What efforts, either capital projects to road designs, can Pittsburghers expect from your administration if you were to be elected and why would those be important on a transit policy level?

GAINEY: Dealing with public transit means being able to partner with your county executive because we know that the county exec runs Allegheny County, quote unquote. But I think one of the things that you said that was important, that I know that I will be an advocate for, is how we get people to jobs. And how do we create transportation infrastructure that takes people from where they are living right now to where the job centers are because you can’t build no equity in this, in a city unless you have great transportation.

That gives us an opportunity to get people from home to the job. That’s important. That’s very important. We can’t have people isolated on an island where they can’t get to the job center. And you know, like I know, that if you’re an urban expert, there are a lot of job centers outside of Pittsburgh, that are really growing, and we see that every day. And we have to work with the county exec to see how we get that done.

I wouldn’t have a direct authority to be able to say, “This is what we gonna do.” So I want to be careful on making that promise because that will be out of my jurisdiction. But my advocacy for, “How do we get people to the job site?”, that’s important. Because that goes beyond transportation, right? That goes into workforce development and programs that don’t give you an award or give you a reward. Part of what we do is we put a lot of people to workforce development programs, with the understanding that they can’t get to them. Whether that’s a license issue or whether the transportation doesn’t provide for them to be able to get there.

So we give them a nice shiny award, but come Monday morning, they are still sitting on the couch. There has to be infrastructure to where we remove them from workforce development programs to actually rewarding them, not just awarding them, but rewarding them by putting them on the job. And that’s going to require having a transportation system that takes people from urban areas to that outside corridor where the job market is growing. That’s important. We will advocate for that. Again, we don’t have a final word on that because it’s outside our jurisdiction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversation about how to build that equity, so that everybody has a chance to [participate] in this new economy.

CP: Is there any small capital improvements or lobbying that can be done to help people reach those job centers outside the city? I know Robinson is a big area where there’s a lot of service jobs, and I know a lot of people who live in certain parts of the city, or even outside the city, struggle to get access there. It can take three buses. What can you do as a mayor to specifically help people in the next couple years?

GAINEY: You have to advocate. I think you said it better in your first question. What can be done to, what can we do to create a better public transit system? And that’s when we begin to advocate because we want to demonstrate that we’re growing jobs in providing people with opportunity to go work. And what does that look like? And how do we have a better connected system that gets us again from an urban corridor out to Robinson? That’s a great example. We know that doesn’t exist right now. We know that. So we have to be advocates for it.

We have already identified where the job market is and where it’s growing. You brought on one right now, Robinson. So let’s just use that for an example. We know that we have an urban corridor that is below the poverty line. And that we’re trying to connect them to the best way to get service jobs, which is an ability to get your foot into the door of a company, and customer service is extremely important. Then we have to have transportation that can deliver us there. So to advocate for that transportation is great. If we are talking about capital improvement, again that’s a conversation we would have to have with the county exec because we would have to be on the same team.

For one, the capital improvements for us would be roads and infrastructure. And what needs to be done that I wouldn’t know until I had that conversation with the county executive in regards to how we can drive people from urban settings into commercial centers. So the best thing that we could do together — it can’t just be the mayor, got to be everybody — is talking about how we connect urban areas to the jobs in the commercial centers that are hiring. And that’s an advocacy that you and I know that I’m gonna do. I do it now, and I’m gonna continue to do that.

CP: Are there any municipal capital improvements that you think have been lacking that you think would improve these issues within the city? Is there anything that we need to be doing now?

GAINEY: Yes, but is the funding there? No. How do we make the funding available? Needs to be talked about to be honest about that. But, at some level, we have to have a transportation system that can connect. On some level, we got to talk about high speed. On some level, we have to talk about what the future transportation looks like. I mean, when you think about some of the studies that have been talked about now, you’re moving from just not just how to connect the City of Pittsburgh to Allegheny County, but how do we create high speed [transit] to Harrisburg and Philadelphia?

And so that takes a whole different level of coordination and collaboration here in the city. How do we do a better job from that standpoint of building different connectors? As you said earlier, we’re not using two or three buses to a high-speed transportation system where it’s letting us off where we may only have to get one more bus like they have in other cities.

I think one of the greatest ones is [the light rail] going from Downtown to CCAC [Allegheny Campus]. I think that’s one of the best ones that we have because we know that does a lot. So it’s those types of connectors that I’m talking about, from an infrastructure standpoint, that gets people to either education or gets people to jobs. As a mayor, I’d have to work with the county executive and ask, “What does this infrastructure look like?” So it’s hard to talk about it without a conversation to truly understand the transportation plan. But if you’re asking me what we’re lacking, if we just had an ideal situation, get to high speed and get us to where we need to go.

CP: I want to talk about criminal justice reform and police reform. This is a big topic especially last year with all the protests and the movements. I know you were part of those out there in the streets with those people as well. The one thing I want to focus on is as a mayor of the city, you would have to balance all of these things to try to create reform. The balance between negotiations with the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] to the balancing calls from certain residents or businesses that maybe want more policing because of violence or perceived violence, and then you also have to ensure accountability among officers who are participating in misconduct and being violent towards other other residents. How do you balance all those things, what’s the best way to balance those to move towards reform?

GAINEY: That’s a great question. So let’s start with the injustice of accountability that we see right now. You know, you can’t build trust, unless you’re willing to discipline officers that have dishonored the badge. Case in point is this whole Facebook private group that was convened by local police officers to talk about how the deplorable Black Lives Matters movement was and LGBTQIA movement was, and how they barred Black cops that tried to speak up in defense of [those movements]. And how for one Black woman that is a police officer who marched with them shouldn’t be backed up. Those officers, in order to begin to gain trust, they have to be investigated.

And those officers that [participated], they have to be disciplined or released. Because you’re not going to get to B and C of reform if people don’t see that you’re serious about policing community reform. The amount of protesters gas sprayed in the park last year, a lot of that could have been avoided. Really, that never took place, but it could have been avoided by just having them sitting down weekly with protesters. It’s not like we didn’t need the protesters, of course we needed to protesters.

You know, like I know, that nothing in the world, not only America, but the world, hasn’t changed without protesters being able to bring a great deal of advocacy to something that needs to change. And so when you get an opportunity to be accountable to the public, and making sure that the officers are honoring and not dishonoring the badge, you have to do that.

And we haven’t done it. That’s one of the promises [the Peduto] administration ran on was, “We’re going to reform police community relations,” and it just hasn’t happened. There’s no strategy at all. And so no one’s gonna believe in something they can’t see. They’re not gonna believe in it.

The second part of it is what about, you know, people that believe that we need more police officers. I believe we have enough police officers, and I just believe we’re overpolicing in certain neighborhoods. I think the report that came out one or two weeks ago in regards to the amount of Black people that’s being arrested, compared to their white counterparts, I think it speaks volumes of the amount of overpolicing that we’re doing in our neighborhoods. So, you know, it’s not that we don’t have enough cops, it’s just that we’re overpolicing in neighborhoods, and the numbers don’t last because the arrest rates are right there. That has to stop. That’s not gaining trust. Again, that’s not gaining trust. That’s the second thing.

The third thing that we talked about is this is not 1920, this is not 1930. We have an increase in mental health issues in this region and in America. If we’re going to talk about de-escalation, then there has to be a strategy for social workers to come aboard and be able to work where they are needed and to be able to de-escalate some of these situations because they’re trained to deal with mental health issues.

I don’t see nothing wrong with that, I see that as a bonus and a plus. And those are the things that we begin to talk about how we build trust and reform police community relations. But let me be clear. You can’t do this unless you’re steadfast about discipline and disciplining police officers that dishonor the badge.

A couple months ago, we had an officer. They said it was his private-public Facebook page. He posted a photo with two Black girls pointing guns at each other. He wasn’t disciplined, he wasn’t fired. And we hide behind arbitration. So what we say is that, “even if we fire [officers like that], they are going to take us to arbitration and arbitration hasn’t changed at the state level. So we can’t do anything about it, and so we’re not going to do anything.”

That’s gotta change. You’ll still fire them. Because if the FOP wants to fight for them to get their job back, then that’s called public relations and now we’re moving from more from arbitration to public relations. And you know this because you’re a journalist, you know in public relations, you define yourself on how you want to be. So if you want to be seen as an entity that is taking up for racist officer, then that’s going to be the way you define yourself. And, at the end of the day, you’re going to continue to lose trust because you’re not policing the accountability of those that have dishonored the badge.

And so those are the issues that, before we get anywhere else, they have to be addressed. And right now, they have not been addressed and that’s scary. That’s scary that in a group chat, [officers] said that as an African American woman officer, she shouldn’t be backed up.

If they are saying that inside the department as a police officer, how do people see you outside?

CP: So in these instances of misconduct or alleged misconduct, putting the pressure onto the FOP to defend itself, you think will lead to some better accountability?

GAINEY: We don’t know. What we do know is that we don’t take no action, which has been happening, then silence has allowed for the abuse to continue. You know that they are going to make a claim, and we are going to make a claim, but you can’t run away from injustice. We can’t run away from institutional racism, but at the same time, you’ve got private officers in a group, making derogatory, racist comments. You can’t have it both ways. And I’m not trying to have it both ways.

I’ll be clear with them, they will be fine. I’m clear where I’m at. We can’t just keep talking about it. That’s what I always say. We talk about, like, “Oh, it’s such a shame,” and, “Can you believe this? It’s so alarming that this has happened.” As a mayor, you don’t have that right. That’s professor work. As a mayor, you have to execute. Doing things that have to be done to change this culture. And that’s one of the ways that you begin to change course.

CP: Through these reforms and these kind of actions, what do you think the best way is to communicate that with voters about how to reach those reforms? A lot of people are wanting them and demanding them, but how do you communicate with them that this is how you’re going to do it, and that these are the steps we’re going to take?

GAINEY: Well, I think you’ve done a wonderful job communicating it, like you said, a lot of people want it. And so we, they couldn’t get there without communication. The problem is, we haven’t executed. We haven’t followed up on anything, we haven’t demonstrated anything, we haven’t done anything to be measured. We haven’t diversified that police force. We haven’t done the things to show that we’re moving in that direction.

This is not a communication problem, it’s an execution problem. It’s the ability to be able to say, “Here’s where I stand, here’s why I’m standing,” and I think that’s been firmly communicated, but now you have to demonstrate it. And I think that opportunity has existed where we could have demonstrated it. We just talked about the Facebook post, we talked about the ability to not sit down with the protesters last year and have meaningful dialogue about how they feel, particularly in the midst of what’s going on federally.

It was a blown opportunity. We’ve had opportunities to be able to bring sides together. For whatever reason, I don’t know, we haven’t done it. But under my administration, we’re gonna be more executive. We’re going to be more on the execution side to say, “Listen, this just can’t be tolerated.”

Because as long as we tolerate it, it’s not gonna change. We always talk about things that we want to see change, but it’s eight years later, and we’re still having a conversation. We talk about tax breaks for more affordable housing, but 7,000 African Americans have been displaced. So who did you blow the tax breaks on? Who did you grow the tax base for? That’s not growth. That’s not all ships being lifted up.

That’s why with my administration, I talk about inclusionary zoning because it’s necessary. Police community relations? C’mon. [The Peduto administration] talked about that from day one. Nothing has happened. Matter of fact, it’s gotten worse. Why? Because there’s no execution. It doesn’t exist. Talking about lifting up Black women and the Black community. It hasn’t happened. Hasn’t happened at all, just another broken promise and more conversation. UPMC, [Peduto] said he was going to uplift the lawsuit, nothing happened. And that’s the difference between communicating and executing your vision and how you bring the city together.

CP: Because you brought up inclusionary zoning, that’s another thing I’ve been asking these candidates is about land use and about zoning reform. What would your administration try to get on the books to change those zoning rules, and what kind of different development would that lead to that you would want to see in the city?

GAINEY: What the [citywide] inclusionary zoning would do, is it would more affordable housing. More being able to say that we’re not forcing people out, but we allow people to stay in. That also builds communities because when you think about what has been done in the past, it has gentrified 7,000 African Americans. To reverse that, we have to find ways to bring them back in.

One of the ways is inclusionary zoning. Another way is through the land trust or the land bank. We haven’t moved, I mean we haven’t moved none of those properties. None of them. Where they are today, they’ve been. We haven’t had a strategy for that. That is one thing my administration will talk about. What is the strategy to get [land bank properties] back on the tax rolls? What are we holding them for? I mean, this was supposed to be a way that we spurred economic development in a way to where we grow the city. Well, that’s not what happened. And so from that point of view, we need to figure it out. For me to say exactly what we would do. No, I want to be able to sit down with people that know how to do this and know how to get these properties and how to get this land back on the tax rolls and what those developments look like. That’s the beauty of the opportunity that we have. But you have to be laser focused on doing it.

CP: Any strategies that might better attract people to really build up the land bank and getting those houses sold to entities that would keep them affordable and those kinds of things?

Gainey: My strategy on the housing policy is the ability to be able to work with some nonprofits out here to get these houses back on the tax roll. I think that’s good for education, workforce development, teaching kids how to rebuild the ones that can be saved. And talking about the vacant land, that’s a different conversation because we need to talk about the land use. As you said earlier with what the zoning looks like, does the zoning need to be changed? How do we do it appropriately?

I promise you this, I won’t come back to you, four years from now and tell you I haven’t done it, or it’s not been done. Eight years later, it’s still not been done, I will not do that. I don’t have a track record of doing it. But I do have a track record of being focused about what we need to do and how we get it done. So from a strategy point, those come out of people that want to generate the type of development that will get these properties back on tax rolls. And one of the things that I will be interested in, is how we work with local nonprofits to teach students how to build these homes.

Primary Election Day will be held on May 18, 2021. Citizens can register to vote at votespa.com. Registered voters can also request mail-in ballots on Pennsylvania’s voting website.

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