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An interview with Ed Gainey, first African-American mayor of Pittsburgh


By Tara Yilmaz

February is Black History Month and what better way to kick off the celebration than to speak with Pittsburgh’s first African American mayor, Ed Gainey.

→ Did you know since 1816, the City of Pittsburgh has never before elected a Black mayor? Sophie Masloff, the only woman mayor and first Jewish mayor of Pittsburgh, served from 1988 to 1994. As the 57th mayor and first Black mayor of Pittsburgh, Gainey’s election made history.

“It feels great to be the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh, but I want to be known for more than just being a Black mayor,” said Mayor Ed Gainey, who spoke with the Gazette 2.0 on January 24th, 2022 during a virtual call Jan. 24.

While this is Gainey’s first mayoral term, this is not his first-time holding office. In 2012, he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives of the 24th legislative district, and from there he climbed the political ladder.

→ Did you know Gainey never imagined that he could become mayor? While growing up in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, the idea of having a Black mayor, let alone having a Black U.S. president, seemed like an unrealistic expectation.

Raised by a single teenage mother with the help of his grandmother, Gainey gained insights that would prove valuable for later connecting with the community.

→ Did you know Gainey never crossed paths with a politician until he attended college?

“Growing up, I never met a politician in the city,” said Gainey. “I’m from the Liberty Park High Rise and Low Rise in East Liberty. I couldn’t aspire to be a politician because I never met one or knew what to aspire to. We didn’t have politicians knock on our doors, or politicians coming to my school. There were no neighborhood meetings with political leaders. It wasn’t until I attended Morgan State University and came across Mayor Kurt Schmoke.”

Mayor Schmoke was the first African American mayor of the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Schmoke’s work to restore resources that were being reappropriated away from college students left a big impression on young Gainey.

“Schmoke was the first politician that I’d seen that wanted to help,” said Gainey, “And that got me interested in community development, which led me into politics.”

Gainey’s dedication to the community shapes his vision and policy while in office. He said “I want to make Pittsburgh more welcoming; I want to make it a city for all. That’s the vision. I’ve been here my whole life and I understand how neighborhoods are and what keeps us apart. I want to remove the invisible line and improve public works, police-community relations and affordable housing.”

→ Did you know in 2019 the Commission of Gender and Equity unearthed stark conclusions about the quality of life in Pittsburgh, particularly for Black women? (add conclusions of the commission here!)

Gainey’s administration is eager to address these findings.

“We want to put more Black women in powerful positions. Bring more on as we move forward. We want to highlight them and see Black women at the highest levels,” said Gainey.

Along with elevating Black women to prominent positions, Gainey plans to bring a different perspective to the office that his successors may have overlooked. Coming from a low-income community, Gainey says he understands the struggles of everyday people and believes in reaching his hand back to help bring somebody forward.

→ Did you know every year Gainey celebrates Black History Month? Many African Americans celebrate the month-long holiday in different ways, from watching historical movies, listening to modern-day Griots (storytellers), or attending small gatherings.

“I read weekly about an African American. One, that I respect, and two, one I don’t know about to further my development of the struggle we’ve overcome,” said Gainey.

Not only is he thankful for all the national and local leaders like Fredrick Douglass, Harvey Adams, and Alma Speed Fox, Gainey is thankful for the struggle of his ancestors, who opened doors for him and many others.

“The whole ancestral movement moves me,” explained Gainey. “From being considered 3/5 of a man, Jim Crow, school segregation, the 15th and 19th amendment, civil rights movement, to mass incarceration. Without their struggle, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Being humbled by the sacrifices that his ancestors endured for Black people to succeed is not only African American history but American history. Recognizing those who came before him and giving thanks for the opportunities they provided is the essence of celebrating Black History Month.


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