Coming up on an off-year election, with no contested municipal elections, Ed Gainey has his work cut out for him, but he is unfazed.
“Yes there are obstacles, but we have two important races with two strong candidates,” he said. “My job is to get out the vote. Joe Sestak has name recognition after his win over Arlen Specter and Dan (Onorato) has a successful story to tell. So, to me, it’s actually an advantage to be able to concentrate on the two races that will have the biggest impact.”
Getting the Democratic vote for the Senate and gubernatorial races is Gainey’s job because on June 29, he was elected to head Pittsburgh’s Democratic Committee.
Neither African-American Pittsburgh Councilmen Jake Milliones nor Chris Smith, nor powerful Democratic Ward chairs “Bubby” Hairston or “Doc” Fielder were ever elected to chair the city’s Democratic committee. Gainey is the first, but not the first African-American to hold the post.
Prior to resigning after her loss to state Rep. Jake Wheatley, former city councilwoman city Tonya Payne was appointed to fill the post when Barbara Ernsberger stepped down to run for Commonwealth Court. Gainey, then vice chair, was named acting chairman. As such, he is not new to the position’s requirements.
“In December we had an event for all the committee members to meet the candidates for the Senate and for the governor’s office and it was very well attended,” he said. “That’s my second priority, building party unity. I hope to work more closely with the (Allegheny) County committee than in the past.”
Gainey said the only way to increase turnout in the city, and in its Black communities, is the old-fashioned way—knocking on doors and telling residents the benefits of supporting the party slate and making sure people get to the polls. Knocking on doors isn’t alien to the 40-year-old Gainey either.
Born in the Hill District and raised in Lincoln-Lemington, Gainey has been politically active for more than 20 years. Upon graduating from Morgan State University, he returned to Pittsburgh and took a position with East Liberty Development Inc. with an eye toward revitalizing his and the surrounding East End neighborhoods.
He continued that work as an aide to state Rep. Joe Preston Jr., D- East Liberty. Gainey then took a job with former Mayor Tom Murphy’s administration. He left briefly to run for Preston’s seat, but returned to city government when Luke Ravenstahl became mayor.
Asked if having an African-American Democratic chair would increase Black political involvement, Gainey said only if he does his job.
“As an African-American in this post, to make a difference, I have realize my priorities; bring unity to the party, assist the candidates and get voters to the polls,” he said. “If I don’t do that, it doesn’t make any difference. I have to do the work. I want to get more younger people involved in the party because they’re the ones out there knocking on doors now.”
Fifth Ward Democratic Chair Marlene Russell said she expects great things from Gainey.
“He’s a tremendous person. He’s young, has a lot of energy and a lot of good ideas,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that he’s the first African-American elected city chair. It says a lot about the party that it’s not about race or gender, it’s about the best person for the job.”
Third Ward Chair Fred Wilburn agrees.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “He’s young, he’s strong and he’s intelligent. He’s going to be good for the party. ‘
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