Preston, Gainey spar at Chamber debate

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While neither candidate running for the state house 24th District seat called the other a liar, both incumbent state Rep. Joseph Preston Jr., D-East Liberty, and his Democrat Party-endorsed challenger Ed Gainey came close, taking every opportunity to rebut each other’s responses during the April 12 African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania Candidates Forum.

PrestonGainey
JOSEPH PRESTON JR. and ED GAINEY

After welcoming everyone and thanking the candidates and sponsor Comcast, Chamber President and CEO Doris Carson Wil­liams quickly turned the podium over to moderator and New Pittsburgh Courier Editor and Publisher Rod Doss, who began by asking for opening statements.

Preston, said his 29 years of experience getting minority contracts and development funds for projects like the Homewood YMCA, and his senior committee positions make him best suited to do battle with the Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and the majority Republican Party in the house.

Gainey, a former aide to Preston, and Mayors Tom Murphy and Luke Ravenstahl, and a one time development specialist with East Liberty Development Inc. said the city’s East End has continued to decline during Preston’s term of office, and his energy and commitment would more than make up for Preston’s seniority.

Though questions ranged over a number of topics, the back-and-forth between the candidates more often than not returned to what has or has not been done in Pittsburgh’s East End—and who should take credit.

They both agreed that merging the Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh police bureaus is unworkable, and that Gov. Corbett should enact the recommendations of his commission to fund mass transit. And though they agreed that restoring education funding is critical, they differ on how it should be done.

But the argument always returned to Preston saying he had the experience connections and clout to serve the district and Gainey saying Preston was out of touch with the community and out of energy.

“What good is experience? The utilities shut off bill, the voter ID bill, the cuts to education—all those are things that should be communicated to the district,” said Gainey. “Thirty years and not one signature project.”

Preston noted that the Homewood YMCA, Ora Lee Carroll’s Larimer Plan, the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library and the Homewood-Brushton Revitalization and Development Corporation all received funding because of his work and seniority.

“Ora Lee and the HBRDC don’t have any projects—that’s politics,” said Gainey. “We here talk about senior housing but see nothing.”

Preston then informed him he had just spoken to Brian Hudson of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and that $1.1 million in tax credit financing had been approved for the project.

“That’s not talk, that’s a fact,” he said. “But you’d know that if you were in touch with the community.”

In closing, Preston noted you can go to Harrisburg and see people making impassioned presentations like Gainey’s, but you’ll also see no one listening.

“I’m asking the voters to send me back, not to making feel-good speeches and impossible promises, but to get results,” Preston said.

“We need new leadership,” said Gainey in his close. “We need change and investments that work.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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