Ed Gainey marks 100 days as Pittsburgh’s mayor, learns to ‘fall in love with adversity’

Ed Gainey adjusted his suit and tie and knocked on the front door of a home in Pittsburgh’s Hill District that was riddled with bullet holes.

“My name is Ed Gainey. I’m the mayor,” he said when a woman opened the door. “I heard what happened yesterday. I just wanted to check on you.”

Three people were shot in the area the day before. About 100 rounds were fired into nearby homes, cars and yards spanning several blocks in the neighborhood.

On Wednesday, Gainey spent his 100th day as the city’s mayor talking with people whose voices aren’t always heard in local government — children invited to City Hall that morning and residents plagued by violence in the Hill District.

Tribune-Review reporters were granted exclusive access to the mayor for much of his 100th day in office, shadowing him as he interacted with students, then drove to the Hill District to reassure the community after a spate of violence.

In his first 100 days in office, Gainey contended with not only violence, but the massive collapse of a bridge, snowstorms that tested an underfunded Department of Public Works and an affordable housing crisis. As the city’s first Black mayor, Gainey also put strong emphasis on increased diversity in his administration and equity throughout the city.

Stepping over a blood-stained sidewalk where one of the men injured in Tuesday’s shooting had collapsed, Gainey joined Hill District resident Jerome Williams on his front porch. Williams had heard the gunshots and confused them for fireworks. Then he heard someone in his yard calling for help. He rushed outside to help the victim, giving him towels to slow the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.

Williams said what further disturbed him was directly across the street — Saint Benedict the Moor School. Students there are dismissed at 3:30 pm, he said. The shooting occurred about 30 minutes later.

“If those kids would’ve come out 20 minutes later, it would’ve been a nightmare,” Gainey said, promising Williams that he would get in touch with the diocese to discuss added safety and security measures for the Catholic school.

Gainey walked around the block, examining bullet holes and knocking on doors to ask nearby residents what kind of support they wanted to see from the city.

“I had to cry yesterday,” Tiffany Cruise told him, stopping her car along the side of the road to speak with the mayor.

She embraced Gainey. He reassured her that there would be an increased police presence in the neighborhood.

“I respect everything you do, but we’ve got to do something here,” she told Gainey. “We come from the same place. You don’t forget where you come from. To be out here with the shootings, I’ve never seen a mayor do that. That’s what we need.”

Gainey spoke with a woman who was asking her friends and family to help her replace a windshield now bearing a bullet hole after learning her insurance wouldn’t cover the damage. A man came home to find bullets had broken through the window in the front of his house.

“It’s usually a safe block, but random acts of violence happen anywhere,” said Dorian Moorefield, who worked at nearby Grandma B’s Cafe, where Gainey and Chief of Staff Jake Wheatley are regular customers.

Leaning on the trunk of a scratched tan Volvo, one resident likened talking to the mayor to “two brothers in a barbershop.”

“The fact that we came up here, it shows them that we care — and we do,” Gainey said.

He left business cards with contact information for the residents he spoke with, urging them to reach out if they needed help.

Connecting with youth

Prior to driving to the Hill District, Gainey started his morning on the fifth floor of the City-County Building on Grant Street, where he and his wife, Michelle, invited young guests from Pittsburgh Public Schools. Gainey, a Peabody High School graduate, spokes to young artists whose artwork was displayed in the mayor’s office as part of his wife’s Pittsburgh Paints initiative, a rotating art exhibition that allows artists from diverse backgrounds to display their work in City Hall.

Even with his youngest constituents, Gainey said he can learn something about the people he represents.

“When I leave there, you know what I’ve learned? How they feel about themselves,” Gainey said, explaining that students expressed themselves in the pieces hanging on his walls.

“We know each of you paint what you see, you paint what you experience, you paint what you hope to see,” Michelle Gainey told the students, who gathered in the mayor’s conference room.

Gainey took photos with the children in front of their artwork and asked them about their interest in art. Pieces ranged from abstract art and images of flags from around the world to portraits and artwork bearing inspirational messages. He encouraged the students’ parents to support their artwork.

Among the students whose artwork was displayed was 12-year-old Calvin Tantalo, a seventh-grader from Colfax Elementary. He had recently completed a school project about the mayor during Black History Month and was eager to talk with him in person.

“It was not something I expected,” he said. “It’s cool to meet someone I did a school project about.”

Gainey said he enjoyed the Pittsburgh Paints initiative because it highlighted diversity, a main focus for his administration, which has vowed to make Pittsburgh “a city for all.”

“One of the goals that I ran on was that I wanted to make this city the most diverse city in America,” Gainey said.

What he’s most proud of in his first 100 days in office, he said, is the effort to do just that. His administration — which includes the city’s first Black chief of staff and first transgender press secretary — is key in advocating for diversity citywide and ensuring all represented Pittsburgh residents feel.

“We have made this, I believe, one of the most diverse administrations in the city of Pittsburgh, ever,” Gainey said, explaining that the diversity allows people to look at the city “from a different lens.”

Challenges around every corner

Reflecting on his first 100 days in office, Gainey said he feels he’s off to a good start, working toward goals he’d outlined in his campaign.

Gainey said he’s spoken with every public safety precinct in the city, including police, fire and EMS about what they need and what can be done differently. While he declined to provide details about what might come from those conversations, he said he felt it was a way to open communication with public safety, and explained that he learned about concerns in police recruitment efforts.

He had similar conversations with every Department of Public Works facility in the city, and assisted the department by finding discretionary funds that allowed them to buy six snow plows and rent six more to address snow response issues.

As far as his promise to bolster affordable housing, Gainey pointed to the Oakland Crossings development, where he negotiated with the developer to require affordable housing. His hope is that their compromise will encourage other developers to bring plans with affordable housing to the table.

“I think we accomplished a lot,” Gainey said.

Still, he acknowledged his first few months in office have been far from easy. He inherited a controversy surrounding the death of Jim Rogers, a Black man who died after being repeatedly tased by police. He had to contend with an underfunded and understaffed public works department when snow hit and several acts of violence, including a shooting outside of Oliver Citywide Academy.

The most challenging moment of his time in office came during Gainey’s first month. On Jan. 28, the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in the city’s Frick Park. He recalled seeing emergency vehicles driving to the area as he was commuting to work that morning, and receiving a text from a friend at 7:05 a.m., saying the bridge appeared to be closed and several ambulances were on site.

When he learned of the collapse, he said, he went to the scene as soon as a related gas leak was resolved, and soon was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf, President Joe Biden and other officials.

“It was scary,” Gainey said. “I’m trying to, in my mind, picture what a collapsed bridge looks like, because I’d never seen a bridge collapse.”

Because of instances such as the bridge collapse, Gainey has adopted a motto for his administration: “Fall in love with adversity, stay away from controversy.”

Unexpected challenges and changes, he said, mean that every day in his new role as mayor is different. He likes to begin his day at City Hall at 8:30 am, but sometimes comes in sooner. His days include everything from hosting community meetings and reviewing legislation to visiting struggling neighborhoods and filming public service announcements. Improvisation, he said, is a key element of his new routine.

Unexpected challenges will continue — Gainey announced Friday that he tested positive for covid-19.

At the end of every day, Gainey said, he takes 15 minutes to himself to reflect on the day. He likes to focus on the good parts of the day and the solutions he can envision to the problems he encounters.

“Being able to serve the people, that’s all that matters,” Gainey said.

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, jfelton@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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