For the past two years, Ed Gainey has served as the State Legislator for Pennsylvania’s House District 24.
As the deadline for re-election petitions draws near, Gainey is seeking to return to the House to represent the communities which elected him over longtime Representative Joe Preston.
Gainey is using his quest for signatures as an opportunity to keep the voters in his district informed.
“We get some signatures as well as provide some factual information,” Gainey says of his visits to Senior Centers, spaghetti dinners and other public gatherings. “We have been talking about the August Wilson Center, the Land Bank, sharing with them some of the information that is out there.”
At the Vintage Center’s Black History Month Celebration, Gainey says “we talked about why Black History, regardless of what ethnic group you are, is all history. Black History is about the ability to make the impossible the possible, with all the things African-Americans have overcome throughout the years.”
“We always have to engage the community,” Gainey says. “I put a lot of effort into serving these communities.”
“When it comes to speaking up on issues, I am there to speak up on the issues. When it comes to a vote, I am there not just voting the right way, like on education or transportation, but I am also talking about it,” Gainey says. “We created the first African-American political action committee in the City of Pittsburgh, African-Americans for Good Government, to knock on doors and teach our people.”
“We have done programming at the Senior Center in Homewood-Brushton to enlighten the seniors on all the services provided through the state,” Gainey says, “and threw a holiday party to celebrate our community.”
“The thing I am proudest about so far is that we did what we said we were going to do,” Gainey says. “I said the number one thing we have to do to improve this community is communicate. Knowledge is power, and we have to make sure that we continue to do things so people are getting the right information so they are not misled.”
Gainey has taken an active position on Facebook and through email, and regularly holds “senior dinners” for those who may not be online. He plans to expand his efforts to build an email bank to provide not only legislative information, but also information from other sources that subscribers might find valuable, like community announcements or even coupons or business promotions to help build awareness and a sense of unity within the neighborhoods he represents.
“We have to keep up with the communication and education,” Gainey says, “but this year, we have to get more involved with projects that will build the community. Development doesn’t happen overnight, but you have to plant the seed, and give people the things they need to come to one accord to get projects to happen. I think there are some good projects out there that can make things happen, and I want to work through them to make sure they are done correctly.”
Gainey says his recent appointment to the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority Board gives him the opportunity to have a closer look at plans for the district’s communities, “to really learn development, and help to nourish development, and do much more for the legislative district.”
Gainey cites the transportation budget as his first big legislative action.
“That was so controversial, but I was a ‘yes’ vote, because I know how badly we need transportation right here.”
“This year, I think the big thing is we have to protect the unions, and not let them go after their pensions, to make sure that unions are protected,” Gainey says. “At the state level, all the bills are coming out to weaken the unions, and we have to make sure that we keep our unions strong, so that’s something I will be working at diligently.”
“And Education. It’s major,” Gainey says. “Right now, the Wilkinsburg School District is in trouble. Pittsburgh Public Schools are going to be in trouble in 2016 if we don’t do something to turn things around, and switch direction on where we are going in regard to education. There has to be some type of formula where we can give the school districts more money, but the reality is that the leadership starts at the top, with the Governor funding education properly. We have to find out how we can make enough noise at the state, and rally all our allies who do a lot of lobbying, so they know that this can’t be tolerated.”
“The education budget should never, ever, ever be cut,” Gainey says. “It’s the key to life. Every time you cut education, you take opportunity away from kids. [Governor Corbett] cut a billion dollars, and even though he has put money back, it has never made up for those cuts, because inflation is always eating that up.”
Gainey says that the Commonwealth needs a Governor who will see that education is properly funded, and be willing to find a way to do that, whether it be taxing Marcellus Shale, opening the tax code, closing the Delaware Loophole that allows state businesses to incorporate in that state to avoid taxes, “and enable us to get more revenue to do the kinds of things we need to do.”
“I also voted against making the Legislature smaller,” Gainey says. “Making the Legislature smaller puts [19th Legislative District Representative] Jake [Wheatley] and I against each other, and we would only have one African-American State Representative in the region.”
“The imbalance in this region, with only two African-Americans at the state level, has always been there, but I can’t vote to shrink the Legislature knowing we have an imbalance out west, and they are going to take from us and not give us anything, leaving us with one Representative at the state level: That’s not progress, that’s going backwards.”
Gainey says the issue at the state level, in the House, Senate and with the Governor, is “how do we generate revenue? Because if we don’t generate revenue, it’s hard to fund education, transportation, health and human services. Things we know this state is desperately in need of, we won’t be able to do.”
“We need to opt in to the Affordable Care Act. We need to be able to cover a half-million people, and take advantage of the job creation that will provide,” Gainey says. “We need to do that right now.”
Gainey says the legislature has had conversation about doing something about the conflict between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark.
“In order to build enough critical pressure to get something done about it, someone has to talk about it in the governor’s race, because it is not just a critical issue for Western Pennsylvania, it’s a critical issue for the Commonwealth,” Gainey says. “This has to be a number one issue that people talk about. You are talking about jobs, you are talking about professionalism, you are talking about monopoly, you are talking about one of the biggest cases the Commonwealth has seen in some time. The voice that has been silent on this has been Corbett’s but we can’t afford to be silent, because people’s lives are at risk. That’s a problem. Legislation has been written, but the Republicans won’t support it unless Corbett goes that way.”
Gainey says he also believes that both UPMC and Highmark should be required to make some contribution, whether it be through taxes, or payment in lieu of taxes.
UPMC “is a billion-dollar corporation. There are taxes that should be paid, across the board.”
But, Gainey says, “more importantly, I’m for seeing some sort of compromise between these two, because it’s in the best interests of the people of Western Pennsylvania.”
“I decided to not be that politician who stands on the sidelines of things, but to get into the middle of it, and I think people have noticed,” Gainey says. “I lived up to what I said I was going to live up to, and I will continue to push that envelope.”
Gainey says he looks forward to debating his primary opponent, Will Anderson, and any other opponents who may file petitions to run for the nomination, “but we are going to continue do what we have been doing. We are not going to go off course. We will continue to serve the community with the respect and dignity it deserves.”
Gainey says that he plans to continue to expand services within the community, like offering rent rebates right at Senior Citizen Centers and high rises.
“The more we learn, the more we can do. That is why we keep working, and we don’t stop.”
“There is a lot more to do, but when I look back over the last two years, we have done a lot to show we care about the community, we have love for the community, and that we are about serving it.”
By Nancy Hart