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Ed Gainey

Ed was difficult to connect with on the phone and for good reason: he is splitting his time between his home in Pittsburgh and his new role in Harrisburg as a State Representative. He is representing the people with whom he grew up, in the area in which he was raised, and he knows he has been elected and selected to serve all the people of his district. Though young, he already talks like a seasoned politician but with a fresh perspective on the needs of the community and what he must do to address those needs. We can feel good that we have a man like Ed speaking on our behalf in state government.

JS: State Representative Ed Gainey, welcome to the Urban Heroes program.

EG: Thank you for having me. I appreciate that, thank you.

JS: You’re recently elected; how are things going?

EG: So far so good. I’m learning a lot. I always told myself my first year would be about learning procedures and systems, and see what’s going on. Being able to contribute where I can. But the main thing is to just observe and learn as much as I can, and then be able to implement as time moves forward.

JS: And what district are you representing again?

EG: The 24th legislative district. It comprises of parts of Aspinwall, Highland Park, East Liberty, Lincoln, Lemington, Larimer, Bellmore, Homewood, East Hills, North Point Breeze, Wilkinsburg, and parts of Garfield.

JS: Mmmm. Some needy areas.

EG: Absolutely.

JS: So let’s go back, all the way back, and let our listeners and readers find out about Ed Gainey. Tell us about growing up, and where you grew up, and we’ll go from there.

EG: I grew up in Liberty Park, that’s where the high-rise building was at that we tore down. When I was coming up it was a pretty good community. But as everyone knows the story, as time went on, it became a notorious housing complex. Went to Holy Rosary in my earlier years. Graduated from Holy Rosary and did two years at Central Catholic and then graduated from Peabody High School.

Went on to Norfolk State first, but ended up graduating from Morgan State. And at Morgan State is what I call the transformation is when things began to change. I think I began to take education a little bit more seriously. And we had what I call, I’m glad to be a part of now, but it was a life-changing event.

The University of Maryland, at the time, was trying to take over Morgan State University. They really wanted the engineering program. So they wanted to close down a historical black college. And when I went to class that day, and I had a professor ask me what I was doing in class, and I said, “Well, you know, you’re teaching, and I’m here.” And he said, “Your education is in the street, and you need to be with the students.”

So we marched down to, at the time it was a gentleman by the name of Mayor Curt Smoke. We had marched down to City Hall to gain his support in helping us fight off the state, to not put Morgan State University under the University of Maryland’s umbrella. And while there, he was doing a housing project I had seen. And the housing project was they wanted to tear down the public project unit and they were going to build mixed income housing.

And, at the time being 19 and naïve, I thought that was genocide, that you would just destroy public housing. Where were all the poor people going to go? So my whole thing was, where would they go if you tear this down? So afterwards, he said, “I’ll talk to you when I’m done.” Afterwards, he pulled me aside and said, “Listen. I’m not here to displace anybody. But I will replace those that don’t want a better quality of life.” He said, “If I don’t change the way the corner looks, then the children will continue to grow up and see the same old gang activity, drug activity, prostitution, and boarded up buildings that they see right now.

And there’s no hope of a better tomorrow if that’s all that they see. We’ll be willing to bring back everybody who wants to come back. But there are some criteria for that. One of the criteria will be that if you’re in a gang, then you’ve got three strikes to get out of the gang. If you’re strung out on drugs, you’ve got three strikes to get yourself together. If you’re behind on your rent, we’ll help you catch up on your rent. We’ve got a whole year and a half to be able to do this.

So the ones that want it will rise to the top and the ones who don’t, then there still in the process of wanting to wreak havoc on communities. And that’s not something that we could afford. Our situation is about saving lives.”

So, I listened to it, but the fruit of the labor was when I went back the following year after I graduated and it was a brand new housing complex. A lot of the people that were at the meeting they were fighting before and had moved back. And instead of seeing people on the corner, you actually saw people going to work and kids catching the school bus. So just the whole transformation of redevelopment and watching the community redefine who it was at one time was something that intrigued me. And that’s what I brought back to Pittsburgh.

JS: So, what did you major in at Morgan State?

EG: Business Management.

JS: And what year did you graduate?

EG: 1994.

JS: And let’s go back even further. We’ll come back to 1994. But tell us about your family. Tell us about growing up in East Liberty.

EG: It was a great experience. It was me, my mom, and my sister. And it was a great experience for me. I got to know a lot of people. I always tell that my story was somewhat great, because I wasn’t actually confined by neighborhood boundaries. I lived in East Liberty, I went to school in Homewood, I did two years in Oakland, and then I came back to East Liberty. So I got to really meet people from all over the East End of Pittsburgh.

So going to school in Holy Rosary exposed me to the Homewood/Brushton community. So there were a lot of friends that I had there, and still have, the ones that are still in Pittsburgh, growing up in East Liberty, of course, gave me the chance to know and meet a lot of people in East Liberty.

And then going to Central Catholic really exposed me to places like Bloomfield, Highland Park, Greenfield. And then going to Peabody, it was really meeting a lot of people from Garfield and people that I already knew. So my school experience really broadened my neighborhood perspective. I wasn’t really bound by neighborhoods, I was more bound by the community of the East End.

JS: Tell us about your mom.

EG: My mom was a single mom; worked real hard. I watched work her way up to right now, she’s a supervisor in the medical examiner’s office. Her life journey of raising two children and giving up a lot of her education so that we could have. And now, being able to live her dream as a supervisor in the medical field, which is something that she always wanted to do. So I just watched the whole transformation of her life. When I watched what happened when she began to put God first and how God began to move in her life, and to see the end product, for me, just to watch that journey from years of struggling all the way up to where she’s now happily married, it’s just an amazing journey.

JS: When you were a child, were you guys involved in church?

EG: No, not really. Holy Rosary, I was involved at Holy Rosary, but not really church. I went there, I ended up going through the ritual to become Catholic, attended church, but I wasn’t really into the church. At the time, like most kids, they would have communion at the first of the month, and I wanted some of that bread! I mean, I’m just going to be honest, as a kid I can’t say I did it for the love of the church as much as I did it to just to be intrigued about that bread.

So I probably didn’t get into church until probably after I got out of Morgan State. I started attending a church called Petra. And I think for me that’s where it started. My mom was going to Mt. Ararat, and I started watching her go to church. But for me, I think it was just under the leadership of Bishop Donald Clay; he just preached a magnificent word, and he made it real to me.

And so then I began my own study, making sure that I read Scripture daily, being able to understand the difference between principle and tradition, and really understanding how one is transformed and one is held back. So for me it was just listening to him, Bishop Clay, getting a deeper understanding of the Word, and my current preacher the Rev. John Knight, just going there, a guy that I’ve known since I was middle school.

So just watching how God had moved in his life and beginning to really listen to him and seeing how He brought him and Tammy together and how they just continued to blossom. For me getting married and being able to walk in that same path was great, because I had known him as a child.

JS: Tell us about your family now.

EG: I’m married and have three kids. Mariah, and she’s 17. Next in line is Alexa, she’s 5. And my son is 3, and that’s Darius.

JS: And your wife?

EG: My wife is so funny how this works out. I didn’t know my wife until I was grown. But her godfather was my mom’s boss. His name was Harvey Adams. So we had always been in the same realm of people, but never met. John, my reverend, Rev. Knight, is her cousin. And John and I have known each other before my wife and I had ever met. So, from a connectivity piece, we have known the same people and been connected intimately for years and never met. I thought that was deep.

JS: And is she out in the community working?

EG: Yes, she works for Goodwill. She does case management, and employment training, so she does a lot of good work there.

JS: So let’s go back to 1994. So you go back, you see the housing plan there as the mayor had talked about, it makes an impact on you. You come back to Pittsburgh. Tell us about what you do then.

EG: When I came to Pittsburgh, East Liberty was still run down. So I wanted to get into community development. I think that’s where, I tell people, that’s where the transformation happened. So when I came back to Pittsburgh, I was focused on getting into community development. At the time, East Liberty had just closed down, they were getting ready to open up East Liberty Development again. And the gentleman that was running it was a gentleman by the name of Wheeler Winstead.

JS: Oh yes. I know Wheeler.

EG: Great guy. He was my mentor. So, I went to Wheeler and said, “Listen man, I’ll work for free. I just want to learn how to do community development. So wherever you need me to start, I’m willing to do it. Just let me be the gopher.” So he said, “Well, you can’t work for me for free.”And that stuck in my mind to this day. He said, “You can’t work for me for free, but when the time is right, I’ll call you.”

So he brought me on as a community organizer. And my job was to organize the business stake holders. My job was to organize the resident tenant council, as well as the business and political factors. So, it became instrumental, because the first housing project we did was the New Pennley Place. And we broke the record that was held by Stanley Lowe in regards to getting community engagement to attend a resident council, and some other things.

So it was a wonderful opportunity for us, and then we transformed the old Pennley Place into the New Pennley Place. And the second one, I actually ended up working for Mayor Murphy, but it started under Wheeler, because Wheeler did the land plan for the East Liberty Development Community. And I was removing Liberty Park, and that was the high-rise buildings and the Garden Apartments.

And it was time for it to come down. I mean, it was nothing but a crack cocaine building; a lot of different drugs in the building. And then when the child, young girl, got stuck by the intravenous needle, we knew it was time. So just going in there and organizing that, to the point where we watched it come down to see what’s materialized since then has really transformed East Liberty.

And I think that’s what it’s all about. Communities are like people; you grow, you define yourself, you redefine yourself, and you continue to mature. So when I see East Liberty now on the upswing, I know exactly what it took to get us there.

JS: And so you worked for Mayor Murphy. And what happened after that?

EG: After Mayor Murphy, I ended up running for state representative the first time. They wouldn’t even let me on the ballot. My paperwork was supposedly messed up. I come to find out I could amend it, but didn’t know it then. But again, those are the lessons that you learn. And then the second time, ended up going to work for the Housing Authority. And then the second time I ran, I lost by 93 votes. And then the third time I ran, we won 2 to 1.

I think back to it, I’m glad it happened that way. I tell people, pressure builds a dam where pressure busts pipes. And the good thing about pressure is that the one thing you do is you have to call on someone stronger than yourself to be able to see a greater light.

So now when I look back and I reflect, I got more wisdom from running three campaigns, and I understand this political process a little bit better. Where if I had gotten it the first time, I might have been mentally ready, but not politically mature, to be able to deal with a lot of things that come with this job.

JS: And so were you discouraged when you lost the first and second time?

EG: No, I wasn’t. And the reason why the second time I wasn’t discouraged was because, it was the first time we had gotten the new machines in Allegheny County, and throughout the Commonwealth. And there were all types of problems inside the machines, and we knew that we couldn’t win in court. There were just some things that were stronger than us. We knew from the beginning, we had been told that we couldn’t win in court. We knew we had a case, but we weren’t going to win. That just comes with the process. So, I learned my lesson dealing with [Governor] Rendell. So my whole thing was I wouldn’t run again until [Governor] Rendell was out of office. And then when [Governor] Rendell left office is when I ran again.

JS: How far back do you think your interest in politics goes? Was this something you thought about for a long time? Or did it evolve more as you were an adult?

EG: More as an adult. I didn’t know what politics was as a kid. I had never seen a politician. I had never seen a politician nor really a businessman in my community, until I got to Baltimore. Baltimore changed the way I see a lot of different things. I went from a city that was back then 80%-85% Caucasian to a city that was 75%-80% African-American.

So when you see African-Americans being more progressive, you see politicians in your community. The mayor is African- American. You see white and black business owners in the same neighborhood. It changes your perspective on life, because now, it’s not something that you read about, it’s something that you actually see in life, and it defines you. It gives you more of a determination – at least it did for me – that it wasn’t just the land of make-believe, but it was something I could believe in, just because I saw it with my own eyes.

JS: And this, you’re referring to Baltimore.

EG: Yeah. Absolutely.

JS: So, you’re a man of faith. And you’re involved in an occupation, a calling that sometimes can be a little rough and down and dirty. How are you walking your faith out in the midst of your political calling?

EG: I think you just have to be led. For me, it’s about how I’m being led. And it depends on how you really want to live your life and how you want to define it. Every character in the Bible had to go through something. I mean it wasn’t, even when you accepted God and walked in faith, there were still challenges, and you have to understand the challenges only come to you once so you can call on Him and get the vision and know which way to go.

Politics is like anything else. You just have to be yourself and try to stay as humble as possible, and understand that humility is more of your weapon of armor than anything else. And that’s the way you should walk. There are times you have to be strong; the disciples proved that. And there are times that you have to be meek; and you have to determine what times are which, so that you make the right moves.

JS: So you were elected when? Was it last November?

EG: Yes.

JS: So you’ve just been in Harrisburg just a few times.

EG: Yes.

JS: What’s your overall impression? What are you learning so far?

EG: I’m learning a lot. Just right now, the language. Making sure that I’m on point with the language, how to introduce legislation. Who’s who, what’s what, who’s the chairman of this group? What does the house delegation leadership mean? Who is the leadership? How do we come to consensus on how we vote when we caucus? Exactly what does caucus mean? And what type of input is put in the caucus? Understanding my committees; like what committees I sit on. Like transportation, insurance, urban affairs, children and youth. So just getting a better concept of what committees I sit on. What is the language in Harrisburg, and what is the systems of process and procedures, and who’s who in leadership.

JS: So what is required of you? How often do you go up?

EG: We go up Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. We’re off this week; we don’t have to be there. But when I’m not there, I still have to be there at the District Office. So we go up Monday, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. So I leave here Sunday evening, so I come back about Wednesday evening.

JS: And is this considered full time? Are you paid? Was there a time when this was part-time and everybody came home and had other jobs?

EG: Yeah, there was a time that it was part time. And they’ve talked about that, but it would be difficult. You couldn’t go up there and stay for three days on a part-time salary. And you couldn’t deal with as much as you have to deal with on a parttime salary. There’s been conversation about reducing the size of legislation, the size of the legislature.

My whole thing is that I wouldn’t be against that as long as it protected minority districts. Because, right now, outside of Philadelphia, which is different, the west side of Pennsylvania, meaning southwest Pennsylvania, you know politically we have not had the type of opportunity that exists.

For instance, you only have two African-Americans on City Council. You only have two African-Americans as state representative. We’ve never had a state senator from the west side of Pennsylvania, and it’s 2013. We’ve never had an African- American US Congressperson from the west side of Pennsylvania.

So, if they’re talking about reducing it, you can’t reduce what we’ve never had. We’ve never gained a stronghold in politics, so to reduce it would really be just continuing to weaken our base and our support. So even if they’re talking about cutting the legislature, as long as they’re not talking about cutting it where we can’t grow.

Again, I think diversity is the spice of the world. And I think more and more as the country gets diverse, and everybody has to play a part in that diversity in order for economies to grow. So to cut something that would only hurt the state and hurt that area without finding ways to improve it is a detriment to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

JS: Do you see yourself in long-term politics? Are you liking what you see so far?

EG: I think it’s too early. I tell people one time, all the time, appreciate your first blessing, and be ready to deal with the challenges that come with it. And then sooner or later, it will open up and you’ll be able to make the right choices. But I think if I came in right now saying, okay, what’s my next move, that would be premature. Because what I’m saying is, I didn’t even learn this job, and I’m thinking about another move. And if any doors are going to be opened up, the doors that will be opened up will be opened up based on how well I do this job. So when the doors start opening up, it will be a sign of this is which direction you go.

JS: Tell us again. You mentioned a bunch of committees pretty quickly. Tell us what committees you’re serving on.

EG: Transportation Committee, Insurance Committee, Urban Affairs, and Children and Youth. And I look forward to really serving on the transportation committee; one, because it’ll have an impact on southwest Pennsylvania. One, is to find a way to close this budget; find a dedicated stream of funding. Actually, I introduced some legislation, as of two weeks ago, it will come out this week, where we tax smokeless tobacco and cigars.

We’re only one of two states that don’t tax cigars and we’re the only state that doesn’t tax smokeless tobacco. You’ve already taxed cigarettes, and it’s made it more difficult for kids to put their hands on cigarettes. The national trend shows since they’ve increased the taxes on cigarettes, underage smoking has gone down, which I think is great, because that helps out in the long run with healthcare or whatever.

So I think if you tax smokeless tobacco and cigars right now, tax it at 25%, it will create $44 million in a year. You can split that 44, half going to bridges, roads, and infrastructure, the other half going to mass transit. It won’t eliminate the debt, but it will go far to erase it. And it’s a sin tax anyways, so it’s not like you’re taxing something. You’re taxing a habit.

If people want to have that habit, then they should pay for that habit. And then secondly, like I said, they’ve already taxed cigarettes, so we already know the impact of taxing cigarettes, so we need to even the playing field and make sure we tax it across the board.

JS: Wow. So you’re getting into it, it sounds like.

EG: Absolutely.

JS: What do you do, or what are you doing, to stay close to your constituency back home? What’s your office structure? Your schedule? What are you doing to stay close?

EG: I came in this job talking about how communication is important. Regardless of where you are in the city of Pittsburgh, communication is fractured. I’ll just be honest. So what we try to do is we try to communicate with people in a lot of different ways. Make sure we get letters out in the mail to people in the district. That can be costly, but it’s traditional.

So we know that a percentage of my group, maybe 55 and up, this is how you correspond with them. And then you have the other group, it’s called the email blast, and that will probably be between the ages of 25 and 55, that read emails. Particularly, a little bit more of my professional constituents. So we send out email blasts once a month or twice a month, depending on the topic, just to let people know what’s going on.

The third is Facebook and Twitter, the social media vehicles, just to make sure that we’re communicating directly. Because what happens is, if people like what they see on your page, they end up sharing it, or you get a host of people. Or like we call it, on network. We have four or five people on Facebook where if we put something up, they automatically share it, so it touches their network. So automatically we’re looking at 20,000 people seeing what we’re putting up.

And in the fourth one, as we call them, we always look at them this way. The fourth we call it community assets. We find out, we determine where people in our district, where they congregate at. And wherever a congregation of people meet, that’s where we drop off information. And it’s just dropped off, so they don’t even have to take it with them.

They’re like little postcards that just have the serious points of what’s going on at the state level. So we’ll be doing that now. We’ve got one coming out next week, because on the 25th or 26th, we’re actually having a gun control event at the Homewood- Brushton library. And we’re asking state representatives, we’re asking people pro-gun, anti-gun, to come and begin to talk about how we educate people, and what we need to do streamline some of this legislation to make sure it’s impactful. Particularly the ones that get passed to be able to create responsible gun ownership.

So it’s not about how we stop or take guns. It’s truly about how we create responsible gun ownership; like background checks. How can anybody be against a background check? It has nothing to do with taking your gun. But we should be making sure that only people that are meeting certain requirements should have the gun. Everything that’s going on right now, I think it’s a timely conversation.

JS: What do you do, and I know you mentioned earlier about reading scripture, but spiritually, non-spiritually, what do you do to stay fresh to stay engaged and to just relax?

EG: I do a lot of reading. Reading is one. I love sports. I’m big into sports. And my family too. I love spending time with my family. So that’s not a problem. I’ve got little kids and they keep me going. So those are really the three ways. One is that I know when I come home, it’s critical that I spend a certain amount of time with my family. So a lot of the events I go to, I end up taking my family with me. So then that way, we’re walking the journey together.

Second is reading. I do a lot of reading. I read a lot of John Maxwell. I read a lot of him. I read a lot of T.D. Jakes. And I read a lot of political books. So those would be the top three books I’m reading.

JS: Have you connected with other believers in Harrisburg? Have you found many in the legislature?

EG: No, because I didn’t really go up there looking for it. If I come across it, it’s great. But most of the times what I look for up there is the people that have the wisdom to know how to make policy happen and know how to make legislation happen, and learn from them. In regards to the spirituality thing, if I come across them great, but I have got enough back home to fill me up. To where, if I’m in Harrisburg, the name of the game for me in Harrisburg is to be around people that can teach me how to get legislation passed, and teach me how to better study.

JS: If somebody is listening or reading and they want to get involved in politics, what’s your advice?

EG: If I really wanted to get involved in politics, I would get into in community organizing. And to be honest with you, regardless of what I did in life, I would get into community organizing. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re a pastor, or whether you’re a CEO or president, whatever you may be in life, the number one thing you’re going to have to do is know how to bring people together.

And a lot of times, people think you bring people together based on issues. And that’s the furthest thing from the truth. And what organizing does is it gives you the opportunity to bring people together by interests. Because nobody cares about the issues. But if you can get people to marry each other’s interests, then whatever the issue is, you’ll be able to have the resources to get it taken care of.

So I think that just learning how to organize around interests is critical because in this world, you run into many, many different interests, and many, many different issues. The same issues that were pushed 20 years ago are being pushed now. And there’s advocacy role for that, and I think that you should have advocacy groups to talk about it.

But when change happens, it’s because people’s interests change, or people’s interests meet at that road where they say, okay, it’s time to bring a certain level of change to America or to the world. And so, when I see it like that, I don’t really focus on the issues, because we can talk about issues all day. But if we’re not talking about the interests, and how we gather resources in order to handle the issues, then we’re just having a conversation and an action plan.

JS: And final words for anybody looking to get involved in the urban community and not sure if that’s a good way to invest their lives. What do you tell them?

EG: I think it’s where you want to give back to. Wherever you think you want to give back. If it’s the urban area, give back to the urban area. If it’s not the urban area, the key is, what do you choose to give back to? You always have to be looking about how do I give back. Because that’s really how you’re going to build your legacy.

So at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be the urban area, I think you just have to keep a focus of how do you give; where’s your passion? If you can strike your passion, then you don’t have to worry about giving back. That will happen automatically.

But if you’re just chasing a career or a job, then you’re not chasing a passion, you’re just chasing a goal. And once you achieve that goal, there’s nothing left. But if you chase your passion, your passion will always have you look back and give back. Because you understand how far you’ve come and what’s required of you. So I think if you just focus on your passion, it will lead you to what you give back to.

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