Opinion | Gainey’s election will improve livability for women of color


Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor

Mayor-elect Ed Gainey speaks at a post-election party at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 2.

By Nithya Achanta, Staff Columnist

Ed Gainey made history on Nov. 2, defeating Republican candidate Tony Moreno to become Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor.

Gainey has a variety of plans and priorities in areas such as public safety, education, the economy and the environment. Throughout his campaign, Gainey centered many of his goals on making Pittsburgh a more equitable place for all. Gainey’s objectives will be beneficial to every Pittsburgher, but many of his plans will specifically help Pittsburgh’s women of color.

Hopefully, Gainey will be a refreshing presence in City politics compared to the current mayor, who handled certain issues surrounding racial disparities poorly. Mayor Bill Peduto faced much criticism for his handling of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests following the arrest of a protester, who was thrown into an unmarked van by officers in plain clothes for allegedly interfering with public safety.

While Peduto said he was “livid” over the arrest, he upset many people when he tweeted that “the right to shut down public streets is a privilege.” Afterwards, many also expressed their concern for the nature of the arrest.

A study conducted by CityLab last year ranked Pittsburgh one of the worst cities in the U.S. for Black women to live in. The study looked at health, education and economic outcomes for Black women, and Pittsburgh ranked toward the bottom in all three categories. On the other hand, the Economist Intelligence Unit reviewed similar criteria for all residents in every American city and ranked Pittsburgh as the nation’s third most livable city. Clearly there are huge disparities between the lives of Black women and the average Pittsburgh resident that we need to work on.

Although many of the issues that Black women face come down to systemic racism and sexism, which do not have easy fixes, several of Gainey’s plans show strong potential to start making progress on the inequity that defines Pittsburgh. If Gainey follows through with his plans, we might see some great improvement with the current disparities in health, education and economic opportunities.

Pittsburgh has grappled with air and water pollution for decades, stemming from both previous and current industrial activity. Although there have been many attempts to reduce pollution, it remains a big concern. The problem is even more serious when we look at how it disproportionately affects people of color in the City. A report from the Pennsylvania Department of Health showed that communities of color are the most impacted by lead exposure in Allegheny County. A study published in the journal “Environmental Health” found that minority neighborhoods in Pittsburgh face a higher rate of air pollution-related deaths from coronary heart disease.

In his vision for the City, Gainey mentions that he wants to get rid of all lead water service lines in the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority system by 2026 and end real estate practices that push low-income people into areas that are environmental hazards. Ending these practices could help reverse the legacy of racial and income-based segregation left behind by redlining. Furthermore, these segregated neighborhoods often have the most exposure to pollution and other environmental risks.

These plans are a good way to start chipping away at the environmental racism in our City, which ultimately leads to worse health outcomes for Black women.

When it comes to education, a study conducted by the city of Pittsburgh found that a high rate of police referrals is negatively impacting Black children’s educational attainment. A single arrest leads to a 25% increase in the likelihood that a student will drop out of school.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a concept that refers to children getting pushed out of public schools through policing instead of receiving educational counseling services. Gainey’s plans for demilitarizing the police by increasing de-escalation training and improving community and police relations will hopefully help create a more nurturing environment where Black children can focus on their education.

When discussing the issue of over-policing, Gainey said, “We have seen the trauma that has been brought to Black and brown communities. We will change that.”

Additionally, the City’s study found that Black girls in Pittsburgh are less likely to go on to college as compared to other cities. Gainey’s plans for directing more funding to urban schools, along with gaining more equitable broadband access, will help to get rid of some of the barriers that prevent Black girls from pursuing higher education.

Many of the issues Black women face surrounding health and educational outcomes, whether it be not being able to afford decent housing or not being able to pay for higher education without taking on extreme debt, ultimately boil down to their lack of opportunities for economic growth.

Gainey plans on tackling economic disparities by establishing the City’s own Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises certification program to lower barriers for such businesses to become certified. Working on a program like this would create many new opportunities for women in Pittsburgh. Black women are often among the fastest growing entrepreneurs in other comparable cities, so providing them with the proper infrastructure and resources to achieve that in Pittsburgh should both fuel economic growth and uplift Black women.

Gainey also plans on partnering with the Pittsburgh business community to establish a minority business accelerator, meant to help minority-owned businesses grow and thrive. 

Besides helping new businesses, Gainey has plans to reform the current workforce. He plans on creating new public-sector opportunities for good jobs that are more available to people from a wide range of backgrounds. This is a crucial opportunity for Black women, given that they have a higher unemployment rate in Pittsburgh than 97% of comparable cities.

Making changes in all these areas that lead to more economic opportunities for Black women will ultimately lead to better outcomes for their health and education, because they will be able to afford better resources in both areas.

The conversation around women’s issues in our country often gets limited to a few issues, such as abortion, that are more gender-specific. However, as seen through the study, the inequalities women of color face go much deeper than that. Many of the necessary changes needed to solve the current disparities have to be implemented at a local level. 

According to a study conducted by the Center for American Women and Politics, women only hold 30.5% of municipal government offices. A study from governmentjobs.com found that Black women are 58% less likely to be hired for state and local government positions compared to white males who apply.

Because women of color are so underrepresented in local governments, it is even more crucial to make sure our issues are being heard and dealt with. If we hold Gainey accountable and advocate for the completion of his plans, we can start to make Pittsburgh a more livable place for women of color.

Nithya writes about social issues and politics for The Pitt News. Write to her at [email protected].