Ed Gainey floats plan to resume battle with UPMC as mayoral candidates tout endorsements

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Tom Davidson, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·4 min read
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Feb. 23—State Rep. Ed Gainey, who's running for Pittsburgh mayor in May's Democratic primary, released an economic policy agenda that would renew Pittsburgh's legal challenge to UPMC's nonprofit status in an attempt to collect more city and school district taxes.

"City investments and strong unions gave previous generations of Pittsburghers an opportunity to succeed, but today we're failing to use the tools of city government to lift up working people and hold our largest institutions accountable," Gainey said in a statement. "We all want a city where everyone can earn a living, afford a good home, and feel safe in our neighborhoods. We all have to contribute to building that future together. We need to stop giving more and more to the wealthy and well-connected already at the top."

Topping the agenda Gainey laid out Tuesday is resuming the challenge to UPMC's nonprofit status that Peduto once led, but dropped in 2014. At the time, the mayor said the city took a "leap of good faith" in hoping to negotiate with UPMC and other non-taxable entities in Pittsburgh to gain more financial contributions to city coffers.

Dropping the lawsuit also saved the city legal fees — it spent nearly $150,000 taking up the litigation. But in the years since, the city isn't getting what Peduto hoped would total $20 million each year from nonprofits including UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and others.

Gainey also came out in support of efforts to unionize at UPMC in advance of an endorsement announcement Tuesday night from SEIU Healthcare PA.

The union represents more than 40,000 health care workers across the state. It is part of the Service Employees International Union and in 2017 endorsed Peduto for mayor.

The city's medical workers were integral in keeping the city running during the coronavirus pandemic and SEIU Healthcare PA nurse Michelle Boyle said she supports Gainey's commitment to the people of Pittsburgh over Peduto's.

"I can't stress enough how the pandemic really showed who is essential in the city," Boyle said. "It was mandatory that we were there and we showed up.

"We want a mayor who wants to be accountable to his city," said Boyle, 50, of Highland Park. "We need a mayor who is going to stand by workers who put their lives on the line."

She called Peduto to task for dropping the litigation against UPMC. "We need to know someone's going to stand and fight for us," Boyle said. "Ed Gainey has shown that over and over again."

In his policy statement, Gainey also pledged to end what he called "unaccountable tax giveaways and financial incentives" for big corporations in the city, offered support for increasing public and private workforce development efforts, and expanding "opportunities for wealth for the city's disadvantaged neighborhoods."

The union's endorsement builds on one from the advocacy group One Pennsylvania.

Gainey, 51, of Lincoln-Lemington, has also called for city officials to enact a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, something council took preliminary action on earlier Tuesday.

Gainey is joined by retired police officer Tony Moreno, 51, of Brighton Heights, and businessman Will Parker, 41, of the North Side in opposing Peduto, 56, of Point Breeze for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Only Gainey and Moreno are vying for the formal support of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, which will announce its slate of endorsed candidates on March 7.

Peduto also announced more endorsements Tuesday, the biggest among them being AFSCME Western Pa. Public Employees Council 54.

"Mayor Peduto has always been a valuable partner with AFSCME. No matter what, Mayor Peduto always had our back and gave us a fair contract," AFSCME District Council 84 President John Galuska said. "Mayor Peduto fought to make sure our members had the wages they deserved. He still fights for us to this day. In the midst of covid-19, Mayor Peduto has done everything within his power to make sure there are no layoffs. This is leadership."

Peduto also received endorsements from City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, Councilman Bruce Kraus and state Sen. Wayne Fontana, a Democrat from Brookline.

"Pittsburgh is a better place that it was 10 years ago and Mayor Peduto is responsible for a lot of it. His leadership helped build a more livable city," Fontana said.

Kail-Smith and Kraus join their colleagues Bobby Wilson, Ricky Burgess, R. Daniel Lavelle, Erika Strassburger and Corey O'Connor in endorsing Peduto.

He's also been endorsed by state Rep. Emily Kinkead, a Democrat from Brighton Heights.

"No elected official does everything by themselves," Peduto said in a statement. "You need partners, people who share your vision to help implement it. I have sought to be a mayor for every neighborhood in the city, and I am humbled to have their endorsement, and I look forward to partnering with them in the future to keep building a more equitable and livable Pittsburgh."

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, tdavidson@triblive.com or via Twitter .