"I could sit here and ramble off things at a young age that I did," says 33-year-old Ed Gainey, who is challenging State Rep. Joseph Preston Jr. for the 24th Legislative District seat (covering Wilkinsburg, East Liberty, Highland Park, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington, Homewood and parts of Aspinwall and Point Breeze). They include the New Pennley Place housing development at the eye-irritating corner of Penn and Negley Avenues; new Lincoln Park housing developments; and the East Liberty redevelopment plan that landed Whole Foods and Home Depot.
Gainey's point, however, is that Preston assisted none of these projects while Gainey served as special projects manager under Mayor Tom Murphy and worked with East Liberty Development Inc.
The two politicians were once close: Gainey worked as Preston's legislative aide for six years. In fact, they were close enough that "my own daughter said I treat [Gainey] better than her," Preston says.
Preston's office "hasn't missed a beat" since Gainey left in 2002, he says. But Preston calls the challenge by his former aide unfortunate. He also says Gainey is linked with 12th Ward Dem Chairman Doc Fielder as part of an "old wave" of politics -- a decades-old black political machine in the East End led by Fielder and fellow ward leader Chuck Frazier. Preston was once associated with them as well, but feels they are no longer "progressive" or "aggressive" enough. Preston, a 20-year incumbent who's also 23 years older than Gainey, says he is the "new wave" of politics.
Gainey says the new Kingsley Association community center in East Liberty was promised funding by Preston. Preston promised key Kingsley development players that he could get $2 million from the state's capital budget for the new center two years ago, Gainey maintains. That money never materialized. Gainey meanwhile, says he was able to secure $1.4 million from the city for Kingsley, where he held his press conference to announce his run.
Says Gainey: "If I'm able to work with a city that's broke and receive some kind of funding to secure new investments in our community, then I believe our state rep should be able to do the same thing."
Preston says he never promised money for the Kingsley but has been working for the funds while battling the stingy administration of former Gov. Tom Ridge for it.
Preston was one of Rendell's chief campaign managers for Western Pennsylvania. His more friendly relationship with the current governor, he believes, should help the money materialize. Preston adds that he has helped finance the Veterans Administration Hospital, a new YMCA and YWCA, and the new Carnegie Library in Homewood, all in his district.
Says Preston, "If Kingsley is the only reason [Gainey is running] ... then there's really no room to talk about anything else."
Preston recently caught flak from the black community for legislation he introduced to rename the Downtown State Office Building after former mayor and Pennsylvania governor David L. Lawrence. The New Pittsburgh Courier ran an editorial last year saying that Preston had more pressing concerns in the district -- economic development. Preston calls that editorial "racist"; a white constituent suggested that bill, he notes. "My district is multicultural and I try to develop rapport among people of all colors," he adds.
Preston says no one has contributed more to the 12th Ward than he has. He calls himself a ward "family member."
"When one person in the family determines who sits at the table and who doesn't," he concludes, "then we're losing the democratic process."