Campaigns & Elections

Gainey, Williams, Tuerk elected first-time mayors in major PA cities

Pittsburgh Mayor-Elect Ed Gainey

Pittsburgh Mayor-Elect Ed Gainey State Rep. Ed Gainey For Mayor Campaign

Tuesday night was a good night for Democrats in some of Pennsylvania’s biggest cities.

First-time mayors in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Allentown supplied some significant wins for their respective cities. Pittsburghers witnessed a historic victory last night for five-term state Rep. Ed Gainey. The Democratic candidate beat retired Pittsburgh police officer Tony Moreno after taking down two-term Mayor Bill Peduto in May’s primary. In doing so, Gainey became the first Black mayor in the city’s history. 

Another incumbent was taken down in the state’s capital. Harrisburg City Council President Wanda Williams was triumphant over Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who was attempting an off-ballot bid for his third term after falling to Williams in the primary. 

Williams, who defeated Papenfuse by just 46 votes last spring, had to once again best Papenfuse after he staged a write-in campaign that became increasingly heated as Election Day approached. Williams is now set to become the city’s second Black mayor, and just the second woman to hold the position. 

Two more first-time mayors will be taking office in the Lehigh Valley. Matt Tuerk, the grandson of a Cuban immigrant, will be Allentown’s first Latino mayor. The Democratic candidate defeated Republican Tim Ramos in the city where the majority of its 121,000 residents are Hispanic. Just next door, Democratic City Councilman J. William Reynolds beat Republican challenger John Kachmar in the race for mayor in Bethlehem. Both Tuerk and Reynolds received about 63% of the vote as of Wednesday morning. 

Incumbents had luck elsewhere, however, as Democratic mayors in Lancaster, Scranton and State College cruised to victories last night. Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace defeated her challenger, Independent candidate Willie Shell, by a wide margin, as did Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, who bested Republican newcomer Darwin Shaw.

State College’s mayoral race wasn’t as exciting. Ezra Nanes secured the Democratic nomination for mayor in May and ran unopposed during the general election.

Another milestone came in the race for Beaver Falls mayor. Democrat Kenya Johns is now set to become the city’s first Black woman elected mayor after she beat incumbent Mayor George Quay III. Similar to Williams in Harrisburg, Johns had to overcome a write-in campaign from the incumbent following their loss in the spring. 

With judicial wins hard to come by last night, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party celebrated the historic mayoral victories in a statement. 

“It’s been a groundbreaking night as we celebrate the victories of Ed Gainey – who will be the first Black Mayor of Pittsburgh – and Kenya Johns, who will serve as the first Black Mayor of Beaver Falls,” the statement read. “Our candidates showed up with a message of delivering for the hardworking families of Pennsylvania and will work hard to achieve a better tomorrow for their constituents.”