Ashley Comans says it’s her time
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Ed Gainey seemingly is everywhere—community events, Harrisburg, churches, rallies, barber shops, being a husband and father to his family…
But even he can’t be the mayor of Pittsburgh and a state Representative at the same time.
Thus, if Rep. Gainey wins the November mayoral election, of which he’s heavily favored over Tony Moreno and Will Parker, there will be a special election to see who will fill the remainder of Rep. Gainey’s term, which ends in a little over a year.
Ashley Comans wants to be that person.
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that Comans, 33, a former Wilkinsburg School Board member, will run for the likely open state House District 24 seat that Rep. Gainey currently holds. The district is home to some 60,000 residents, the majority of whom are Black. Comans is the first person to publicly announce that she’s campaigning for the seat.
If Rep. Gainey loses the mayoral election, he would remain in his House District position, and there would be no special election needed. But Comans doesn’t see that happening. That’s why she told the Courier she’s making her announcement public now.
“President Obama, at his last speech that he gave in Chicago (in January 2017), he said, ‘if you don’t like what’s happening, get a clipboard and go in your community and get signatures.’ And that just resonated with me,” Comans told the Courier about her desire to get into politics.
Soon after, she was elected to the Wilkinsburg School Board, where she served for two years. She then worked with the Alliance for Police Accountability as a program manager, and now works with Healthy Start Inc., in the marketing and outreach department. But the 2005 Woodland Hills High School graduate has worked in a multitude of fields across the region—at Highmark, in the medicare advantage department; as a drug screener for the Allegheny County Health Department; at WPXI-TV doing production, voice captioning and writing; and at Three Rivers Youth as a case manager.
“It’s been interesting for me to be able to tap into different spaces within our community that needs advocacy,” Comans told the Courier. “Whether it’s our young people, Black moms and their babies and the care that they’re receiving; but then I can also get into the nonprofit spaces that I serve on boards for and the work that’s happening there.”
Those boards include Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, where she was just named vice chair; Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP); and UNITE, a local grassroots organization started by state Rep. Summer Lee (34th House District) “that has been pivotal in the election of a lot of the progressive candidates that we’ve seen from the county to state level,” Comans said.
Comans also has served as project coordinator for APOST (Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time) and worked with the Hill Youth Partnership for Enrichment. Both organizations strive to empower youth in the time that follows school, which oftentimes can be filled with negativity if the proper after-school programs aren’t offered to the youth.
Comans, a 2009 Clarion University graduate, said that it’s her time to take all of the experiences she’s had, all of the people she’s met, and translate that into effecting change at the state level in Harrisburg. “The biggest thing that (being on Wilkinsburg School Board) taught me was that, especially on a local level, people are not aware of the power that their voices can have in these rooms. But it’s the lack of engagement that happens between these governing bodies and the communities” which causes people not to recognize the power of their voice.
Comans said she’s all about being a member of government that opens the line of communication between her and the community far and wide. “Some people might get annoyed, but you’re either going to get inspired or tired of me, because I’m always going to talk about the importance of engaging the community.”