Challenger Bethany Hallam defeats county council president in primary


Image via Ballotpedia

Bethany Hallam (pictured) won the primary election over incumbent John Defazio for Allegheny County Council President.

By Lauren Bruckstein, For The Pitt News

After a close election, Bethany Hallam won the Democratic primary election for an Allegheny County Council At-Large seat 53.54% to 46.11%, or by 7,450 votes, Tuesday night. Hallam challenged John DeFazio, the current council president and a member of the council since its formation in 2000.

Hallam decided to run for the position in hopes of making big changes in Allegheny County. She feels as though the council has not been active in supporting the public.

“They are not seen anymore,” Hallam said to the Pittsburgh Current in early May. “They are not heard from once they are elected to office … I don’t want anyone to ever say that about someone who is representing them.”

Jamie Givnish, a recent Pitt graduate, said she had not closely followed the council’s actions before Hallam’s candidacy.

“I believe she is the most progressive candidate,” Givnish said. “I think her experience recovering from opioid abuse gives her a perspective that is needed. I liked her pro-environmental stance when it comes to shutting down the [U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works] plant.”

Hallam has shared her struggles with opioids in various interviews, making criminal justice reform a major plank of her campaign. Specifically, she cites her firsthand experience spending five months in the Allegheny County Jail as a window into the treatment of prisoners.

Additionally, Hallam spoke about improving the county’s environment during her campaign. Abigail Natelson, a recent Pitt graduate, said she is particularly excited about Hallam’s passion for strengthening the county’s environmental policies.

“I really resonate with Hallam’s environmental initiatives such as clean air and no fracking,” Natelson said. “These ideas impact disproportionally a lot of communities that have less income or do not contribute as much to these emissions and these negative environmental qualities, and it should be addressed, so I really like that she has all that in her platform.”

Another key issue for Hallam is improving how local government treats LGBTQ+ citizens.

Hallam has called for banning conversion therapy for minors, describing the practice as “graphic, gruesome and painful.” After Hallam’s announcement, DeFazio introduced a bill to ban the practice, but said he was responding to a call from the Stonewall Democrats, not his challenger.

But compared to elections taking place during the academic year, student participation was very low.

According to the Allegheny County Division of Elections, just 15 of 4695 voters registered to vote at the William Pitt Union, or 0.32%, turned out to the polls Tuesday.

Alethea Sims, a poll worker at the Union, said that the number of student voters was significantly smaller than that of past years.

“For the May elections, it really depends,” Sims said. “It matters that the students are here.”