By Aryanna Berringer
Pittsburgh Current Political Columnist
When you look back at Bethany Hallam’s successful campaign to unseat a 20-year incumbent Allegheny County Councilor, you can’t point out a hallmark moment when you thought, “That’s it. She’s going to win this damn thing.”
There was no amazing TV ad, no scandal, no stellar debate performance in which she crushed the entrenched incumbent, John Defazio.
She didn’t outspend him. Hallam barely had two nickels to rub together for the entire campaign. There’s no way that she could buy TV time, or radio time, or pay for direct mail flyers. Bethany Hallam didn’t have a strategic gimmick up her sleeve.
But what she had that her opponent didn’t was her story.
As I wrote back in January, Hallam fought through opioid addiction that led to her living out of a car at an I-79 rest stop, multiple arrests and eventually, incarceration in the Allegheny County Jail. She was released after six months of detention and was dead-set against allowing those experiences to determine her path in life. She never shied away from telling anyone who would listen about her transformation. It was authentic truth.
Out with the old. In with the new. It was time for change in her life and she realized it was time for a change in local politics.
She had a great comeback story and Pittsburghers know a helluva lot about comebacks; they practically invented them; they thrive on them. It’s as if they’re woven into the Terrible Towel receiving blanket that wraps any child born a “yinzer, n’at.”
Bethany went everywhere with her boyfriend, George, or in an Uber, because she lost her driver’s license. She spoke one-on-one with residents in the doorways of their homes and in large groups. Anywhere there was a voter to talk to, Bethany was there and she told them about her life in very open terms.
Her story connected with voters and on Election Day it paid dividends and not just in precincts considered to be progressive enclaves. She didn’t win everywhere, but she earned votes everywhere.
All of it added up to Hallam being the first Democratic challenger in any Allegheny County-wide election to beat an incumbent in their own party since the inception of the Home Rule Charter that formed our current structure of county government. She is also the first Democratic woman ever elected to county council’s at-large seat.
Now, I am not advocating for anyone considering a run for office to do it by taking Hallam’s playbook and replicating it. She took a huge risk. Even by her own admission on Election Day, Hallam wasn’t sure she would win.
But the gamble paid off. Hallam trusted that voters would connect with her if she just avoided the normal campaign bells and whistles—like spewing only slick, focus-group tested rhetoric, or listening to “advisors” in her ear trying to mold her into their view of the cliche candidate.
Instead, Bethany Hallam stuck with the one thing she knew better than anyone else.