County Councilwoman-Elect Bethany Hallam Visits Obama


Bethany Hallam speaks at Obama

Jonah Woolley, Politics Writer

Last Thursday, County Councilwoman-elect Bethany Hallam visited Obama to speak to students in its monthly speaker series.

Hallam has become an increasingly recognizable name in local politics — and for good reason. She tells an intriguing story about her rise to power in local government, a story that is being echoed more and more across the country.

In her talk, she discussed why she ran for office. She said it began because she was outraged with many problems she was seeing in her community and noticed how the government turned a blind eye to most of them. She grew tired of the inaction, and as a result, she decided to run for office and change things herself.

Hallam said that getting elected was quite difficult. She ran in 2019 for the Allegheny County Council-at Large seat, and to get it she had to beat the 20-year-incumbent John DeFazio.

DeFazio was a tough opponent; his connections in local politics meant he already had significant funding and a solid support base behind him, while Hallam was starting from ground level.

Hallam relied mainly on grassroots activism and had to work hard to draw attention to her bid for the at-large seat, a race that is usually ignored. She succeeded, however, and was able to generate enough attention that she beat DeFazio in a primary in May 2019, garnering 54% of the vote. 

Hallam’s campaign was part of a larger shift in American politics. Across the country, young progressives have been using grassroots activism to disrupt the moderate status quo. The most notable of these figures, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have focused on higher levels of government, but Hallam said she believed the most important change happens locally.

Aside from her rise to power, Hallam also discussed what policies she wants to put in place in office.

Hallam expressed that her biggest concern was drug addiction. She wants to provide more resources to assist recovering addicts, and she wants to enact more lenient drug sentencing. She says she sees addiction as a disease and believes it should be treated as such.

Hallam discussed her own story; she herself struggled with drug addiction. As a junior in high school, she tore her ACL and was prescribed Vicodin, an opioid, to help with the pain. Then, after spending eight months healing, she tore her other ACL. By the time she had recovered from the second injury, she’d been on Vicodin for so long that she wasn’t able to quit, as the withdrawal was too painful, so once her prescription went away, she turned to finding drugs on the street.

For the next decade, she was addicted to opioids. She wasn’t able to get or keep jobs, her relationship with friends and family deteriorated, and she often resorted to stealing from her parents to pay for heroin; she was arrested multiple times on drug offenses. 

During her struggle with addiction, Hallam said that she saw how much addicts were abused by the status quo, and she wished she could’ve been helped by the government. According to her, a major reason she ran was to create systems to offer the help she wished she had to others.

After her talk, Hallam had a question and answer session with students, where she fielded questions on a myriad of issues and discussed implementing a countywide citizen’s police review board as well as pushing the county to address climate change.

Hallam closed her talk by stressing the importance of youth involvement in politics. She said that the major reason she won was that she was able to get everyday people excited about her, and from her perspective, young people don’t speak up enough.

She said she wants to see more students involved with local government, ending by saying, “Even if you aren’t old enough to vote, you are old enough to pressure your elected officials.”