It’s too late for the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club to revoke its earlier primary endorsement of Bethany Hallam, but the club’s president, Karen Hochberg, will not vote for her in the general election next week.
Hallam, one of two at-large Allegheny County Council representatives, was endorsed by the club in a mailer distributed to voters in the spring before the primary election, Hochberg said. The club does not distribute a mailer with endorsements in the fall.
While Hochberg said “there’s no mechanism in the club’s bylaws” to retract its endorsement, she and several other club members no longer support Hallam.
“I’m not going to vote for Bethany as I have in the past,” Hochberg said. “I think she’s reckless.”
That’s because on Oct. 7, in response to the barbaric attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians, Hallam reposted a poem on X (formerly Twitter) about breaking down walls and a celebratory video of the terrorists breaking down the security gate on their way to murder, rape and kidnap Israeli civilians, including children. Other anti-Israel posts followed. At least one has been removed.
Hallam is seeking her second term as an at-large council member. Sam DeMarco III, a Republican who has served on the council since 2015, and Hallam are the only two candidates on the ballot for the two at-large positions.
But last week, Squirrel Hill resident David Knoll launched his campaign as a write-in candidate, hoping to gain the support of Democrats who might otherwise have voted for Hallam.
“Jews in Allegheny County and worldwide understood immediately that responses like Hallam’s would make them unsafe wherever they lived, no matter their relationship to Israel, simply because they are Jewish,” Knoll said in a news release. “In the weeks since the war began, protestors who share Hallam’s support for Hamas have taken to the streets, threatening and committing violence against Jews and Jewish spaces. In my own neighborhood, incidents of antisemitic intimidation are increasing. And still Hallam has not backed away from her initial statements.”
Knoll said he never intended to run for political office, but he grew up listening to stories from his parents and grandparents “about what happens when bad leaders take power.”
“When I reflect on the stories my grandmother shared with me about how quickly her peaceful life in Germany progressed to hateful persecution and eventual escape with her four-year-old son, my father, I remember that my family knows all too well that the government can change from a protective shield to a hurtful weapon overnight,” Knoll continued. “My family history strengthens my resolve to protect my community from being represented by somebody who so little cares for our safety.”
Knoll describes himself as “a community activist who is constantly trying to make Allegheny County a better place.” He has served on boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Hillel Academy and several congregations. He’s volunteered for several other organizations, both Jewish and secular. He is married and has three teenage children.
“Sympathizing with terrorists overseas is bringing the hate right home to us here in Pittsburgh,” Knoll said. “My son’s friend was harassed on the street. My neighbors’ lawn signs and our neighborhood high school were defaced with antisemitic graffiti. This is not our Pittsburgh. Work done for years to bring together diverse communities has been undermined by fear.”
While garnering the 80,000 votes needed to win the seat is a steep challenge for a write-in candidate, Knoll already has many supporters eager to cast their ballot for him on Nov. 7.
“David, in my mind, has what it takes to be a successful civic leader, even if this current campaign is only about making a statement,” said Joshua Friedman, a Squirrel Hill resident and a member of Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish political organization. “Bethany Hallam, who I once held in high regard for her work reforming Allegheny County Jail, has put the local Jewish population in danger by fanning the flames of a conflict over which she has no political influence. She is alienating some members of the Jewish community who have steadfastly worked towards common goals like reforming ACJ.”
Attorney George Heym, an advocate for a variety of progressive causes, said he publicly supported Hallam in 2021. He is now appalled by her anti-Israel social media posts, which he described as “just blatantly celebrating horrific terrorist acts.”
Heym said that people tried to reach out to Hallam “behind the scenes” to explain how damaging her posts were, but she “went double down with radio silence.”
Squirrel Hill resident and Knoll supporter Rebecca Elhassid condemned Hallam’s “normalization of terrorism.”
The video and words Hallam posted “celebrating Hamas following the attack are dangerous for Jews and for all believers in women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and democracy,” Elhassid said. “I did not intend to support David [Knoll] in this race any more than he intended to run, but as Jews and as humans I believe we have a duty to stand up to the rising tide of antisemitism, which is compounded when an elected official like Bethany Hallam celebrates Hamas in the public forum. We are already seeing this translate into antisemitic incidents here in Pittsburgh and all over the world. We must stand up to it as individuals and through our government.”
Referencing Hallam’s social media posts, Hochberg said, “there’s a price for that behavior. My goal was to send a message by not voting for her, but now I’m hearing there’s a candidate that is stepping up. I’m going to write him in.”
The Chronicle emailed Hallam requesting comments in response to Knoll’s campaign. She wrote: “Conservative ‘Democrats’ have been searching for — and outright creating —reasons to launch a campaign against me and try to weaken the broader progressive push in Allegheny County. This allegation (which verges on slander) is just the latest example of this effort and could not be further from the truth: I support an immediate cessation of the ongoing harm being done to all innocent civilians, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or nationality; a peaceful, just, and durable end to the violence; and, at a minimum, even during wartime, a strict adherence to the rule of international humanitarian law. If Mr. Knoll doesn’t agree with that, then I’d agree with him that we don’t share the same values.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.