At 83, Betty Copeland preps for first public job: Bridgeville mayor
At 83, Betty Copeland of Bridgeville accomplished what many politicians spend a lifetime trying to do.
She is believed to be the first woman — and the first African-American — set to lead Bridgeville, a town of 5,100 when she is sworn in as mayor in January. She did it by ousting an incumbent.
Her message to residents as she enters office: Do for others.
“I'd like to encourage more people to volunteer, and be kind to each other,” Copeland said. “Help someone. There's so much need out there.”
Copeland, a self-described volunteer, mother and grandmother, ran against Pasquale DeBlasio, treasurer of the local Republican committee, a businessman whose father also was mayor.
Voters gave her 523 votes to DeBlasio's 491 in the Nov. 7 general election.
DeBlasio said he was disappointed, but not surprised, at the results.
“Mrs. Copeland is a fine, fine woman and her and her family are wonderful people and are wonderful members of the community,” he said. “Standing at the polls with her children was a very enjoyable thing. The community is going to be well-served.”
That election also saw change on the seven-member council. Those elected to four-year terms are incumbents William Henderson, a Democrat; and Republicans Bruce Ghelarducci and Joseph Verduci; as well as newcomer, Republican Virginia Bott Schneider.
Democrat Nino Petrocelli defeated Republican Bob Fryer for a two-year term.
Bridgeville Democrats sought someone to run against DeBlasio, who was seeking a second term. Democratic Committeewoman Deborah Colosimo approached Copeland to run for office.
Copeland's lack of government experience doesn't mean she isn't a good fit, said Colosimo, who sought a seat on council but lost in November. Her husband, an incumbent, was not up for election.
“The mayor is a goodwill ambassador, someone who gives back to the community, a pillar of the community — she is all of that and so much more,” she said. “It's going to be a breath of fresh air.”
The mayor in Bridgeville does not vote, unless it is to break a tie on the council, and cannot introduce legislation.
“I still retain the most powerful position in the town, as does every one of its citizens,” DeBlasio said. “A person who speaks and asks for reasonable things, who tries to make the community better — that is what the power of the mayor is.”
Copeland and DeBlasio met to prepare for the transition, she said, and she also met with others in the borough. On her first trip to talk with members of the police department, Copeland brought Bundt cake.
“I'll work with them in all aspects,” she said. “We have an excellent police force.”
In a town where family roots run deep, both candidates were well-known, if not by face then by last name, and by what family members had done before them.
Copeland is known for her good work: Some of her community involvement has included wrapping Christmas presents at the now-closed Mayview State Hospital, helping the sight-impaired and working with the Greater Bridgeville Area Chamber of Commerce, St. Clair Hospital, the Bridgeville Area Historical Society and First Baptist Church of Bridgeville.
Copeland's husband was the town's popular postmaster general, affectionately known for his volunteer work and community involvement. He died in 2016.
Her campaign — led by Colosimo — spent $593.26. That money paid for yard signs and cards mailed to voters with the campaign slogan: “Bridgeville Loves Betty.”
She had a Facebook page, but no website.
DeBlasio's father, also named Pasquale, had been mayor in the 1970s and '80s. The family owns DeBlasio & DeBlasio Associates, a public accounting firm in the town's business district.
The incumbent mayor sponsored posts on the website Bridgeville.org in which he highlighted accomplishments of his first term, such as enlisting a social media consultant to help share information about crimes via Facebook. He said in a second term he would press for “smart and creative zoning” that helps Bridgeville draw business investments. He estimates he spent about $1,200 campaigning.
When Copeland is sworn in next month, she says she'll try to bring people together despite differing views.
“I try to be kind to the people that I meet and work with,” she said. “I try to listen and that's all I can do at this point is listen to them and hope maybe there will be some way of bringing people together to discuss their feelings.”
Kimberly Palmiero is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Correction, Dec. 28, 2017: This story has been updated to reflect that Nino Petrocelli defeated Republican Bob Fryer for a two-year term.