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Anita Prizio turned disappointment into motivation to win Allegheny County Council seat

Theresa Clift
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 5:00 p.m.
Allegheny County Council member-elect Anita Prizio is an O'Hara resident who owns Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service Inc., in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune Review
Allegheny County Council member-elect Anita Prizio is an O'Hara resident who owns Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service Inc., in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood.
Allegheny County Council member-elect Anita Prizio owns Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service Inc., in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune Review
Allegheny County Council member-elect Anita Prizio owns Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service Inc., in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood.

Businesswoman Anita Prizio's strong support for Bernie Sanders and her deep disappointment in the outcome of the presidential election persuaded her to return to public office for the first time in over a decade.

“I thought, ‘this is my way to be proactive and do something,'” Prizio said. “I didn't just want to complain, I wanted to actually do something.”

On Tuesday, Prizio, a Democrat, won a seat on Allegheny County Council, unseating Republican Ed Kress in District 3 with 50.8 percent of the vote — a margin of victory of 298 votes.

Prizio, 54, was born and raised in O'Hara. She attended Winchester Thurston, then earned a bachelor's degree from Bucknell University in political science and German. She then earned an MBA and JD at the University of Pittsburgh, where she met her husband, John Betzler, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon.

Instead of getting a job at a big corporation, Prizio decided to apply her business skills to her parents' business, Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service.

Today, she owns the engine parts warehouse, which is based in Larimer and has a branch in Harrisburg.

Prizio served on O'Hara Township Council from 1998 through 2006. She didn't seek re-election because she wanted to give someone else a chance — and because her two children were getting older and had more activities.

She wasn't planning to return to politics until Sanders emerged as a presidential primary candidate.

“When Bernie became a viable candidate, I was excited,” Prizio said. “He spoke to me, he spoke to the things I believed in on so many issues. He just motivated me.”

Prizio ran to be a Democratic Party delegate for Sanders and won.

Long list of issues

Prizio said she wanted to give the voters of her Allegheny County Council district another option at the polls.

“I think it's important that people have a choice, and I knew no one was running against Ed (Kress),” Prizio said.

After she takes office in January, Prizio said she wants to focus on establishing an investigative task force to examine the Allegheny County Jail, strengthening penalties tied to air pollution and enhancing requirements for developers before they receive tax credits.

At the top of her list, though, is addressing issues related to lead-tainted drinking water and the opioid crisis, she said.

She would like to see first responders have easier access to Narcan, an overdose reversal drug.

She'd also like the county health department to partner with municipal agencies to provide more education about opioids, increase pill disposal opportunities, and to explore the option for municipalities to sue pharmaceutical companies.

On lead, Prizio proposes the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority test the entire water supply, not just the same homes that routinely send in samples . She also thinks the authority should prioritize replacing lead pipes connected to homes where small children and pregnant women live , who are the most susceptible to lead poisoning.

“If we want to have a livable county and city, we need to make sure those things are taken care of,” Prizio said. “People don't want to move here if they can't have clean water and clean air.”

Prizio also said she wants to ensure the council stops violating the Sunshine Act, which requires public officials to conduct deliberations and decision-making during meetings that are open to the public. So far this year, the council has violated the act at least four times, the Trib reported.

The council met in secret to hire a staffer, and Democrats met in secret to pick a new council member to fill a vacancy. The council also planned to meet behind close doors to discuss a proposal to require all children to undergo blood lead testing, but canceled that meeting after the Trib's report.

Those types of violations erode the public's trust in council members, Prizio said.

“Sometimes the county plays loose with the rules, and it affects the way people feel about whether they can trust them,” Prizio said. “I think trustworthiness is an issue, the perception that politicians aren't trustworthy.”

Democrats, women pick up seats across U.S.

Prizio's victory increases the number of Democrats on the 15-member council to 11 and the number of women to four.

The flip of the District 3 seat — which covers Millvale, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, Reserve, Etna, O'Hara, Fox Chapel, Shaler, Hampton, Indiana and West Deer — from Republican to Democrat follows a trend from Tuesday's elections nationally.

Democrats won gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia and many seats in Virginia's House of Delegates, including a victory by the first openly transgender state legislator in the country.

Prizio said she is one of many women nationwide inspired to run for local office after Hillary Clinton's defeat last year.

By February, the nonpartisan organization She Should Run heard from 13,000 women around the country who were interested in running for elected office. The organization is trying to raise that number to 250,000 by 2030.

Congress is made up of only about 20 percent women, while in statehouses, about 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

On Allegheny County Council, it's a similar story. Only 20 percent of members, currently three out of 15, are women.

Prizio will bring it to 26 percent.

Prizio said she plans to meet with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who sponsors most council legislation, as well as council President John DeFazio.

“She has some great ideas and some great initiatives she wants to work on, and I'm looking forward to having her start,” Fitzgerald said.

Prizio was endorsed by the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, the Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America and Our Revolution.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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