2 Harrison commissioners face challengers in Democratic primary
Two of three Harrison commissioners whose terms expire this year are seeking re-election, and both face challengers in the Democratic primary.
In the township’s 1st Ward, the May 21 primary features a rematch between incumbent Commissioner Charles Dizard and former commissioner William Mitchell Sr. In the 3rd Ward, Eric Bengel is challenging Commissioner Robin Bergstrom.
Fifth Ward Commissioner William Poston, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election. He is supporting Democrat Gary Meanor, who is unopposed.
There are no Republican candidates.
Poston said he’s not seeking re-election for two reasons: his wife’s fatigue with politics, and he thinks his 30 years of involvement is long enough.
“She’s had enough,” he said. “It’s time for the young guys to take the reins and run with it, like any other place.”
Meanor “has enthusiasm for the community,” Poston said. “He’s well-rounded in his line of thinking. He knows the people in the community. I think he’s going to be good.”
Mitchell could not be reached for comment. He had been a commissioner in the 1st Ward for a dozen years before voters favored Dizard over him in 2015.
A Minnesota native, Dizard has lived in Pennsylvania since 1985 and Harrison since 1994. Active in the community as a volunteer, Dizard said he first ran for commissioner to get more involved and “to have a greater voice.”
“There’s a lot of work to be done that’s not finished,” he said. “I’m interested in continuing to work on the major issues of community development, economic development, blight and housing.”
He wants to work with Highlands School Board, Allegheny County and private developers on projects such as the Heights Plaza shopping center, a river trail and senior housing.
“We have real opportunities in Harrison Township that no one else in the region has,” he said. “We need to work on having articulate strategies on economic development and community development. We’re starting to, but we’re not there yet.”
In the 3rd Ward, Bengel has never sought elective office before. His wife, Carolyn Bengel, is a district judge. He grew up in Lower Burrell, and they’ve lived in Harrison since 1997.
Bengel said he could bring his 30 years of business experience to public office. He sold his chiropractic business, which he took over from his father, two years ago.
“I want to attract businesses to our area,” he said. “If we don’t have businesses, we don’t have a vibrant area.”
Bengel said he keeps hearing the same things as he goes door-to-door — concerns about Heights Plaza, vacant buildings, the lack of economic development and public safety.
“I definitely want to look at our budget and see how our money’s being spent,” he said. “I want to work with the business manager and the secretary and see what’s been successful in the past and continue those successes and lop off anything that might be frivolous or not in the best needs of the township.”
Bengel said Bergstrom is a friend and neighbor. He has no issues with her performance as commissioner but said, “I feel I can do a better job.”
Bergstrom, a Harrison resident for 37 years, was first appointed in 2013 to replace her husband, Verne Bergstrom, after his unexpected death. She was first elected in 2015, when she was unopposed.
“I had been around the government area with him for a long time. He and I were both involved in the community,” she said. “The commissioners at that time asked if I would take the position. I thought about it and said, ‘OK.’ ”
Bergstrom said her focus has been on getting grant money, with an emphasis on safe walking and biking corridors in the township and Silver Lake Park.
“Having applied for many grants, I now have good connections. I have some credibility with the people in power that are making the decisions to give our township grants,” she said. “They know we have a plan. They are confident giving us money because they know we are going to execute the projects.”
One of those corridors is between Mile Lock Lane and Springhill Road, and getting up and down Springhill safely. With a corridor completed to Harrison Hills Park, connections can be made to Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties, she said.
“There’s so many connectors in that Freeport area we can connect with. We are the last piece in Allegheny County,” she said. “It’s pretty cool. That’s my big passion.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .