Avalon names first woman mayor

Vacancies create election confusion

Avalon's first woman mayor, Brigitte Jackson, being sworn in by acting mayor Josh Klicker. Photo by Connie Rankin for The Citizen

Another glass ceiling cracked Tuesday evening, as Avalon Council appointed the borough’s first woman mayor.

Brigitte Jackson’s appointment to the seat is part of a convoluted tale of local election politics and musical chairs. Earlier this year, former Mayor David Haslett resigned his seat to accept a position as head of the borough’s public works department. At the time, he was running for re-election to another four-year term as mayor. It was too late to pull Haslett’s name from the primary ballot, and he ended up winning the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, Jackson, a Republican, and council member Tom Lloyd, a Democrat, ran primary campaigns seeking write-in votes on both tickets. Although election results are not yet official, Jackson appears to have secured the GOP nomination, and should appear on the general election ballot to be elected to the seat she now holds as an appointee.

Since Haslett’s resignation, council president Josh Klicker has served as acting mayor. His seat at the council table should have been filled by council’s vice president, Ralph Cortese, but Cortese resigned at the same time. Lloyd was selected by council to fill the president’s position while Klicker was serving as mayor.

Cortese’s seat on council also was filled at Tuesday’s meeting, with John Crawford of South Birmingham Avenue named to the position. Crawford is a Democrat who brings a background in landscaping and construction to the borough council. That could be valuable in the future, because council’s current expert on such matters, John Vetterly, also has resigned. The borough is seeking a third ward resident to fill that seat.

Crawford was appointed to fill the remainder of Cortese’s seat through 2019, and Avalon is advertising the same vacancy period for someone to fill Vetterly’s seat. According to the Allegheny County Elections Department, however, this traditional method of dealing with vacancies created after the election petition circulation deadline in February, but before the
county’s general election filing deadline this summer, is incorrect. The correct procedure is that currently being used by the Northgate School District to fill the vacancy created there by Jackson’s appointment as mayor of Avalon.

Jackson was in the middle of her second term on the school board, and would have continued to hold that office until the end of 2019. Northgate is now advertising for someone to fill that seat, but only until the beginning of December of this year. Superintendent Caroline Johns said that the district was advised by its solicitor to make the appointment only until the end of this year.

According to county elections official David Voye, school districts and municipalities will be sent a letter in July asking if any vacancies have occurred since the Feb. 14 petition deadline. The two Avalon Council vacancies, as well as the Northgate School Board vacancy, will have to be reported to the elections department, and two-year seats for each of the vacancies will be placed on the November ballot. Because the primary election has already occurred, he said, the local registered political committees (Democrat and Republican) will appoint candidates to run for each of the positions.

As for Jackson, she wants her history-making appointment to serve as a lesson for young people, including the two children she is raising with her husband, Derek Jackson. “[We] want them to believe that they can accomplish anything as long as they follow their heart and are willing to work for it. It doesn’t matter if people tell them they can’t do it or it’s never been done.”

In her new role as the head of the police department, Jackson said that she plans “to work closely with the chief and to advocate and support the department as needed.”

Avalon follows three local municipalities that already have seated women in the position of mayor: Ben Avon (Claire Wilwohl), Bellevue (Rosemary Heflin) and Emsworth (Dee Quinn).