Are Voters Turning Against The Establishment Strongly Enough To Elect John Fetterman To The U.S. Senate?
I haven't lived in Pennsylvania in over a decade, and when I first heard about a guy named John Fetterman jumping into the Democratic primary for the Senate seat currently held by right-wing Republican Pat Toomey, I didn't understand what that meant. This guy looks like a biker, I thought-- and that town 10 miles east of Pittsburgh he's the mayor of, Braddock, has a population of just over 2,000. But I called him anyway... and was impressed with how down to earth and straightforward he is. And for real. Later I found out he's been on with David Letterman, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert.
He's 6’8”, has a masters from Harvard and tattoos on both arms, and wears Dickies work shirts like they’re a uniform to show solidarity with the very working-class community he represents. Not many people have been interested in the Pennsylvania primary, thoroughly screwed up by the party bosses... until now.
Fetterman’s pragmatic approach even caused him to garner some national attention back in 2013 when he defied the state’s conservative governor at the time and performed Pennsylvania’s first same-sex marriage. His populist tone and political philosophy could very well end up being what we need to topple Toomey. I’ve asked John to do a guest post about why he is running. If you like what you read, you can contribute to his very grassroots campaign here.
I Won By A Single Vote, And I Got To Work
by Braddock Mayor John Fetterman
I do not look like a typical politician. I don’t even look like a typical person. I even lack the clichéd political metaphorical sleeves to roll up because all I’ve ever worn since becoming mayor are short sleeve works shirts. And that’s because hard work is the only way to build the town I love back up.
Back in the 1950s, folks in Braddock would say: if you can't get it in Braddock, you just don't need it.
Since becoming mayor, it has been: reinvention is the only option. Or as I’ve cribbed from Game of Thrones: the chaos of Braddock was a ladder, and the climb is all there is.
In the intervening 60 years between its heyday and today, Braddock lost 90 percent of everything it was: population, businesses, homes.
What’s left is one of the poorest communities in the commonwealth. Braddock has struggled for decades with abandonment, blight, unemployment and violent crime.
I moved to Braddock in 2001, after stints in the AmeriCorps and Harvard University for a master’s in public policy to start a GED program for young adults. After four years teaching young mothers and fathers, I also knew I’d found a community I could call home.
My first campaign came down to one concept: inequality. Inequality in income. Inequality in wealth. Inequality in housing. Inequality in safety. Inequality in opportunity. Inequality in healthcare, even inequality in the air we breathe. I believed it is one of the defining issues of our time.
I won by a single vote, and I got to work.
In Braddock, we’ve tried a little bit of everything. I turned my first home into a community center. We’ve plotted abandoned land into urban gardens and creative spaces and artist studios. My wife started the first-of-its-kind Free Store where anyone in the county can get necessities on an honor system. We’ve applied for block grants for youth summer jobs, and when the Good Humor truck refused to come to Braddock, we started our own-- a tradition of free ice cream for the kids.
I have been Mayor of Braddock for 10 years. I’m proud to say that we have turned a major corner-- we went more than five years without a single homicide. I will never lose sight of the people who lost their lives in our town on my watch. I have all nine dates of those lost tattooed on my arm.
Braddock’s challenges are uniquely severe, they are not unique.
And that’s the problem.
Towns like Braddock are all over Pennsylvania-- they are all over the country. The good steel mill or factory jobs that people relied on for generations to support their families aren’t coming back, but no one is sitting around waiting for them to come back either. The people I know want to work. They are hard workers to boot. But where are we as a community or as a country, when hard work isn’t enough?
When I look at the state of our government-- the blatant corruption in Harrisburg or tribal politics in D.C. and I see the people who are out of work or losing their homes, people who are sick or kept down, I see the inequality of our age getting worse and more insidious.
It’s the inequality I can’t stand that we are all too willing to leave towns like Braddock behind, but we wouldn’t let the Wall Street Banks fail. It’s the inequality of the jobs we sent overseas, but the unwillingness of our politicians to make the investments we need to breed new domestic industry like clean energy here again. It’s the inequality of justice when some couples can marry and others cannot. It’s an unfair, imbalanced equation that’s breeding hopelessness and in our next generation.
I am running for U.S. Senate because what I have learned in my life is that you can’t sit back when you can fight back. We can’t accept the kind of inequality we are seeing right now as the defining issue of our time. We have to work to change it.
I would never pander to you by saying that I alone can fundamentally change Washington D.C., anymore than I could bring back the 14 furniture stores Braddock once had.
What I can promise you is that I will fight in a principled, collaborative way that my 14 years of service here in Braddock demonstrates, and I will try any way I can to make the future a little bit better than what we can expect today.