Ending months of speculation, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman has confirmed his latest bid for higher office, telling The Incline he is now officially a candidate for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in May’s Democratic primary.
Fetterman, who ran for U.S. Senate last year as a Sanders-esque populist and progressive, is running to replace current Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a scandal-plagued second-in-command to Gov. Tom Wolf. Both are Democrats. The Braddock mayor said he plans to serve as a “progressive backstop” for Wolf if elected next year — assuming Wolf himself is re-elected.
Fetterman insists that his decision to run had nothing to do with Stack’s fall from grace.
“This is independent of anything that Stack has done or is doing now,” he told The Incline.
Instead, Fetterman is seeking a bigger platform for his brand of Rust Belt populism, adding, “The lieutenant governorship is largely a limited role, but at the end of the day I think it can be turned into a progressive bully pulpit.”
The governor’s office has so far declined comment.
Meanwhile, Fetterman joins a number of Democratic challengers — and one Republican — to have formally declared their candidacy for Stack’s seat. In Pennsylvania, candidates for lieutenant governor and governor run separately in party primaries and together in the general election, seeking a four-year term.
Fetterman announced his bid via Facebook just days after being re-elected mayor of Braddock for a third time. A more formal announcement of his campaign for lieutenant governor was slated for this morning in Braddock.
“I wrestled with the same emotions that I had when I decided to run for the Senate. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that being elected mayor of Braddock four times has been the greatest honor I’ll ever receive,” he said.
“It’s been my life,” he continued. “All my children were born here. I met my wife in Braddock, so it was not a decision I’d ever make lightly, but so many places across Pennsylvania lost so much, and we have to focus on what these places need and deserve. And I think the lieutenant governorship will provide a unique opportunity to pursue that, frankly.”
In short, Fetterman says he wants to apply the lessons learned in Braddock more broadly and to help ensure Wolf is re-elected. Fetterman describes the governor as a firewall against what he calls a caustic conservative agenda proliferating at both the state and federal level.
During his failed primary bid for U.S. Senate last year, Fetterman spoke in sweeping terms about Rust Belt towns across the state and country with similar struggles to those of Braddock. He has remained on that message in the year since and remains there now.
“It’s about taking the issues of Braddock and making it about all these other places in the region that need this kind of a focus,” Fetterman said of the lieutenant governor role. “The issues I worked on for the last 16 years in Braddock are the same I want to infuse into this.”
In hindsight, some might argue that Fetterman’s Senate campaign never really ended, and that only the office being pursued has changed. Fetterman said this remains true of his platform as well.
“All the issues I ran on for the Senate have only gotten worse under Trump,” he added. “And so we’re just going to be campaigning on the same issues we did in 2016.”
Fetterman has also said he plans to run again for U.S. Senate in 2022.
“I think that John Fetterman has had his sights set higher than Braddock mayor for a while,” Kristin Kanthak, an associate professor with Pitt’s Department of Political Science, previously told The Incline.
Fetterman is also working with a few holdovers from 2016, including members of his audio-visual team. Fetterman declined to discuss the donors or fundraising activities for his lieutenant governor bid directly, but said he expects to raise a majority of his campaign money through small, individual contributions.
Wanda Murren, Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson, said candidates must form “candidate committees” and appoint treasurers once they’ve raised $250 or more for a campaign.
Murren added: “Mr. Fetterman still has a committee registration from his Senate run, so he would not have to form a new committee, but he would have to file to amend the ‘office sought’ section of the existing registration.”
As of Monday, there was nothing in the department’s online database to indicate he had amended his registration. There was no paperwork on file for the other lieutenant governor candidates either.
Nominating petitions may only be circulated between Feb. 13 and March 6, 2018, Murren said, adding, “The period for filing has not begun yet.”
In the meantime, Fetterman remains mayor while running to replace Stack. If he wins, he and his family will relocate to Harrisburg. The mayor’s office in Braddock would be filled by borough council appointment, Fetterman explained.
Not that most people weren’t prepared for this.
It’s been rumored as far back as 2016 that Fetterman had his sights set on the lieutenant governorship. That slow drip only intensified in recent days with details of Fetterman’s bid being leaked to the press. There was also the weekend announcement of campaign-style events to be held in Braddock tonight and Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Back in August, City & State reported on the growing divide between Wolf and Stack, after Stack, a former state senator from Philadelphia, made what was described as a disparaging comment about the governor, leaving some party stalwarts quietly beginning the search for Stack’s replacement.
It’s unclear if Fetterman is who or what they had in mind, and he declined to discuss the behind-the-scenes machinations in greater detail.
But former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, for one, seemed more than open to the possibility of another Fetterman run.
“John is the archetype of a Trump-Democratic voter, except that he has a master’s from Harvard. We should be using candidates like John in Pennsylvania all the time,” Rendell told City & State. “I love John Fetterman. Of course, only Gov. Wolf can choose who to back for lieutenant governor.”
Wolf’s office referred a request for comment to the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, which did not respond to an inquiry from The Incline. State Democrats will hold their endorsement convention at the beginning of February.
Meanwhile, Fetterman also expressed interest to those in the know and explored his own options, including the formation of a campaign team and the drafting of necessary paperwork.
But Fetterman told The Incline he wanted to wait to confirm his candidacy until after the Nov. 7 mayoral election. Fetterman was the only candidate for Braddock mayor.
“I’m not going to be running before I’m re-elected. This job is so important to me. [So] out of respect for the office, I would never launch a campaign before another term as mayor,” Fetterman said.