On Nov. 14, just a week after he was re-elected mayor of Braddock for a third time and more than a year after ending his failed bid for U.S. Senate, John Fetterman went back to the campaign trail.
In a theater inside the converted Chevy dealership that doubles as his home, Fetterman gathered a group of supporters and media to confirm what many had already known: He was running again for higher office, this time for the commonwealth’s lieutenant governorship.
On Tuesday, Fetterman won the Democratic primary in that race, making Mike Stack the first incumbent LG to lose in a primary, ever, and beating four opponents in total, two of them more heavily funded. Fetterman also still plans to run for Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey’s seat in 2022.
John Fetterman is greeted by two of his children after declaring victory on election night, May 15, 2018.COLIN DEPPEN / THE INCLINE
Fetterman rose to prominence as the mayor of Braddock, the decimated steel town about a dozen miles upstream of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela that’s home to 2,000 people. In campaigns for Senate and most recently lieutenant governor, Braddock remained as central a character as Fetterman himself, symbolizing a uniquely American decay and the sort of place that politicians — Fetterman included — vow will no longer be forgotten.
And as much as the borough has come to symbolize his philosophical approach — consider it his political “Rosebud,” if you will — for the rest of world, Fetterman is Braddock. For years he’s been the face of it, the voice, the mascot, the harbinger of sometimes controversial change, and the progressive populist baked into almost every outsider’s mention of the place.
So what happens if he’s gone?
Well, Fetterman said he isn’t going anywhere, even if he wins with Gov. Tom Wolf in the fall. He said he plans to keep Braddock as his base of operations while commuting to Harrisburg and traveling to the rest of the state as needed. It’s unclear what exactly that arrangement would look like or how it might work.
Pennsylvania political historian Terry Madonna said he’s never heard of such a thing. Asked if the governor has any misgivings, Wolf’s reelection campaign said in an email, “Governor Wolf lives in his own home in York rather than in the Governor’s residence. He doesn’t have concerns about this.”
One thing is for certain, Fetterman would no longer be mayor of Braddock if he and Wolf beat Republican candidates Scott Wagner and running mate Jeff Bartos in November.
“Understand that the role of mayor in a borough or municipality is very different than the role of mayor in a large city,” said Braddock Borough Council President Tina Doose. “Because the truth of the matter is that the role of mayor in a small town like this is to be the face and voice of the community, and John has elevated the role of mayor.”
She added, “John has a narrative to sell, and people like that narrative.”
Doose credited this hook and the media interest it’s inspired with helping to attract new attention and new businesses to Braddock, which has happened in a real and, for some, uncomfortable way during his decade-plus tenure. In that time, Braddock added a high-end restaurant, a craft beer pub, a screenprinting store, and there are plans for a coffee shop.
It’s also added new housing, senior housing, parks, The Free Store and a new urgent-care center that filled a void left by the shuttering of a local hospital five years ago. Fetterman was first elected mayor in 2005 and has since touted reductions in crime and, in particular, a five-year stretch without a homicide.
For all these reasons, Braddock has, at times, been held up as a symbol of the Rust Belt renaissance.