Braddock Borough Council has named a new mayor, capping a sometimes tumultuous search for John Fetterman’s replacement and setting the stage for a new era in Braddock politics.
Chardae Jones, a 29-year-old business analyst, was chosen by council in a special meeting Tuesday that saw five candidates “audition” for the interim seat before members of council and a standing-room only crowd. Jones will be sworn in next month and is the first new mayor of Braddock in 13 years.
In a five-minute address, Jones stressed her volunteer work and community involvement — she’s already a member of several borough commissions, including the Home Rule Commission. She also stressed her desire to serve as a conduit between council members, public safety officials and residents.
Jones steps into the role at a pivotal moment for the borough, which is at once economically resurgent and financially distressed. A once-booming steel town, Braddock remains under the state’s Act 47 plan for financially distressed municipalities, where it’s been for 30 years.
Braddock also continues to struggle with a disproportionately high crime rate. During the search for Fetterman’s replacement, candidate after candidate stressed public safety as a top priority. Others focused on the economic redevelopment underway in the borough, much of it initiated during Fetterman’s more than decade-long tenure as mayor, and related questions about the communal benefits and equity therein.
Jones said she views public safety and redevelopment as interconnected issues in Braddock.
“Redevelopment means nothing if the community isn’t safe,” Jones told The Incline minutes after being appointed by council in a unanimous vote.
Her self-professed commitment to the public safety issue fulfills a key component of Braddock’s mayoral purview, as overseeing the local police department is one of the mayor’s primary responsibilities. Fetterman was criticized for turning over administration of the borough’s force to the police chief in 2009.
It’s unclear what that administration will look like going forward, but Jones repeatedly stressed her desire as mayor to focus on curbing youth violence and finding workable solutions to address crime in the borough.
And she did so while conveying strong support for her predecessor.
“Because I’ve seen the mayors beforehand,” Jones explained, “and [Fetterman] brought some energy that was much-needed, and the spotlight he put on Braddock was necessary in order to move forward.”
Jones added, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
A particularly youthful mayor, Jones has never held public office but said she feels a youthful perspective is what’s needed now.
“We need to foster that energy locally and statewide. Who’s gonna lead if the younger people aren’t interested in politics?” she asked.
After being sworn in next month, Jones will have to run in the May primary and November general election if she wants to retain the seat.
Her interim appointment comes weeks after Fetterman formally resigned as mayor to become lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. Fetterman was elected to the statewide office in the November general election, running alongside incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf on the Democratic ticket. Fetterman was inaugurated earlier this month.
The first attempt by Braddock council members to find his successor derailed amid questions about the eligibility of two finalists chosen by a search committee headed by Council President Tina Doose and Council Vice President Robert Parker. Prior to that, council members said they rejected Fetterman’s suggestion that his wife take over the role.
Council ultimately chose to open the application process up to members of the public — twice.
In the last round, seven individuals signed up for an open audition before council. Only five followed through Tuesday.
Shawna Bass-Dark, a mother to 7 and grandmother to 13, said she wanted to be mayor to help the homeless, working families, those with mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems and to provide and encourage more youth mentoring in Braddock.
Dominique Sanders-Davis, a small business owner, said he wanted to ensure Braddock remains liveable for longtime residents and that economic redevelopment in the borough lifts all boats.
Larry Frost called for more foot patrols by local police as a way of rebuilding police-community relations.
And Delia Lennon-Winstead said at 63 she’s seen Braddock’s economic highs and its more recent economic lows. But she said she remains more hopeful than ever.
“There is a bright and amazing future for this town,” she said. “We are on the right path.”