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John Fetterman aims to take progressive agenda to state's 2nd-highest office

Wes Venteicher
| Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:21 p.m.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman speaks to supporters and members of the media during a news conference announcing his candidacy for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in Braddock on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman speaks to supporters and members of the media during a news conference announcing his candidacy for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in Braddock on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017.

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman's announcement Tuesday that he plans to run for lieutenant governor resembled the one he made two years ago when he jumped into a heated U.S. Senate race.

Fetterman delivered the news in a theater beneath his home, in a building that sits across the street from the Edgar Thompson Plant steel mill. He discussed his progressive agenda, which includes plans to reform immigration laws, raise the minimum wage and legalize marijuana. He said his efforts to revitalize a financially distressed town of 2,100 people could help him succeed in a higher political office.

The burly, 6-foot-8-inch candidate pointed out one notable difference.

“I decided to wear long pants today,” Fetterman, 48, told about 50 supporters inside Barebones Black Box Theater.

He donned blue jeans instead of his signature cargo shorts for the occasion. He wore a short-sleeved black work shirt like he usually does.

Fetterman finished third in the Democratic primary race for a U.S. Senate seat in 2016, but his run surprised many observers by collecting 20 percent of the votes cast and boosted his name recognition as a progressive political outsider.

Another notable difference was Tuesday's endorsement from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. In the 2016 Senate race, Peduto supported former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty, the eventual Democratic nominee.

“John Fetterman running for lieutenant governor may be one of the most important races that we have in 2018,” Peduto said. “To the political folks who are here, he will have an organization that is larger than most governor's races. The grass-root support that he's been able to build has been built from the sweat that he has put (in) working to make this community in Western Pennsylvania a community for all. And he has support across the board, not only through Western Pennsylvania, but through his race for U.S. Senate, all of Pennsylvania.”

Fetterman said he thinks he can boost the profile of the office, which typically receives little public attention. He said that if he's elected, he wouldn't live in the lieutenant governor's mansion.

“I do believe I can remake the office and make something productive out of it,” he said.

“In this particular race, it's also being a progressive backstop for Gov. Wolf and doing everything we can in our campaign to make sure he's re-elected,” Fetterman said.

He declined to share details of his talks with Wolf's office.

Fetterman will need to spend a lot of money on television ads across the state to boost his name recognition, said Democratic strategist Mike Mikus. He said Fetterman proved his ability to raise funds from small donors during the Senate race but will likely need to attract some larger donors.

Mikus said it's unknown what effect the lieutenant governorship might have on Fetterman's political future.

“It helps. It would raise his profile a bit,” Mikus said. “At the same time, the lieutenant governor's position is not a very high-profile position. I would guess that most Pennsylvanians don't even know who the lieutenant governor is.”

Fetterman grew up in York, played football at Albright College in Reading and earned master's degrees from the University of Connecticut and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He moved to Braddock in 2001 to start a GED program. He ran for mayor in 2005 and was recently elected to a fourth term.

Fetterman concluded the kickoff event by playing a campaign video in which he drives past abandoned and run-down homes and criticizes President Trump for using towns like Braddock as props for political ends.

“Local problems this large require a lot of help and assistance from higher levels of government, and we're not getting that right now. It's about getting a bigger platform, and that's why I'm running for lieutenant governor,” Fetterman says in the video.

Nominees for governor and lieutenant governor appear together on general election ballots in Pennsylvania but run separately in primaries.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack had a distant relationship during the 2014 campaign and through their first term in office. Wolf stripped Stack of his police protective detail and reduced staffing at the lieutenant governor's residence early this year following a scandal over Stack's verbal mistreatment of state workers.

Marty Marks, Stack's campaign spokesman, cast the lieutenant governor as the more experienced candidate on Tuesday.

“Lt. Gov. Stack likes John Fetterman and understands that practically nothing separates them on policy,” Marks said. “What does set them apart is experience.”

He cited Stack's work on the state's Board of Pardons, along with his veterans initiatives and advocacy against gerrymandering.

Regarding the state worker treatment, he said, “I can only say that the genesis of those stories related to a family health issue that the lieutenant governor and his family have dealt with as a personal matter.”

Also in the lieutenant governor's race are Army veteran and former congressional candidate Aryanna Berringer of Murrysville and Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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