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What's next for Braddock as John Fetterman preps for new role?

Jamie Martines
| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, 3:27 p.m.

John Fetterman woke Wednesday with a new title: lieutenant governor-elect.

But for a little while longer, he’s still the mayor of Braddock.

After celebrating victory, Fetterman met with his running mate, Gov. Tom Wolf, before picking up his kids from their grandparents’ home and heading west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Braddock bound.

Fetterman can choose to resign or to continue serving as mayor until his inauguration as lieutenant governor in January, said Tina Doose, Braddock Borough Council president.

Fetterman plans to meet with local leadership and discuss what will be best for Braddock.

“One thing’s for sure: The community needs to be able to move on,” Fetterman told the Tribune-Review.

Some Fetterman supporters have looked to his wife, Gisele Fetterman, as a potential replacement.

Social media posts on Tuesday celebrated the Fettermans’ win: A vote for John was seen by some as a vote for Gisele, who along with the couple’s three children was a presence on the campaign trail.

She is also a force behind several Pittsburgh-area organizations that support families in need and tackle issues such as food insecurity.

She’s the founder of the Braddock Free Store, a nonprofit that distributes surplus and donated goods like clothes and food, as well as the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that redistributes unused food to people in need throughout Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“I do love my community, and I will continue my work in Braddock,” Gisele Fetterman said when asked if she would consider taking over as mayor.

The Fetterman family will continue living in Braddock as the lieutenant governor shuttles to Harrisburg and other parts of the state, she said.

Gisele Fetterman said she hopes her husband’s successor will continue to amplify the voices of people in the Braddock community.

“I just hope it’s someone who loves the community,” she said. “When you’re leading with love, it’s easy to find the right things to do. I just want it to be someone who loves this community.”

Though the new appointee may have a different vision for the borough, Fetterman said he’s confident that Braddock “is undeniably heading in the right direction.”

The council will start advertising a call for applications to fill the seat this week, Doose said. Applicants must be a registered voter and must have lived in Braddock for at least a year.

The council plans to review the applications and appoint Fetterman’s replacement by January, she said. The new mayor will have the option of running in the May primary and must win the November 2019 general election to keep the seat.

“I trust the process,” John Fetterman said, adding that he has “complete confidence” in the council and in Braddock’s citizens to choose his successor. He did not say who he hopes will replace him.

The mayor is the voice and face of Braddock but gets to vote only when there’s a tie on the six-member council, Doose said.

“I’m looking forward to finding someone that will fit that role,” she said.

Doose said she doesn’t plan to seek the role of mayor. She’d rather stay on council to continue working on projects that are in progress, among them plans to move the borough out of Act 47 status, a state financial distress designation, as well as efforts to establish a home-rule charter and to develop a comprehensive plan.

Fetterman has served as mayor of Braddock for the past 12 years — “the greatest professional honor I will ever have,” he said.

During that time, the towering former college offensive tackle has become a face recognized throughout the Mon Valley and nationwide for his progressive politics. He’s credited for revitalizing Braddock and lays claim to building the borough “back from the verge of extinction” during his tenure as mayor, according to his campaign website.

Following an unsuccessful U.S. Senate run in 2016, Fetterman made political history after winning a five-way Democratic Party primary race for lieutenant governor in May. He beat out the incumbent, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.

Stack, who had a distant relationship with Gov. Tom Wolf during the 2014 campaign and through their first term in office, became the first sitting lieutenant governor to lose a primary.

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

Since then, Fetterman has campaigned alongside Wolf. They accepted victory together in Harrisburg on Tuesday, winning 57.65 percent of the vote over Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner and his running mate, Jeffrey Bartos.

“My reaction is just complete and utter gratitude to the people of Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said.

He plans to put his experience working in a small community to use and said he looks forward to tackling issues like criminal justice reform right away.

“It’s a statewide platform, ” Fetterman said. “It’s being able to convene. It means being able to get people on the phone. It’s understanding what conditions are actually like on the ground and knowing that it takes a lot of legwork.”

That’s exactly what Doose hopes he’ll do. She doesn’t see his win as a loss for Braddock; rather, it’s an opportunity to advocate for Braddock and communities like it that she said haven’t received adequate support from the state.

“It’s a larger voice,” she said. “Communities like Braddock, we need some things to kind of balance the playing field when it comes to resources.”

She hopes to see Fetterman tackle issues that have played out in Braddock on the state level.

“I definitely believe there’s been a school-to-prison pipeline, in particular for African-American youths,” Doose said. “So changing some of those dynamics is going to be great for the state.”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, jmartines@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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