Braddock mayor assumes role of uniter for Democratic Party
PHILADELPHIA — Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is a big attraction at events surrounding this week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
“OH MY GOD. Are you John Fetterman?” squealed an admirer before she requested a “selfie” with Fetterman outside the Wells Fargo Center. The woman was not alone; everywhere Fetterman goes, he's greeted like a celebrity.
“I'm kind of like the international man of mystery,” said Fetterman, 46. He made a big splash in this spring's Democratic race for U.S. Senate.
Even when Fetterman isn't around, he generates some excitement and mystery. When Pennsylvania Democratic Chair Marcel Groen introduced Fetterman at the state delegation's breakfast Monday, everyone turned in their seats to try to catch a glimpse of him, but he was nowhere to be found.
“You know how hard it is when you're that big to disappear?” Groen said.
Fetterman — a Harvard-educated progressive Democrat who cuts an imposing figure at 6-foot-8 and more than 300 pounds — hasn't disappeared from politics since finishing third in the Senate race. He said he has adopted an “unofficial official role as a uniter,” in which he is trying to persuade Bernie Sanders Democrats and anyone else who will listen to support Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty in the November election.
Fetterman endorsed Sanders in the primary and lost to McGinty in his race. Complicating matters: Fetterman's wife, Gisele, is a Democratic delegate who pledged to support Sanders.
“It hasn't been hard at all to support Hillary Clinton or Katie McGinty,” Fetterman said, noting that he thinks the alternatives of Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, respectively, are unacceptable.
“Some people who supported Bernie Sanders and me in the primary were disappointed to hear that I endorsed Hillary, but the primary is over and now it's time to unite and do what's in the best interest of the party and the country,” Fetterman said. “We need every vote we can get. For people who say they're going to vote for a third-party candidate or not vote at all, you may as well go get sized for a red ‘Make America Great Again' hat now.”
Fetterman's efforts haven't been lost on influential Democrats.
“Give a lot of credit to John Fetterman,” said Preston Maddock, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “He gets it. He understands what's at stake in this election.
“While he has his set of values, give him credit for pivoting to a conciliatory tone and role … because the alternatives we have in Donald Trump and Pat Toomey are so, so out of touch. People within the party have certainly noticed that, and they're grateful for it.”
Sean Coit, a spokesman for McGinty, said she is “thrilled to have John's support.”
Fetterman finished third in the U.S. Senate race, collecting 20 percent of the votes. His performance surpassed all polling projections and he did it on a $600,000 campaign budget. McGinty, who collected 43 percent of the votes, raised $3.8 million. Former Navy admiral and congressman Joe Sestak got 33 percent of the vote with $4.7 million.
Fetterman and McGinty disagreed on some policy specifics during the primary, but Coit said they approached the issues with “the same values and principles” and that the debate was healthy.
Fetterman said he has been invited to a slew of events while in town. On Monday, he appeared on a panel for the progressive Keystone Progress at Philadelphia's Gay Community Center.
Beyond his appearances and efforts to build support for Clinton and McGinty, Fetterman said he plans to be “arm candy for his wife.”
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847.