Brash small-town mayor John Fetterman makes case for Senate in Philly

John Fetterman landed with a splash in a tall pint of beer at Fishtown’s Interstate Drafthouse on Sunday.

The brash mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a former steel town outside Pittsburgh with a population of around 2,100, is taking grassroots-style campaigning statewide as he seeks the Democratic nomination for Senate. He’s facing off against mainstream candidates Joe Sestak and Kate McGinty. The winner will go against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in November.

A stint with Americorps originally put the York native in Braddock, where in 2005 he decided to run for mayor, winning by one provisional vote. Since then he has gotten national attention for policies to rebuild the town. He is also known for tattooing the ZIP code of the town on one arm and the nine dates of town residents’ deaths — most of them by guns — on the otherother.

What sets Fetterman apart? Authenticity and personal commitment to his message. “These are the positions I take because I know they’re the right positions,” Fetterman said referring to his commitment to Colorado-style marijuana legalization, and his officiating same-sex marriages before they were legal in Pennsylvania — but that attitude came up repeatedly discussing his campaign.

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“These are my positions. I don’t focus group. I don’t poll test them. I can only advocate and champion what I actually believe in,” he said.

Fetterman gets most heated discussing the sufferings of the underprivileged. He cited the example of a casino housekeeper he met in Erie who earns $7.75 an hour, with a take-home pay of $357.93 for 80 hours of work.

“This poor man will never earn anything close enough to live on. So of course, he’s on food stamps. To me, that’s an American nightmare,” Fetterman said. “I hope we as a society look back 10 years from now, and say ‘My god, how could we ever have let something like this happen?’”

Read on to get a taste of Fetterman’s politics.

Why did you endorse self-described “Democratic socialist” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president? Wouldn’t increasing taxes hurt people in Braddock?

I think making sure everybody makes at least $15 an hour for the work that they do — I don’t see that as hurting anybody. I don’t see wanting to have universal health care as hurting anybody. I don’t see wanting to have low or no-cost college tuition hurting anybody. I don’t see making student loan debt manageable and … the ability to refinance your student loan debt hurting anybody.

I don’t see any position I’ve ever taken as left or radical.

Why are you running as a a Democrat?

Right or wrong, we have basically a two-party system. Most of my positions could never find a home in the Republican Party, but at least some of my positions find a home in the Democratic Party, even if they’re outside the mainstream.

I’m not going to carry water for all Democrats. There are many Democrats that are still too in bed with Wall Street, that will go to Flint, Michigan, drop off a case of bottled water, and head off in a private jet. I don’t vacation in Martha’s Vineyard in a $50,000 a week private rental.

I think what you believe and advocate for politically — there should be congruence in your private life and how you live your life.

What do you have to offer Philly?

I’ve been addressing problems like those in Philly for 15 years. The programming I established helped thousands of young people, mostly of color, get their GEDs. I developed a community policing program that emphasizes de-escalation and what is important and what we can address — versus other stuff that isn’t important, like pulling someone over for a burnt out traffic signal, a la Sandra Bland.

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As a gun owner, common sense gun reform. If 5 percent of gun dealers are responsible for 90 percent of the guns used in crimes, why can’t the NRA and everybody else agree that we want to put those guys out of business? Why is that so hard? Why is that controversial? If 5 percent of the farms were producing 90 percent of the eggs that make people sick, why wouldn’t we shut those farms down? Instead of saying “Well, we have a constitutional right to eggs.”

What is your zodiac sign?


Who is your favorite athlete?

Franco Harris. (From the Philly area?) Dr. J [Julius Erving]. I grew up watching him and I loved him a lot.

What band are you bumping right now?

The Beastie Boys and Alice in Chains have really been my muse on the drive back at 11:30 at night when I still have 200 miles to go.

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