Looking to enhance his role
Mr. Fetterman’s first campaign for statewide office — the initial sign that he had ambition to do something beyond Braddock — came in 2016, seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Pat Toomey. He finished third in a four-way Democratic primary while receiving 20 percent of the vote.
Though getting fewer than half the votes of party nominee Katie McGinty, who would lose to Mr. Toomey, Mr. Fetterman felt emboldened by his finish, considering his relative lack of funds and name recognition.
That set up last year’s bid for lieutenant governor, in which he sailed to nomination over four other Democrats, including the incumbent, Mike Stack, on whom Mr. Wolf soured early in his first term. As in the failed Senate race, Mr. Fetterman benefited from being the sole candidate from Western Pennsylvania. He also campaigned vigorously in rural counties statewide, he stressed, and believes that a lot of voters were attracted to his Braddock story and his progressive platform, particularly as a response to Donald Trump’s Pennsylvania victory in 2016 and right-wing agenda.
Mr. Fetterman has long backed legalizing recreational use of marijuana and supported a $15 minimum wage, stronger gun control measures (though he owns firearms himself) and other policies more in vogue for years with party leftists than centrists. He was the first in Western Pennsylvania to perform same-sex weddings. His new chief of staff will be Bobby Maggio, a 26-year-old gay man who managed Mr. Fetterman’s most recent campaign.
“The Democratic Party has moved and evolved on the issues to where I was always at,” Mr. Fetterman said. “Everyone’s progressive now. ... There’s a growing wave and momentum in recognizing how severe inequality is in our country.”
It’s that latter point — harking back to his relationship with Nicky Santana — that most motivates him to seek a higher position. Mr. Fetterman bristles at the notion of lieutenant governor being a low-value, low-impact role, though by statute it calls for him only to preside over the state Senate, Board of Pardons and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council.
He intends for the pardons board to reduce Pennsylvania’s prison population by releasing more inmates who justify a chance in the community. More broadly, he hopes his positive relationship and shared views with Mr. Wolf will win him more responsibility than is typical of the office. At the end of four years, Mr. Fetterman hopes to have a record that would place him in good position to challenge again for Mr. Toomey’s Senate seat, if he decides to pursue it.
J.J. Balaban, a Philadelphia-based campaign consultant accustomed to working for Democrats, including many Pennsylvanians but not Mr. Fetterman, said the new lieutenant governor could face an interesting test, as no one in that position has been elected senator or governor in Pennsylvania since the 1960s.
“Even for someone as distinctive as John Fetterman, he may find the office is not as good of a base as one might think,” Mr. Balaban said. “The challenge of being lieutenant governor is you have basically very minimal actual power and authority. ... Your power is mostly derived from what the governor allows you to do. That said, it’s clearly a bigger base than being mayor of Braddock.”
In addition to a bigger base, there’s a bigger salary. Mr. Fetterman will receive $166,300 annually as the highest-paid lieutenant governor in the nation. His father’s subsidies that have provided the Fettermans a middle-class lifestyle will no longer be needed.
Mr. Fetterman is not, however, moving his family into the state-provided mansion Mr. Stack has inhabited in suburban Harrisburg. He calls Braddock his permanent home, and he will commute for a few days each week in his black pickup truck to a residence in the state capital owned by his brother, Gregg.
And as he did with Chubb half a lifetime ago, Mr. Fetterman plans to wear a suit while performing his state duties. Just don’t expect him to get rid of his Braddock tattoos.
Gary Rotstein: [email protected] or 412-263-1255.