At a Wednesday pit stop in Philadelphia, newly minted Democratic lieutenant governor candidate John Fetterman pondered the meaning of running for an office that some say is superfluous and others would like to see abolished altogether.
“Obviously, it’s a backup position to the governor first...but I would also be using it as a bully pulpit for the issues I care a lot about: the forgotten places in Pennsylvania, the opioid crisis,” he said. “But it’s hard to ignore Pat Toomey and what he’s talking about ahead of 2022.”
For those keeping track, 2022 is when the Republican U.S. Senator will next seek reelection.
Fetterman officially announced his candidacy for the 2018 Democratic primary just days ago, but he’s already released a professionally made campaign commercial and assembled a campaign team that includes veterans from his 2016 Senate run.
With an extensively tattooed physique reminiscent of Andre the Giant, the mayor of Braddock, a small town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, is already different than most political candidates. But it’s a particularly unconventional lieutenant governor candidate who openly admits he’s seeking the office as a platform toward a distant Senate bid – not to mention his support for an amendment to do away with the office in its current form.
“I support the amendment,” he said. “I like the idea that the governor gets to pick his own running mate.”
The three-term mayor’s reflection on his latest campaign also skews far beyond the handful of duties assigned to the office he is currently seeking – casting the deciding vote in rare state Senate tiebreakers and presiding over the Board of Pardons. Fetterman is more eager to talk about his support for legalizing marijuana or President Donald Trump co-opting communities like Braddock for campaign talking points.
Or his recent dinner with TV host Anthony Bourdain – mainly because some Pittsburghers complained the episode was too critical of their region’s struggles.
“I have to say, nobody who knows anything about Bourdain thought that he was going to be a straight-up cheerleader,” he said. "He was cool and professional and kind in person, and everything came through in the episode."
Despite his main opponent – Lt. Gov. Mike Stack – being embroiled in a string of scandals, Fetterman said he won’t run a negative campaign. Stack and his wife have been hit with allegations they abused their state-provided staff and security detail. Other reports have shown Stack’s office billing the state for dubious work-related expenses.
But Fetterman also promised, if elected, that he would eschew one-of-a-kind perks – like a state-owned mansion in Fort Indiantown Gap – that are at the center of Stack’s troubles.
“I would stay in Braddock,” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me, given everything I’ve said I stand for, to be living in a stone mansion with a pool.”
City&State PA first broke the news that Fetterman was exploring a run in August. The mayor credited a wave of support in the wake of that story for helping make up his mind.
“It was nothing but positive reinforcement and encouragement from people,” he said. “That story really helped bring about my final decision.”
In addition to the incumbent, Fetterman will face off against fellow Democrats Aryanna Berringer, an Army veteran and former congressional candidate, and Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone.
Former Republican Senate candidate Jeff Bartos, who recently gave up his run at the US Senate to join state Sen. Scott Wagner’s campaign, is currently the sole GOP lieutenant governor candidate.