Lt. Governor candidate visits Kennett Square
● By Richard Gaw
From a purely visual standpoint, the similarities between current Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack and four-term Braddock, Pa. Mayor John Fetterman – one of four candidates who are trying to upseat Stack this Nov. 6 – are practically nil.
Stack, the flamboyant byproduct of the Philadelphia Democratic machine, is known for his toothy smile, his slicked-back hair and his pinstripe suits. In contrast, Fetterman, who met last week with prominent Kennett Square leaders at a roundtable discussion held at the Kennett Brewing Company, would never be confused with someone who is beholden to any particular fashion sense.
Fetterman wears customary black shirts that semi hide his many tattoos, including one that reads 15104 – the zip code of Braddock, that is imprinted on his left forearm. Beneath his bald head are a set of eyes that do not linger on their subject but pierce, deliver and move on, and there is a kind of urgency in the way he carries his six-foot-eight frame – central to his movement and his candidacy – that suggests a feeling that he is carrying the burdens of every Pennsylvanian, beginning with immigrants.
“I am appalled every day by how we treat immigrants, the way we talk about immigrants in this country, the way we are rounding up people now and deporting law-abiding citizens who have done nothing wrong, and they're just trying to create terror,” said Fetterman, whose wife Gisele is an immigrant and became a U.S. citizen nine years ago. “[Immigration] speaks to me very intensely, and I'm running for lieutenant governor because I want t a larger platform to speak to these issues.”
Throughout the hour-long meeting, Fetterman addressed many of the issues of key concern to local residents: immigration in the age of kicked-up measures for deportation of undocumented immigrants; and the impact of these immigration policies on the future of the mushroom industry.
Much of Fetterman's own personal rise to prominence, he said, was inspired by his relationship as a young man with a young boy in Pennsylvania, whom he was matched through Big Brothers-Big Sisters. Both of the boy's parents had died from AIDS. He met the boy's mother just prior to her death.
“How could I have a Master's Degree and could do anything I wanted with my life, and yet this little boy is going to bury both of his parents before his ninth birthday,” said Fetterman, who later taught GED classes for AmeriCorps, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, before coming to Braddock.
Fetterman said he won his first mayoral election by one vote in 2005.
“I know that if a kid didn't take off from his job at Lowe's Home Improvement and vote that day, I wouldn't be sitting in front of you and running for Lieutenant Governor,” he said. “That literally changed the trajectory of my life.”
Fetterman documented the fall and rise of Braddock, a once thriving town that was hit hard by the shutdowns that affected the steel industry in the 1970s and 1980s. By 1988, Braddock was designated a financially distressed municipality, and had lost about 90 percent of its population. Fetterman began to initiate several revitalization efforts that stimulated new residents, the establishment of cultural and creative centers, and created new economic opportunities.
“We went five-and-a-half years without the loss of life through gun violence,” he said. “We were a community that didn't have single restaurant within our borders, and we had a restaurant open this past year that brought Anthony Bourdain and [Bourdain's television show] 'Parts Unknown' to eat there.”
The round table also included Kennett Borough Council members Doug Doerfler and Wayne Braffman; Kennett Consolidated School Board member Paola Rosas; paralegal Gabriella Pedoza of the law firm of Sweet & Paciorek, LLC; and Meghan Klotzbach and Karen Eichman, members of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Task Force.
Braffman told Fetterman that the current Democratic Party is made up idealists and pragmatists, a split between those who believe that they key to winning is through remaining true to progressive beliefs, and those who believe that winning campaigns depends on “meeting the people where they are.”
While Fetterman defined his ideology as progressive, he equated his beliefs to common sense thinking.
“It shouldn't be considered progressive to support a living wage for someone. If we continue to keep marijuana illegal, we going to incur displacing billions of dollars and incur mass incarcerations, for a substance that has had zero overdose deaths in 40 years.
“There is a time and place for both [idealism and pragmatism], but when it comes down to two choices, you have the moral responsibility to make the right choice, and make it enthusiastically.”
Fetterman also weighed in on the issue of immigration and enforced deportation efforts. He called the ICE roundups – some of which have occurred in the last year at mushroom-growing facilities in Chester County – “Unconscionable.”
“We're never more un-American than when we're enforcing who is an American versus who isn't, whether that affects the mushroom facilities or high tech or the school system,” he said. “Especially when the overwhelming majority of whom are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens, and are here to work harder and make a life for themselves that doesn't exist in their native countries.”
Fetterman said that too many times, where a person lives dictates the level of quality of education he or she receives.
“Depending on what zip code you live in, you can pretty much predict what kind of education you'll have, how long you will live, and what kind of quality of life you will have,” he said. “I see it as a tragedy that teachers in the public school systems have to make up for the enormous inequality that exist in these communities.
“We don't spend enough and the friendly formula needs to be fixed. It's also disingenuous to say, 'If we tweak this or that curriculum,' and believe somehow, that's going to change the massive systemic inequality that we have in our society.”
With his candidacy, Fetterman is part of crowded field who are looking to be elected as the state's 34th lieutenant governor. They also include Aryanna Berringer, an Army veteran and IT project manager from Westmoreland County; Madeleine Dean, state representative from Abington, Montgomery County; Craig Lehman, a Lancaster County commissioner; and Kathi Cozzone, a Chester County commissioner.
Elected every four years and limited to two terms, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania is the second ranking officer of the executive branch of state government and the first in line to succeed the governor. Although he or she presides over the state’s Board of Pardons and Senate sessions, the job is largely a ceremonial one, a description Fetterman said he wants to change if he is elected.
“I think the office has been undervalued and underutilized,” Fetterman said. “I would like to use that platform that it affords to push back against the poisonous and toxic rhetoric that the other side has regarding immigration and the way they treat people of color in this community.
“When I come to a fork in the road, I'm always going to make the most progressive decision or choice based on that, and I have a long record of doing just that, long before it was fashionable to be progressive,” he added. “For 17 years, I've been where the Democratic Party should have always been – with the marginalized, the forgotten, and with the communities that have been left behind.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.