Braddock Mayor Fetterman proud of Senate campaign |
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Tom Fontaine
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, 46, vowed to “take our Braddock values to Washington, D.C.” when he made his candidacy for the U.S. Senate official on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman says he’s proud of the way his campaign performed in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested U.S. Senate Democratic primary, but he remains stung that some local political allies supported Chester County’s Katie McGinty.

“We ran a great race that I’m proud of. We overperformed dramatically,” said Fetterman, 46.

Fetterman finished third in the Senate race, but surpassed all polling projections by collecting 20 percent of the statewide vote compared with Democratic nominee Katie McGinty’s 43 percent, Joe Sestak’s 33 percent and Robinson spring-maker Joe Vodvarka’s 4 percent.

Regarding the support that many local elected officials such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto threw toward McGinty, Fetterman said, “There’s no bitterness, just a sadness that it went the way it did with folks I’ve been working with for a long time.”

Fetterman described some of those relationships as being “estranged.”

Fetterman said he’s had a close relationship with Peduto since the early 2000s, and he previously campaigned with Fitzgerald on behalf of Barack Obama and worked closely with the county executive on issues related to revitalizing financially distressed Braddock.

Despite McGinty’s local endorsements, Fetterman dominated in Allegheny County. He collected more than 90,000 votes — about 20,000 more than McGinty and 50,000 more than Sestak.

Regarding his endorsement of McGinty, Fitzgerald said, “What we liked about Katie is that she gets things done and she’s pragmatic. She’s like we are in that she’s not too far left and not too far right.”

Fitzgerald added: “John is a good guy, and he’s done a lot in Braddock. I love working with him. But we didn’t hear from John before we endorsed Katie.”

A host of powerful local Democrats — including U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, Fitzgerald, Peduto, state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, state House Leader Frank Dermody and Allegheny County Democratic Committee Chair Nancy Mills — endorsed McGinty in early September.

Fetterman publicly announced his intention to run for Senate about a week later.

“John is a close personal friend. It was difficult not to be with him,” Peduto said, adding that Fetterman reached out to seek support for his Senate run on the eve of the McGinty endorsement announcement.

Peduto said McGinty worked hard to build a powerful Democratic coalition of support around her long before she announced her intention to run for Senate.

While Peduto remains firmly committed to McGinty, he said Fetterman “struck a nerve” with many voters and has established himself as a leader in Pennsylvania’s progressive political movement.

“John has a great base to build from,” Peduto said, comparing Fetterman’s performance to his own defeat in Pittsburgh’s 2005 mayoral race when Peduto collected about the same share of votes as Fetterman did last month.

Fetterman raised $602,406 through April 6, campaign finance records show. McGinty raised $3.8 million, while Sestak — the party’s Senate nominee in 2010 who held a 17 percentage point lead in a Franklin & Marshall College poll a month before this year’s April 26 primary — raised $4.7 million.

“I think there were two winners in this race,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who served as McGinty’s campaign chairman.

Rendell described Fetterman as “a young man who I think has a tremendously bright future ahead of him,” and said it was “amazing” that the small-town mayor collected so many votes statewide on such a shoestring campaign budget.

Rendell also credited Fetterman with providing a “big assist” to McGinty’s campaign by winning many votes that might have otherwise gone to Sestak.

Sestak, a retired Navy admiral and former congressman, made enemies within the Democratic establishment when he refused to drop out of the 2010 Senate race after powerful Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties and sought re-election as a Democrat with the blessing of President Obama and other party leaders.

“What John needs to do is get around the state and meet more people. I told him that I’d be happy to introduce him to people in Philadelphia,” said Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor and district attorney.

When asked where Fetterman’s political future might lead, Rendell said, “You never know what’s going to happen in politics.”

For now, Fetterman says he doesn’t know either.

He firmly dismissed speculation that he would try to parlay his strong showing in Allegheny County into runs against local Democratic incumbents who hold higher offices than his mayoral position in Braddock, a town of about 2,100 people.

“The Senate race might have created a window, but I won’t run against my friends or people I considered friends,” Fetterman said, adding that he’s been keeping busy with his “normal, unglamorous mayor stuff” in Braddock.

“That’s what it’s always been about for me,” he said.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].

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