John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, visited State College on Tuesday. He attended two private events: a meeting with the Latino community, and a fundraising dinner for the Centre County Democrats. He and his wife, Gisele Fetterman, stopped by our studios to speak with WPSU’s Kristine Allen.
John Fetterman is currently the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
He was born and raised in the state, and holds a masters degree in public policy from Harvard. The first time he was elected mayor, back in 2005, he won by a slim margin.
“ I won my first election by one single vote,” Fetterman said. “So that’s a story that I relate often, where it’s like, “Look, I don’t care if you vote for me – I hope you vote for me – but just vote!”
Why did he run for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania?
“Well, in my opinion,” Fetterman says, “it’s been an office that’s been really underutilized and undervalued. And we really want to make the office about advocacy – as a platform for advocacy. And a platform for getting out in front of important issues, as well.”
One issue that hits Fetterman close to home is immigration. His wife, Gisele Fetterman, is a former DREAMer. She and her brother were raised in Rio de Janerio, Brazil by a single mother. Their mother brought them to the United States to escape from ongoing crime.
“And one day,” Gisele Fetterman says, “she was just tired of the violence, and tired of being robbed. And she said her aha moment was a conversation with my aunt, where my aunt shared that that year she had only been robbed seven times. But she spoke about it as if it were normal. And she said she never wanted to see her children speaking about being robbed seven times as normal.”
John Fetterman says respect for immigrants makes him proud to be a Democrat.
“We’ve always run on immigration,” Fetterman says. “It’s always been a very important part of our platform as a campaign. And it’s been informed by my wife’s experiences. I’ve always embraced immigration overall as just this critical thing that has made us a great country, and how heartbreaking it is to see our country doing this to families is – it’s deeply disturbing. This idea that we’re actively separating children from their mothers or their family is beyond anything I think anyone would have anticipated that this administration was capable of doing in this area. If something good can come from this it’s that people of all persuasions are pushing back and saying this is not who we are as a country.”
Gisele Fetterman interjects at this point.
“Also having a former DREAMer as second lady,” she says, “I think can send a really powerful message, immigration-wise.”
Mayor Fetterman agrees.
“And if somebody wants to denigrate immigrants, they have to come through me,” says the six foot eight mayor. “And that’s what’s so profoundly upsetting to me: we all have to acknowledge that we all came from somewhere. And why on Earth would we want to go out of our way to make our country inhospitable to the same forces and the same desire to contribute and make a better life for yourself that appealed to our own families generations ago. It’s baffling and profoundly un-American.’
When asked about gun reforms, Fetterman, who’s a gun owner himself, says he favors some restrictions.
“I think if you’ve got a .30-30 and you go deer hunting, or you have a weapon at home for protection, or you like to target shoot for practice or to relax – there are many Pennsylvanians that embrace that kind of life,” he says. “But I fundamentally believe you don’t need military-grade weapons to do any of those things. They shouldn’t be an option for people. That’s my belief.”
Fetterman ran for Senate in 2016, but didn’t get the Democratic nomination. As he runs for lieutenant governor now, he won’t say whether he’ll try another Senate run in 2022.
“My position is to be that loyal partner that has his back so he can do what he needs to do to make sure he wins reelection, because so much is at stake,” he says. “And Scott Wagner is, I believe, fundamentally unfit for the office, based on his strict allegiance to all things Trump. And we are committed to doing whatever it is we can do to make sure Governor Wolf wins another term.”
Fetterman is famous for wearing casual shirts and jeans or shorts, while the governor sticks with serious suits. And to have a bit of fun with that contrast, the pair made a humorous video, in which Governor Tom Wolf takes Fetterman out tie-shopping. The mayor says a lot of people ask him about that video.
“I don’t have a new wardrobe,” Fetterman says. “But I will have to concede there’s a dress code if I’m presiding over the senate. The governor and I had a lot of fun shooting that video. He’s just such a funny, warm, down-to-Earth guy, and he so deserves another term as governor, for all the things that he has done, and all the things that he has protected, and I’m proud to be his running mate.”