John Fetterman (politician)

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John Fetterman
John Fetterman - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, ME 2.jpg
John Fetterman in 2009
Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania
Assumed office
Personal details
Born August 15, 1969 (1969-08-15) (age 47)
Reading, Pennsylvania, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Gisele Fetterman
Alma mater Albright College (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.P.P.)
Website Campaign website
Mayoral website

John Fetterman (born August 15, 1969) is an American politician and the current Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania. A native of York, Pennsylvania, Fetterman earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Albright College in 1991 and a master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard University. He moved to Braddock in 2001 to serve with AmeriCorps and start a non profit organization, Braddock Redux.

He won the Braddock mayoral election in 2005 by one vote, and was re-elected in 2009 and 2013. As mayor, Fetterman has drawn international attention for trying to revitalize the economy in Braddock, with an article in The New York Times, an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” and a Levi’s jeans ad. He has made equality, environmental protection, gay rights, immigration and marijuana legalization major campaign issues. Fetterman is a self-described democratic socialist.[1] He ran for the United States Senate in 2016, but was defeated in the Democratic primary.

Early life and education[edit]

Fetterman was born in 1969 at Reading Hospital in Reading, Pennsylvania, to Karl and Susan Fetterman.[2] Fetterman has described his parents as having started out "extremely poor," with both being teenagers at the time at John's birth. However they eventually moved to York, Pennsylvania, where John grew up and his father achieved success as an insurance business owner.[3][4]

Fetterman has described his upbringing as middle class and "privileged," saying he "sleepwalked" through his young adulthood, avidly playing four years of football in college and intending to eventually take over as owner of his father's business.[3] In 1991 Fetterman graduated from Albright College, also his father's alma mater, and went on to attempt earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Connecticut.[5] However, his life took a drastic change after his friend died in a car accident on his way to drive Fetterman from the gym.[6]

Following his friend's death, Fetterman joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, pairing with an eight-year-old boy in New Haven, Connecticut born with AIDS, whose father had died from HIV, and whose mother was battling the disease.[7] During his time as a Big Brother, Fetterman says he became "preoccupied with the concept of the random lottery of birth," and promised the boy's mother he would continue to look out for her son.[8] Afterwards, in 1995 Fetterman joined the recently founded AmeriCorps, and was sent to teach Pittsburgh students pursuing their GEDs.[9] For two years Fetterman worked in Pittsburgh before attending Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, graduating in 1999 with a Master of Public Policy.[10]


Fetterman moved to Braddock in 2001 to work for AmeriCorps, helping local youth who had left school earn their GED. After living in Braddock for four years, attracted by what he called the town's "malignant beauty", Fetterman ran against the incumbent mayor in 2005 and won by a single vote.[11] As the part-time mayor, Fetterman earned $110.22 a month in 2007. His full-time job, directing the Out-Of-School-Youth program, paid around $30,000 annually.[12] In addition to his work with the program, Fetterman established strong relationships with the 16- to 24-year-old population, helping many in finding employment, and working with them with issues involving family, social agencies, and police. He also founded the 501(c)(3), Braddock Redux.[13]

Following his election, Fetterman initiated youth and art programs, created a community center, and has tried to initiate development of the town's mostly ruined buildings and poor economy. With family money, Fetterman purchased the town's First Presbyterian Church before demolition for $50,000, living in the basement for several months.[14] He later purchased an adjacent warehouse for $2,000, placed two shipping containers on the roof for "extra living space" and moved in.[11][12] He has since purchased and renovated many additional houses and offered cheap, even free rent. Fetterman has attracted many young artists to the town through cheap rent and starting various art exhibitions.[11] The town's "renaissance" has attracted individuals from cities such as Chicago and Portland, Oregon, drawn by the potential for development and growth.[15] Other programs include a two-acre organic urban farm, worked by teenagers of the Braddock Youth Project.[13]

Fetterman's commitment to the community of Braddock is shown with various tattoos. On his left arm are the numbers 15104 - Braddock's zip code, and on the right, five dates of murders that occurred in the town.[15]

In order to help fund programs, Fetterman has established relationships with local non-profit organizations, Allegheny County's economic development program, and county executive Dan Onorato.[13] Opposition to Fetterman's activities while mayor has come from borough council president Jesse Brown. In March 2009, Brown ordered the borough's code enforcement officer to cite Fetterman for an occupancy permit violation for a building owned by Fetterman's non-profit organization. Brown also asked the judge to move the hearing to before the May mayoral election so that the people could be aware of the situation. The judge later dismissed the complaint.[16]

In 2009, Fetterman was re-elected as mayor after winning the Democratic primary against Jayme Cox by a vote of 294 to 103.[17][18] He was re-elected in 2013, running unopposed.

In January 2016, Fetterman endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.[19] He was the only statewide Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania to endorse Sanders.

2016 U.S. Senate campaign[edit]

On September 11, 2015, Fetterman announced that he would be vying for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Pat Toomey in the 2016 election. His campaign was considered a surprise against fellow Democrats Joe Sestak and Katie McGinty.[20] Fetterman was endorsed by former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and former Pennsylvania Treasurer Barbara Hafer. Fetterman and Sestak were defeated in the primary by McGinty.[21]


Fetterman's efforts to create youth-oriented programs, revitalize his town, and attract artists and other "creatives" to his community were featured in The New York Times. An article about him, describing him as "America's coolest mayor", appeared on July 15, 2009 in The Guardian in the United Kingdom.[22]

Fetterman was the guest on the Colbert Report on February 25, 2009, discussing the economic difficulties his town faced due to a decreasing population, plummeting real estate values, and bankruptcy. He also questioned why funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 could not be used to support projects such as those in Braddock.[15] He appeared again on August 16, 2010, discussing what he had been doing and the town's partnership with Levi Strauss.

In 2010, Levi Strauss & Company donated money to the Braddock's revitalization and features the town in an advertising campaign and documentary produced by Sundance Channel.[23]

On November 29, 2010, Fetterman was arrested and immediately released in Pittsburgh. Fetterman had refused to leave the property of the U.S. Steel Tower where he was protesting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). UPMC had recently closed its Braddock Hospital despite objections by Fetterman and the local community.[24][25]

On May 7, 2012, Fetterman was featured on A Day in the Life where he discusses his responsibilities and desires for Braddock, as well as his personal history and views.[26]


  1. ^ Who’s supporting who? The Pa. endorsements you need to know about before Tuesday
  2. ^ Kathleen Ganster (Winter 2013). "Reinventing a town". Albright College. The Albright Reporter. 
  3. ^ a b Jeff Simon (November 23, 2015). "The tattoos are not the most interesting thing about this mayor". CNN. 
  4. ^ Brian Hickey (September 21, 2015). "15 questions for behemoth U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman". newsworks. 
  5. ^ Anna Orso (September 21, 2015). "John Fetterman for Senate: Why a 6-foot-8 tatted-up Harvard grad from Western Pa. is running". BillyPenn. 
  6. ^ Wallace McKelvey (November 4, 2015). "12 Rough, tattooed and Harvard-educated, small-town Pa. mayor shakes up U.S. Senate race". The Patriot-News. 
  7. ^ Bill O'Boyle (January 28, 2016). "Braddock mayor John Fetterman campaigns as Senate candidate for change". Times Leader. 
  8. ^ Dan McQuade (December 13, 2015). "John Fetterman: The Giant Underdog". PhillyMag. 
  9. ^ Kate Aronoff (February 29, 2016). "We Found the Coolest Populist in America, and He's Running for U.S. Senate". In These Times. 
  10. ^ Sarah Abrams (Summer 2009). "Small-Town Justice". John F. Kennedy School of Government. 
  11. ^ a b c "Braddock, Penn". Ready Made. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  12. ^ a b Jones, Diana Nelson (May 6, 2007). "The Next Page: Braddock, the Rebound Town". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  13. ^ a b c Brown, Nell Porter. "Wrought from Ruins". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved October 1, 2010. 
  14. ^ Stroud, Matt (August 31, 2006). "A Call to Arms: Braddock Mayor John Fetterman Wears His Allegiances on His Sleeve". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved June 27, 2009. 
  15. ^ a b c Streitfeld, David (January 31, 2009). "Rock Bottom for Decades, but Showing Signs of Life". New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  16. ^ Balingit, Moriah (March 26, 2009). "Judge dismisses complaint against Braddock mayor". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  17. ^ Balingit, Moriah (May 20, 2009). "After nasty campaign, Braddock mayor Fetterman breezes to win". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  18. ^ Balingit, Moriah (May 14, 2009). "Braddock mayoral race gets nastier". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  19. ^ Fetterman, John (January 14, 2016). "Why I'm endorsing Bernie". Daily Kos. 
  20. ^ "Sestak gets another foe; Braddock mayor enters Dem U.S. Senate race". Delaware County Daily Times. Associated Press. September 11, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2015. 
  21. ^ "McGinty defeats Sestak to win Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate". Philly Voice. April 26, 2016. 
  22. ^ Pilkington, Ed (July 15, 2009). "Coolest mayor in America? Why John Fetterman has his postcode tattooed on his arm". London: The Guardian. Retrieved July 15, 2009. 
  23. ^ Elliott, Stuart (June 23, 2010). "Levi's Features a Town Trying to Recover". New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Braddock Mayor Arrested For Protesting At UPMC". WTAE-TV. November 30, 2010. Retrieved November 10, 2010. 
  25. ^ Nereim, Vivian; Moriah Balingit (November 29, 2010). "Braddock mayor's one-man protest ends in arrest". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved November 30, 2010. 
  26. ^ "John Fetterman". HULU. May 7, 2012. Retrieved May 23, 2012. 

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