Updated 1:43 p.m.
Shill and sellout are not words generally associated with Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.
His national profile is built on progressive populism and being the “coolest mayor in America.” Normally, when looking for words to describe Fetterman, one might go with progressive or, honestly, tall.
But, occasionally, Fetterman does get called the former set online because he endorsed Democrats Hillary Clinton and Katie McGinty.
“It hurts my heart if they think if I’m a shill. I obviously disagree with that. I’d just ask them to consider reality. I ran the most progressive campaign in the Senate primary, and I came up short,” Fetterman said last week in his Braddock home.
How did we get here? (the primary feels like ages ago)
In the primary race, Fetterman postured himself as the “most progressive” and grassroots candidate. He offered sharp criticism to his then-rivals Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak. To the Philadelphia Inquirer, he said the two were “just spouting off talking points.”
He was the only U.S. Senate candidate, in any race, to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. The Fetterman campaign touted that he was the only statewide candidate to endorse Sanders nationally, an assertion that Billy Penn rated as “True,” but with caveats on the Politifact Truth-O-Meter. Sanders notably failed to return the favor.
Like Sanders, Fetterman did not win the nomination he sought. Unlike Sanders, he did win Allegheny County, with 45 percent of the vote in the four-way contest. He pulled in just-shy of 20 percent of the vote statewide.
Fetterman was greatly outspent in the campaign. The Democratic Party threw a lot of money and support behind McGinty. The spending, as one would expect, did not slow down once McGinty moved on to face a Republican incumbent. The race is the most expensive in history, and Billy Penn looked at the money that’s poured in.
“We have to fix Citizen’s United,” Fetterman said. “How on earth can anything function normally in a democratic sense when one Senate seat costs so much.“
No hard feelings (except toward Donald Trump)
On July 12, Fetterman formally endorsed Clinton in that video.
He later endorsed his primary campaign rival Katie McGinty. Despite the occasional Twitter allegation of “shilling for Hill,” Fetterman said he isn’t on any campaign payroll or been made any promises.
“All of these trips, all of this campaigning, everything that I do, I do it because I believe that it’s what I need to do. Because Donald Trump and a Republican majority genuinely scares me,” he said.
Fetterman has spoken at numerous Hillary Clinton events since his endorsement. He has appeared in campaign videos as recently as last week.
‘Hillary Clinton is not evil’
Beyond encouraging voters to support those on the Democratic ticket, Fetterman has gone further and urged progressives to not vote for third party candidates, particularly in battleground states like Pennsylvania.
As of Saturday, RealClearPolitics showed a tight race in Pennsylvania with Clinton edging out Trump by 2.4 points.
”I don’t understand why someone would want to spin the chamber as a resident in a swing state, and vote third party,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman, who will calmly and respectfully disagree with voters who argue for their right or inclination to support third party candidates, has no patience for the feeling that voting for Clinton is only voting for the lesser of two evils.
He finds the line of thinking “logically bankrupt.”
“Hillary Clinton, whether you agree with her or not on every issue, whether you’re troubled by the email server story or not, is a qualified, committed and decent person.” Fetterman said. “Hillary Clinton is not evil … especially when you compare her to Donald Trump.”
On Monday morning, Fetterman and his son August helped introduce Hillary in her final campaign stop in Pittsburgh at the Cathedral of Learning.
Despite the cries of warning, some progressives are not willing to compromise on their distrust of Clinton.
“I actually think she‘s the greater evil,” Mark Brown of Steel City for Stein previously told The Incline.
Burghers for Bernie
During the primary, Pittsburgh progressives coalesced around the Burghers for Bernie Facebook page. After the Democratic nomination, the group’s members began separating on whether to shift their support to Green Party candidate Jill Stein or to continue with the Democratic Party and support Clinton.
Alex Austin, a pledged Sanders delegate, was one of the group’s founding members and he opted for the latter.
“It was difficult to put the primary aside at first, because since May of 2015, we all worked so hard here in Pittsburgh to build a movement centered upon Bernie’s campaign,” Austin said in an email. “But, as a single, full-time father to my 12-year-old daughter, an Air Force veteran and a full-time student there is no way in hell that I could ever risk a Trump presidency.”
After the convention, while deciding to vote for Clinton, Austin said that he “wanted no parts” in volunteering for her campaign but was led back to the campaign by progressive leaders like Sanders and Fetterman.
“I am happy that John Fetterman did the right thing for our county, state and country after losing his primary race. It’s not easy to accept defeat and then return to the campaign trail for the candidate you lost to.”
However, Austin shares frustration with Stein voters on some of the arguments that are made against voting third party.
“Jill Stein voters have a right to be mad about the system, mad about this election year and mad about the atrocious civil rights violations taking place in our very own country and abroad,” Austin explained. “When speaking with Jill Stein supporters my pitch usually includes some of the following: As an activist, under which leading candidate are you most likely to ever have your issues addressed, even in the slightest bit? Trump or Clinton?”
Agreeing to Disagree
When on the internet, if someone calls you a hyperbolic name, it’s usually advised that you don’t feed the troll. But when these critics aren’t necessarily trolls (some are), but are impassioned voters that helped you carry your home county to a win, the rules are a bit different.
“If you don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton, that’s fine. I’m not going to call you a name. At the end of the day, I convince a lot more people than those who stick with calling me a ‘shill’ or this or that,” Fetterman said.
The discourse, while contentious, isn’t always uncivil, even when the two sides still end up disagreeing.
Aaron Rosier, a core-organizer and volunteer of Burghers for Bernie, plans to vote for Jill Stein. Rosier supported Fetterman in the Senate primary (he was even at the Brew Gentlemen and watched Fetterman concede the race) and holds no ill will toward him for his support of Democratic party candidates.
“I think it’s practical, pragmatic” Rosier said. “I don’t think he’s a sellout.”
Rosier was impressed by Fetterman’s efficiency in his campaign bid, citing his votes per dollars spent compared to his opponents, and has enjoyed watching his “budding career,” but is concerned about the influence the Democratic party will have on him.
“The longer you’re with the Democratic party, the more you’ll pivot center,” Rosier said. “Sanders is an outlier to that, but, keep in mind, he was only a Democrat for as long as he ran for their nomination for president. He was Independent most of his career.”
Fetterman doesn’t see his presence in the Democratic Party as compromising on progressive values.
“I’m interested in actually getting something done,” Fetterman said. “And holding Hillary accountable to progressive values and the things she has said is a constructive, useful activity that everyone can engage that can actually produce an outcome that will actually advance a progressive agenda in America.”