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Braddock Mayor Endorses Kenyatta Over Fetterman In Senate Race

pennsylvania_state_house_rep._malcolm_kenyatta__d-philadelphia.jpg
Andrew Harnik
/
AP

The mayor of Braddock endorsed state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta in next year’s U.S. Senate Wednesday, saying she’s had more contact with the Philadelphia Democrat in the last month than she has with John Fetterman – who preceded her as mayor and still lives in Braddock as he wages his own Senate campaign –  in years.
“I feel like I made the right choice,” said Mayor Chardae Jones. “I was telling [Kenyatta] about some of the issues that Braddock has, like our dilapidated structures, we still don’t have any jobs  … and he said, ‘This sounds like where I grew up.’”

Jones said Kenyatta visited Braddock several times this month to get to know the borough. “He walked around Braddock and asked us what we needed,” Jones said. “He didn’t tell us what we needed.”

Jones is quick to give Fetterman, who stepped down as mayor to become the state's lieutenant governor two years ago, credit for putting the Western Pennsylvania small town on the map. In his years as mayor, Fetterman appeared on programs like The Colbert Report and got the attention of national media. Jones said the exposure helped bring new employers to the Braddock Avenue business district. But problems remain, and the U.S. Census estimates that over one-third of the population lives below the poverty level.

“We appreciate that he put a spotlight on the community,” she said. “I wouldn't downplay that for the world. We needed something like that at the time. But we’re at a place now, where I guess a lot of people thought that [with Fetterman] as lieutenant governor, we would get more momentum.”

She acknowledged that it’s unfair to pin the town’s entire success on one person, but said that after Fetterman was elected as lieutenant governor, progress has slowed on important issues like housing and jobs.

Kenyatta, 30, was first elected to the state House in 2018 and represents portions of Philadelphia. He became the first openly gay person of color to serve in the state House and is the grandson of the late civil rights activist Muhammad Kenyatta.

Jones said she didn’t know much about the candidate until he reached out to her earlier this month, after he read a WESA story featuring Jones’ and Fetterman's position on fracking. But Jones said that since that time, he's more accessible than Fetterman has been.

“I’ve never had a conversation with him,” she said of Fetterman. “I’ve mostly spoken to his wife," Gisele.

Jones said Gisele Fetterman has been very visible in the community, but said the most contact she’s had with John Fetterman has been fundraising text messages from his campaign asking for donations.

Fetterman’s campaign declined to comment for this story.

But whether this endorsement will mean anything to voters in a Senate race more than a year away is another question. Some note that most endorsements don’t matter as much in 2021 than they once did.

“It’s obviously better to have an endorsement than not to have an endorsement” said public affairs consultant Larry Ceisler. Still, “I don’t think you win or lose elections on endorsements.”

Ceisler and others note there are exceptions, like when former President Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden. While the backing of a small-town mayor lacks that level of political clout, Ceisler said Jones' decision to not choose Fetterman is interesting.

“Braddock’s part of [Fetterman’s] narrative,” he said. “One would think that the people involved in political life in Braddock would be the first people out there for John Fetterman, rooting him on.”

Democratic strategist Mike Mikus acknowledged that few voters are paying attention to the race this early, but said that Jones’ endorsement could impact backing from political insiders.

“What this does is raise some red flags as people look at the various candidates and decide who they’re going to support, which campaign they want to get involved in, or which campaign they want to write a check to,” said Mikus. Mikus worked on the 2016 senate campaign of Katie McGinty, who beat Fetterman in the Democratic primary.

“It’s imperative for [Kenyatta] to continue to pick up endorsements and use this time to leverage this endorsement into new endorsements. If he’s able to do that, it will allow him to show that he’s building some momentum,” Mikus said. “It’s more significant for a candidate from Philadelphia who’s able to show tangible support in the western part of the state, as it would be if John Fetterman were picking up support from people in Malcolm Kenyatta’s district in Philadelphia.”

Kenyatta has also been endorsed by Western Pennsylvania state Rep. Jessica Benham and Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker. Fetterman, for his part, has received endorsements from U.S. Steelworkers District 10, which represents workers in Braddock's Edgar Thomson Works steel mill, as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.

Lucy Perkins: lperkins@wesa.fm

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