On the chalkboard in room 236 of the Cathedral of Learning Tuesday night were some small illustrations of a bird and a dog, followed by “ing.”
Put it together and you get bird-dogging, the act of closely scrutinizing a politician’s views — which is what a group of five students decided to do when Braddock Mayor John Fetterman visited the Pitt Democrats as part of his campaign for Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor.
This handful of students, unaffiliated with any political group on campus, gathered an hour before Fetterman was set to begin speaking to discuss how they would question the mayor when he arrived on campus. Sophomores Sean Bailey and Dighan Kelly explained the basics of bird-dogging to the small group.
Bailey, a computer science and philosophy major who currently serves as the co-chair of the University chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists, handed everyone a single piece of printer paper. On it were the issues they perceived Fetterman to be weak on — including abortion, fracking and non-profit laws that govern entities such as UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh.
“We believe that he is not as progressive as he says,” Kelly said. “We’re going to question him on the things his campaign doesn’t want us to ask him about.”
Kelly, an urban studies and French major, often volunteers for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. She made sure to claim the question specifically targeting Fetterman’s support of Rep. Paul Costa, D-Pa., who is, according to the group’s flyer, “obviously anti-choice.”
The group moved into room 239 of the Cathedral and waited for Fetterman to arrive. He entered into the room of about 50 students and slowly pulled off his black Carhartt jacket, exposing the tattoos on both his forearms. The zip code “15104” of Braddock is written across his left arm, the now-seven marks on his right arm signify the number of lives lost in Braddock during his time as mayor and a black block covers the rest of his right arm.
“I think your questions and everything are much more interesting than me kind of groaning on and on about policy and everything,” he said, opening the night. “[But] I don’t want to assume … how many of you are local.”
He briefly told his story and discussed his nontraditional entry into politics to the group of students listening. He spoke of how the sudden death of a close friend inspired him to get involved in mentoring, which in turn inspired him to run for mayor — and how he thinks he can affect institutional change from within government.
As soon as he opened the floor to questions, Kelly’s hand shot up.
“And since this is the case, Mr. Fetterman,” she said, referring to his support of Costa, “why should any woman trust you or vote for you?”
Fetterman took a sharp inhale and grinned a little.
“Ouch,” he said. “Are you from DSA?”
Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in America, is known for peppering candidates with hard-hitting questions on progressive issues. But Kelly said she was there just as “a concerned woman and informed voter.”
Fetterman’s response for why he supports Costa introduced one of his major themes of the night — compromise.
He said he supports Costa because he’d never consider supporting people like Costa’s Republican opponent, Sen. Pat Toomey. When asked about the environment and why he supported allowing U.S. Steel fracking at Edgar Thomson Works mill in Braddock, his answer was jobs-centered.
“It’s definitely a tough balance,” he said. “I’m not in favor of fracking. But what I am in favor of is making sure, in my situation, that [Edgar Thomson Works] is not shut down automatically, because I do believe the 1,200 jobs are important. They’re an important way of life.”
Throughout the night he continued to insist this compromise must be made. He also fielded the bird-doggers’ questions without hesitation because he thinks they should be asked.
“I don’t mind those pointed questions, absolutely,” he said. “If someone has a question they want to ask, I want to be there to answer it.”