John Fetterman is one of the most photographed rising stars in the Democratic Party. As gargantuan as Lurch Addams, with a bald head, goatee and closet full of Dickies shirts—and tattoos running down his arm marking every date a life was taken while he was mayor of his hard-knock steel town—Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor is a cartoon image of a working guy from the Rust Belt. Which is catnip for glossy magazine spreads.
But Fetterman hates having his picture taken.
At a shoot at his home in Braddock, Pennsylvania—a converted car dealership full of salvaged treasures that looks like something out of Architectural Digest—he’s not trying to hide his grumpiness even a little bit. He says he’ll pose for photos only while standing. (He’s 6 foot 8.) His senior campaign aide, Bobby Maggio, thanks a photographer for “dealing with Cranky Pants.” Fetterman jokes—although it’s clear he’s only half-kidding—that people prefer to take pictures of his wife, Gisele, and their dog.
“It all looks the same to me,” he says of portraits of himself. “It’s like Paul Rudd, except he’s handsome, I guess. It’s kind of like, same picture—not much you can do with it.” The idea of Fetterman trying out a new look to mix things up is, of course, out of the question: “I genuinely don’t have anything to wear that different. That’s just me.”
Most politicians love being in front of the camera. The few who don’t treat it as a necessary cost of media attention. But the man who has been profiled in People, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the Washington Post and countless other publications—and who became the de facto spokesman for Pennsylvania Democrats after former President Donald Trump cried fraud in the state in 2020, appearing on multiple cable TV networks hour after hour—still hasn’t learned to tolerate it, even if his fame is due in part to how he looks.
Fetterman first exploded onto the national scene shortly after he was elected mayor of Braddock, a small, dilapidated town outside Pittsburgh, in 2005. Mayors of 2,000-person boroughs don’t typically receive much attention. But Fetterman had a story: A man who could pass for a Hells Angel and had a Harvard degree was revitalizing a place that epitomized the rise and fall of America’s steel industry—building a community center, renovating crumbling properties, talking about using art “to combat the dark side of capitalism.” Within a few years, he appeared in the Atlantic’s “25 Brave Thinkers” issue and was invited to speak at the Aspen Ideas Festival. In 2018, he was elected lieutenant governor of the state, on a ticket with Gov. Tom Wolf, in a landslide.
After years in the spotlight, though, Fetterman remains unwilling, or perhaps unable, to play the part of a traditional politician. He hates mugging for the camera. He refuses to buy more than one suit. He’s shunned the lieutenant governor’s official mansion in Harrisburg, preferring to stay in his Braddock loft. He is constitutionally incapable of schmoozing with other elected officials.
RESOURCE: POLITICO MAGAZINE