In spite of the imbroglios that sometimes surround him, it’s impossible to overlook the mayor’s accomplishments. He has spoken before Congress in support of cap-and-trade legislation. Braddock Redux, a community non-profit organization, has recently salvaged two historic properties and turned them into homes for teenagers who have aged out of the foster care system. The summer work program that Fetterman implemented with the help of AmeriCorps keeps 100 kids employed for $8 an hour installing environmentally friendly green roofs. The community basketball league keeps another 100 kids engaged and out of trouble.
Ryan Wooten, police chief in neighboring Rankin and co-commissioner of the basketball league, says he’s noticed that the program is making a dent in local crime. And he applauds Fetterman’s efforts. “A lot of people say they care, say they want to take an interest with these kids. But we’re not talking—we’re doing something,” says Wooten. Fetterman plans to convert the old church next to the basketball courts into a full-fledged community center. As with many of his projects, he will likely pour a lot of his own money into the renovation. During the Community Day tournament, as Fetterman, flanked by the kids of Braddock, passes out pizza and Gatorade, it’s impossible to imagine him working on Wall Street.
It wasn’t until after his 2005 election that Fetterman got his first tattoo. It’s Braddock’s zip code writ large down the inside of his hulking forearm. It was etched there by Rich Cosgrove of Inka Dinka Doo in Pittsburgh. Just 10 days after he took office, he decided to get another tattoo after being called to a crime scene where he saw the body of a pizza delivery man who had been shot in the head. Fetterman would get the date—01.16.06—tattooed on his other arm. It was just the first of five such dates he had inscribed on his flesh, each the date of a murder that has happened in Braddock during his tenure as mayor. A more recent one—
02.03.07—is a reminder of the most disturbing crime scene Fetterman has been called to yet. It’s the day 2-year-old Nyia Page was allegedly beaten unconscious by her own father and then left in the snowy woods to die. “There were tiny footprints in the snow; she froze to death,” he remembers.
The I will make you hurt tattoo isn’t a threat, says Fetterman. “It references the personal anguish the circumstances [of those dates] cause me.”
When one of Fetterman’s friends was killed—10.08.06—he says he took some degree of solace in getting the tattoo. “When you see something like that, it affects you. It’s horrible. The tattoos, well, it’s an easier place to carry it,” says Fetterman, pain roiling his typically serene expression. In his old life, he had never even considered a tattoo, but he believes these memorials are meaningful and appropriate. They remind him of the commitment he’s made to this community and his hopes that as his adopted hometown comes back to life, the murders, the tattooed dates, the hurt, will fade into the past, and that a new Braddock based on refugee artists and the emerging green economy will take shape. They also give him a way of coping with his grief. “Because it’s just the numbers, it feels private, not like if it were their names,” says Fetterman. “Most people think they’re prison tattoos. Not everyone knows what they are. But I know.”