Crime, community safety become focal points in Pa. U.S. Senate race

As Mehmet Oz tosses ‘soft on crime’ accusations, John Fetterman touts experience

By: - October 4, 2022 7:18 am
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz has attacked his Democratic opponent John Fetterman for his hoodie and tattoos, questioned his health, criticized him for dodging press questions and debates, and most recently, accused him of being “soft on crime.”

The Oz campaign last week unveiled a billboard in Braddock, where Fetterman lives in western Pennsylvania and formerly served as mayor from 2006 to 2019, comparing the current lieutenant governor’s record on crime to toilet paper — “soft on skin” and “soft on bottoms.”

“Pennsylvanians are sick and tired of soft-on-crime leaders like John Fetterman whose policies have let down our communities and allowed criminals to run rampant,” Brittany Yanick, Oz’s campaign communications director, said in a statement. “John Fetterman is so soft on crime, the Oz campaign thought we should put it in perspective. Let’s be clear — some things should be put soft, but Pennsylvania’s next senator should not be soft on crime.”

Oz, who received a series of endorsements from law enforcement groups, has repeatedly accused Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons, of wanting to release as many people with criminal convictions as possible and bragging about granting more pardons “than any administration in history” as Pennsylvania experiences a rise in crime rates. The Oz campaign also launched an online campaign — “Inmates for Fetterman” — to highlight individuals with murder convictions whose release Fetterman advocated for.

Retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who currently holds the seat Oz and Fetterman are vying for, joined Oz in Pittsburgh last week, describing Fetterman’s record of advocating for the release of those convicted for murder as “truly extreme.”

“Even Josh Shapiro and other Democrats opposed Fetterman’s positions on releasing murderers time and time again,” Toomey said.

The celebrity doctor also called on Fetterman to fire two formerly incarcerated people, Lee and Dennis Horton, who work on the Democrat’s campaign.

The Horton brothers spent 27 years behind bars after being convicted for a 1993 robbery and fatal shooting. The brothers, who maintained their innocence for nearly three decades, had their sentences commuted by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in February 2021.

Fetterman — who has depicted himself as believing in second chances — called Oz’s singling out of the Hortons a “smear” and “sad and desperate attack” on people “who were wrongfully convicted,” describing the brothers as “two of the kindest, hardest working people I know.”

“Fighting for their release was one of the proudest moments of my career, and I’m honored to have them on my team,” Fetterman said. “Does Dr. Oz believe that the wrongfully convicted should die in prison? Does this man have any compassion? He’s making a predictable and fear-mongering attack against two men who spent 27 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.”

After the billboard attacking Fetterman went up in Braddock last week, the Democratic nominee’s campaign released a new advertisement featuring Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, who touts Fetterman’s record on crime.

“Dr. Oz doesn’t know a thing about crime. He only knows how to help himself,” Kilkenny said in the video, voicing support for Fetterman giving second chances to “those who deserved it.”

On the campaign trail in the high-profile race, which could determine what political party controls the U.S. Senate, Fetterman has said his hometown of Braddock saw crime drop during his tenure.

“Unlike Dr. Oz in his Gucci loafers, I’ve actually taken on crime,” Fetterman tweeted on Sunday. “And I actually made my community safer.”

If elected to the U.S. Senate, Fetterman said he would ensure law enforcement “has the resources necessary to do their job, but I will also prioritize oversight, accountability, and violence prevention. On his campaign website, Fetterman — a gun owner — supports universal background checks, red flag laws, and proactive efforts to get illegal guns off the streets.

The Capital-Star asked the Oz campaign about his specific plan to address crime and ensure community safety.

In an email, Yannick — who did not address specific policies supported by Oz — cited endorsements from the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.

She said that Oz “will ensure that our police officers have the resources they need to protect the commonwealth, that our brave first responders are respected and properly trained, and that our streets and neighborhoods are safe for everyone to enjoy.” 

Yannick added that Oz will “crack down on cartels and fund drug rehab centers.” On his campaign website, Oz said he opposes “anti-law” proposals such as “cashless bail.”

Fetterman has notably advocated for legalizing adult-use cannabis and went further in 2015 when he told The Nation he is “for decriminalizing across the board,” saying he sees it “as a public health issue, not a criminal issue.”

Last month, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Fetterman shifted his stance on decriminalization, quoting Joe Calvello, a campaign spokesperson, saying the Democratic nominee “does not support decriminalizing all drugs — including heroin, methamphetamines, and other hard drugs.”

The Oz campaign has highlighted the 2015 interview, accusing Fetterman of wanting to decriminalize all drugs.

“Fetterman’s ideas are radical, deadly, and wrong. Giving addicts easy access to drugs is not the answer,” Oz said in an ad released Monday. “I’ve worked in addiction for years. It hurts to see families broken, promising young futures cut short. I’ll crack down on the cartels, fund rehab centers and rescue centers, and rescue as many lives as I can.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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