By missing debate, John Fetterman denied Pennsylvania voters an opportunity to size him up

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Pat Toomey's Pennsylvania seat in the U.S. Senate is up for grabs.
  • Three Democrats are running for the seat: John Fetterman, Conor Lamb and Malcom Kenyatta.
  • Fetterman, the frontrunner, missed Sunday's debate at Muhlenberg College.
Fetterman

It’s hard to miss John Fetterman.

At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor cuts an imposing figure.

Fetterman, however, was missed on Sunday night during Pennsylvania’s first Democratic U.S. Senate debate at Muhlenberg College.

The Central York High School graduate elected not to participate. An empty podium stood where Fetterman should’ve been.

His reason for being absent?

Well, that’s a matter for debate.

Fetterman has committed to three televised debates in late April and early May. He said he chose to participate in those debates because he claims they’ll have wider reach. Sunday’s debate was broadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, while the other debates are set for network TV.

More:Conor Lamb revives gun incident to attack John Fetterman in Senate race

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We’re skeptical: You’ll have to pardon us if we’re skeptical, especially since Fetterman has become fairly well known for dodging public appearances that aren’t well-scripted campaign events.

Missing the debate gives the appearance that the Democratic front-runner is trying to evade some tough questions from the media, from the public and from his opponents, fearing those questions will reach into a sensitive area — at least as far as Fetterman is concerned.

The “elephant in the room:” His rivals — U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta — believe that Fetterman wants to avoid talking about a 2013 incident when, shotgun in hand, he confronted a Black man because he suspected the man was involved in gunfire nearby. At the time Fetterman was the mayor of Braddock in Allegheny County, located in the western part of the state.

“He doesn’t want to talk about the fact that he chased down an unarmed Black man and held him at gunpoint,” Lamb said last week. “That’s the elephant in the room. And we have to talk about it.”

We tend to agree with Lamb.

Fetterman has missed a number of other forums, including one in Philadelphia that was hosted by a predominantly Black church.

Given the questions about the 2013 incident, missing that Philadelphia forum seemed ill-conceived. It definitely was not a good look.

Fetterman has previously denied avoiding forums for anything other than legitimate scheduling conflicts or unforeseen family circumstances.

It’s time to stand up and show up: Well, in our opinion, it’s well past time for Fetterman to stand up and show up at events where Pennsylvanians can see how he performs while dealing with tough questioning.

The state's voters deserve some answers.

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It’s commonplace for the supposed frontrunner in an election to want to avoid debates for fear that those debates can be wild cards — unpredictable events where the underdog can score some points with voters and make up some ground in the polls.

Fetterman, however, is constantly emphasizing that he’s not your common politician. He likes to portray himself as a maverick.

Well, missing debates sure seems like a typical political move.

Pennsylvanians deserve better: The people of Pennsylvania deserve better.

The state’s May 17 Senate primary to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is hugely important. It represents perhaps the Democrats’ best opportunity to pick up a seat in the closely divided Senate, the Associated Press notes.

There’s a lot at stake.

We need to know if Fetterman is up to the job.

Showing up at Sunday’s debate would’ve provided the state’s voters with an opportunity to size him up.