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Trump’s pick to lead the Navy is a Penn grad and former suburban Philadelphia councilman

President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the United States Navy went to Penn, worked at the Philadelphia Naval Base and as a state director for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.

Kenneth Braithwaite, a former leader of the region's hospital association, is Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Navy.
Kenneth Braithwaite, a former leader of the region's hospital association, is Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Navy.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff

President Donald Trump’s latest nominee to lead the Navy has deep Philadelphia ties.

Kenneth Braithwaite was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, once served as a Ridley Park councilman, and also worked at the Philadelphia Navy Base.

Trump announced early Monday that he was nominating Braithwaite, a retired rear admiral and the current ambassador to Norway, to replace the ousted Richard Spencer. Spencer was fired by Defense Secretary Mark Esper because of a dispute between Spencer and Trump over how to discipline a Navy SEAL convicted of a war crime.

Braithwaite graduated from the Naval Academy in 1984 and served as a naval aviator in Hawaii, where he flew anti-submarine missions in the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Originally from Michigan, Braithwaite worked as chief public affairs officer at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia in 1990 and got a master’s degree in government administration from Penn in 1995.

During the 1990s, Braithwaite served as a borough councilman in Ridley Park, in Delaware County. He also worked for Sen. Arlen Specter from 1997 to 2000 as a state director. He commanded the NR Fleet Combat Camera Atlantic at Naval Air Station Willow Grove and provided support in Guantánamo Bay and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In 2007, he became senior vice president of Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and the head of the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, a regional group representing full-service hospitals. In that capacity, he was a spokesman on various issues confronting hospitals and health care providers.

Braithwaite is a registered Republican who last voted in the 2016 general election, according to voting records.

His wife, Melissa, was interviewed by The Inquirer at an Ivanka Trump event in October 2016. At the event, she said she was unconcerned with lewd comments Trump made about women, caught on an Access Hollywood video in 2005.

“The comments that he made on that tape, that was a personal conversation,” Braithwaite, 46, a stay-at-home mother from West Chester, said at the time. “I was not offended by that at all.”

Kenneth Braithwaite became a rear admiral in 2007 and was nominated to be ambassador to Norway in November 2017. In an address to Congress that year, Braithwaite thanked his wife and two children, Grace and Harrison. He also paid homage to his former boss.

“As Sen. Arlen Specter told me so many years ago when I worked for him, that the reason we serve is to ensure that our children and our children’s children inherit the same great country that we received from those who went before us," he said. "After 31 years in the uniform of our nation, I intend, with your approval, sirs, to once again do all I can to uphold that sacred responsibility.”

Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.