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Aryanna Berringer quits Pa. race for LG, blasts rivals, money in politics

Aryanna Berringer is dropping out of the Democratic race for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, having learned that winning, as an unknown liberal working mother without personal wealth, is pretty much impossible.

Aryanna Berringer, former candidate for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, holds her daughter Atlee as she listens to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Pittsburgh in 2016.
Aryanna Berringer, former candidate for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, holds her daughter Atlee as she listens to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Pittsburgh in 2016.Read moreMary Altaffer

Aryanna Berringer was the first Democrat to step up to challenge Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in the primary, way back last May.

Now she's dropping out of the race, having learned that winning as an unknown liberal working mother without personal wealth is pretty much impossible.

"I saw I was not going to be able to compete against candidates who are being bankrolled by their mega-wealthy families," Berringer, 35, said. "All this money, they're going to dump that into TV ads and people like me are going to get drowned out."

And instead of the usual smooth words about the wonderful people she met and all she's learned — although she believes and says those, too — Berringer is leaving with a few parting blasts at some competitors and what she sees as their hypocrisy.

First on the list is Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the nationally renowned populist campaigner in sleeve tats and T-shirts who calls President Trump (and others) "jagoff." His post pays $150 a month and has no real official duties.

Yet a federal financial-disclosure form filed when he was running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2016 showed that Fetterman and his wife, Giselle, got a $54,000 gift from his parents — which the candidate was not required to disclose. He also claimed two trust accounts for the couple's children, valued then at $115,000 to $250,000 each.

"Mayor Fetterman is literally bankrolled by his family," Berringer said. "Of course he can run around the state, because he doesn't have a job."

In that Senate campaign, Fetterman also criticized U.S. Supreme Court decisions that allow unlimited donations to super PACs, as long as they don't coordinate expenditures with the candidates they support. Such a PAC, called The 15104, was created to boost Fetterman, funded primarily by his father ($100,000) and brother ($26,200).

Berringer, an Army veteran of Iraq and project-management professional who lives in Westmoreland County, has filed paperwork with the Department of State to remove her name from the ballot for lieutenant governor.

Stack, the incumbent, recently reported a $60,000 loan from his mother and a $25,000 contribution from former State Sen. Vince Fumo of Philadelphia, who was convicted and incarcerated on federal corruption charges.

"Are these the kinds of people we want to represent us?" Berringer said, speaking of Fumo.

Berringer said she enjoyed meeting fellow progressives as she campaigned for a $15 minimum wage, better nutrition for children and women's rights. In February, she got a text message from former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad, then campaigning for the House, calling Berringer a "breath of fresh" air and offering an endorsement. Politics changes fast, though. A few days later, Ahmad left a voicemail to tell Berringer she would be running against her.

A new map of congressional districts imposed by the state Supreme Court would have had Ahmad running against an incumbent. She had raised $500,000 and is able to use that for the state race.

"Probably her consultants saw a million-dollar payday going away" and talked Ahmad into switching, Berringer said. For her part, Ahmad has said she wants to bring change to male-dominated Harrisburg.

Despite her sharp take on some harsh realities of politics, Berringer said she is not bitter. She is working on the launch of a new political action committee, Fight the Power PAC, to raise money for and support outsider progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Fiedler, a state House candidate in South Philly.

"I'm not going to play the game. I'm going to change the game," she said.