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‘We want to be as connected as possible’: Fetterman names Philly organizer Joe Pierce state director for his Senate office.

Pierce will be based in Philadelphia, which he said reflects an ongoing effort to connect Fetterman to the state’s biggest city.

Sen.-elect John Fetterman announced that Joe Pierce will be his state director.
Sen.-elect John Fetterman announced that Joe Pierce will be his state director.Read moreSteven M. Falk / Staff Photographer

Joe Pierce, a longtime political strategist and labor organizer who worked on Sen.-elect John Fetterman’s campaign, will be his state director.

Pierce, 40, was Fetterman’s statewide political director during the campaign. He’ll be named Friday to the Senate staff role, which will involve hiring and managing staff and engaging with constituents and organizations on Fetterman’s behalf statewide.

“This is a big opportunity,” Pierce said. “I am looking forward to working with folks to help me be successful. ... It also doesn’t miss me that you know, I am a state director coming from the eastern part of the state. ... I’d say the other thing, too, is it does not miss me that I am an African American male that is a state director for a U.S. senator. That’s a big deal, so I don’t take that lightly.”

Fetterman’s transition team also announced that Adam Jentleson will be Fetterman’s chief of staff, based in Washington. Jentleson was deputy chief of staff to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and was co-chairing the Fetterman transition. He worked on the presidential campaigns of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards and is the author of Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.

Pierce said in his new role, he’ll be a stand-in for Fetterman, who continues to recover from his May stroke. “This role will be a little unique in that ... I’m gonna have to be more of a surrogate as well for John, because we really want him to be able to rest as much as possible to help with his recovery.”

“During the campaign, I relied on Joe’s leadership, intelligence and thoughtfulness,” Fetterman said in a statement. “His profound understanding of Pennsylvania was crucial to our ‘every county, every vote’ strategy. Those qualities and Joe’s leadership ability will serve the people of Pennsylvania well.”

Pierce was previously announced in mid-November as campaign manager for former City Councilmember Derek Green’s mayoral run but said he will no longer be working in that position. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime I had to take,” Pierce said. “I wish him well and I appreciate his friendship and his service as a legislator.”

Pierce, who grew up in rural central Florida, is a former political director for Sen. Bob Casey and the former political director for 32BJ, which represents service employees across the state. He also managed a successful City Council race by former member Derek Green and ran government relations for Mental Health Partnerships, a nonprofit mental health advocacy organization.

He will be based in Philadelphia, which he said reflects an ongoing effort to connect Fetterman to the state’s biggest city.

“We recognize that there are relationships we’d love to shore up over here,” Pierce said. “Investment in having a director come from this side of the state is a sign that [Fetterman] knows how important it is.”

Philly’s overall turnout dropped the most of any county in the state in the midterm election. It’s the third consecutive election in which Philly’s share of the state’s vote declined. Pierce said the campaign always anticipated some struggles in Philly.

“We always knew Philly was the area we had to address. So I would say, we expected to have issues, but that is also why ... we worked really hard to get the numbers we got.”

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Pierce said his father, a pastor and political activist, partly inspired his interest in politics. After graduating from Florida A&M University, he started his political career in Tallahassee as a sergeant-at-arms for the state Senate.

“It was a lot of holding doors open for people, walking ladies to their car at night, changing furniture in Senate offices,” he said. He later joined the state Senate’s appropriations committee as a budget analyst. Pierce’s first campaign was Alex Sink’s unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial run in Florida against Rick Scott.

He moved to Philadelphia in 2011 to work for AFSCME International, which represents public service workers, handling contract negotiations and building up the union’s political program. His work with SEIU and Casey followed.

While Pierce was at SEIU, he helped organize some of the Tuesday With Toomey protests, calling on Sen. Pat Toomey to hold more public meetings or town halls with constituents. Pierce called going to work for Fetterman, Toomey’s replacement, in Philadelphia a full-circle moment.

“We will be as responsive as we possibly can be,” Pierce said. “It is something that really matters to John and Gisele, and it matters to our staff, and it matters to me, so we want to make sure we are as connected as possible.”

Pierce lives in Center City with his wife, Sherika, and their cat, Luna.