Speaking on a podcast Thursday, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, the wife of Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, said, “Historically, swimming in America is very racist.”
Gisele made the remark while discussing a swimming pool on the grounds of the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor’s official residence, which Fetterman declined to move into upon his election in 2019, becoming the first Pennsylvania lieutenant governor not to live on the historic estate since it was made available in 1971. The Fettermans subsequently opened the pool up to public use.
“And while we did not want the mansion, that mansion came with a pool I wanted. And the dream was to make this a public pool and turn it into the people’s pool and ensure that young people across Pennsylvania could learn how to swim and water safety and kind of work to right some of the wrongs,” she told Jill Wine-Banks and Victor Shi on the iGen Politics podcast.
The lieutenant governor’s residence has since been transferred to the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.
One of the points of contention Tuesday night during a debate between her husband and Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz was how many mansions each man has and how they had afforded them. Fetterman has taken flack throughout his campaign for presenting himself as a working man despite having lived off of his parent’s income well into adulthood, after attending Harvard University.
Pennsylvania’s Senate race has narrowed in recent weeks as Oz emerges as a viable candidate to compete with Fetterman, the early favorite. The election is seen as a bellwether for broader cultural currents in America, given Pennsylvania’s status as a perennial battleground state.
Following her husband’s stroke in May and its lingering impact, some liberal commentators have begun floating the idea of Gisele’s serving as the “de facto candidate” in her husband’s campaign. However, these comments have been walked back in an attempt to downplay the candidate’s health problems.
Dasha Burns of NBC News initially raised suspicions that Fetterman’s recovery from his stroke wasn’t as complete as it was made out to be. “Fetterman’s campaign required closed captioning technology for this interview to essentially read our questions as we asked them,” Burns explained on air, noting that “in small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation.”
What most viewers know to be true today was then considered beyond the pale for many Democrats, with many insisting that Dash was an “ableist.” Gisele Fetterman strongly criticizing Dash’s commentary.
“I don’t like saying rage because I think that’s a really unhealthy feeling, and when you feel those things, it only harms yourself,” Gisele told Fast Politics. “But I just, you know, what a disservice that she did to not only my husband, but to anyone facing a disability and working through it. I don’t know how there were not consequences. I mean, there are consequences for folks in these positions who are any of the -isms. I mean, she was ableist, and that’s what she was in her interview.”
Gisele Fetterman’s condemnation was echoed by others, including Kara Swisher, Rebecca Traister, and Molly Jong-Fast.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Gisele was referring to a pool at the family’s private residence. She was in fact referring to a pool on the grounds of the lieutenant governor’s official residence.