Tom Wolf: Perfect Stranger

The candidate in his home in Mt. Wolf. Photograph by Colin Lenton

The candidate in his home in Mt. Wolf. Photograph by Colin Lenton

In 1957, Tom Wolf and his father attended a baseball game at Connie Mack Stadium.

Wolf’s team, the Phillies, faced the St. Louis Cardinals, including Stan Musial, the player who broke Babe Ruth’s extra-base-hits record. The stadium announcer’s voice crackled through the loudspeakers, informing the crowd that anyone from Donora, Pennsylvania, Musial’s hometown, could get the slugger’s autograph when the game ended.

After the last out, Bill Wolf led his son to the visiting locker room.

“What do you think?” his father asked. “You want to go in?”

Fifty-seven years later, Tom Wolf would be the presumptive next governor of Pennsylvania. But that night, he was just an eight-year-old baseball-crazed kid standing mere feet from one of his heroes.

“No,” Tom replied. “We’re not from Donora.”

“They won’t know that,” his father said.

“No,” Tom repeated. “It wouldn’t be right.”

I hear this story from Wolf’s parents, Bill and Cornelia, at their rambling old country house in the borough of Mount Wolf, about eight miles north of York. The couple is in their 90s, dignified-old-money in every way, but the tale feels as though it hails from an even earlier time, reminiscent of apocrypha and legends like the one about George Washington and the cherry tree. There are other family fables about Honest Tom, and the Wolfs eagerly share them, delighted that their son’s virtue outdoes even their own.

The stories also echo Tom Wolf’s campaign narrative. A virtual unknown when the year began, Wolf blitzed the state with ads that declared him “not your ordinary candidate” and defined him in broadly likeable terms: South Central Pennsylvania kid. Highly educated, with a stint in the Peace Corps. Married to the same gal for 38 years. Two daughters. Started off driving a forklift in the family business, then took over, making it America’s largest supplier of kitchen cabinets.

He shared 20 to 30 percent of the profits with his employees, the ads tell us — and yes, that does sound virtuous. In 2006, he and his partners sold their majority stake in the company, and Wolf resigned and accepted a position as secretary of revenue under Governor Ed Rendell. He donated his government salary to charity and refused a state car, driving a dorky Jeep instead. He explored a run for governor in 2009, but he got a call from his old management team telling him the business he’d led for 20 years faced foreclosure. So Wolf tabled his political dream for a time and manned his old post, saving the family business and hundreds of jobs.

“I’m Tom Wolf,” he says, “and I’ll be a different kind of governor.”
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Poll: Wolf’s Lead Over Corbett Widens

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This could be the most boring gubernatorial race ever.

A new poll shows Democratic challenger Tom Wolf 25 points ahead of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, with just two months left before the election — favored by 49 percent of poll respondents compared to 24 percent for Corbett. That’s a bigger lead than most polls that have shown the Democrat about 20 points ahead.

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Could Dems Take Back the Pa. Senate?

Even though Gov. Tom Corbett faces a steep climb to re-election — Tom Wolf has all but been coronated in some quarters — the assumption in most quarters has been that the Legislature will remain safely in GOP hands.

No so fast.

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Attacks Heating Up in Race for Pennsylvania Governor

This is the new ad from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, bashing challenger Tom Wolf over how his company moved to Delaware. Problem is the Wolf Company says it pays its corporate taxes in Pennsylvania and that it does not take advantage of the “Delaware loophole” that lets companies avoid it. About 70 percent of Pennsylvania companies take advantage of this loophole.

The other part of Corbett’s ad is kind of weird, too. Part of it’s fine: Tom Wolf was Secretary of Revenue under Ed Rendell and testified on behalf of the proposed tax increases (but they failed). But he didn’t make tax policy as revenue secretary. It’s kind of like blaming the head of the IRS for high federal taxes.

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Budget Omnibus: Pa. House Passes Cigarette Tax

Lots of moving parts to the state’s budget situation these days, so let’s try to take them in some semblance of order.

• First: The Pennsylvania House on Wednesday night authorized Philly’s cigarette tax, a measure designed to help fund city schools at something like full strength.  “The state House of Representatives voted 119-80 on Wednesday night to send the bill back to the Senate, which approved a similar version earlier this week,” AP reports. “Philadelphia officials say that imposing a $2 per-pack city tax on cigarette sales will help fill a crippling schools budget deficit. Without the money, they say schools won’t be fit to open in the fall.”

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