York businessman Wolf unconventional candidate for governor

It is a fascinating balancing act: Tom Wolf is running for the most prominent political office in Pennsylvania while trying not to be a politician.

His road to the governor's office is certainly less traveled. A multi-millionaire, we caught up with Wolf and his campaign staffers volunteering at Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen in York.

He will attend the Pennsylvania Society Weekend in New York this weekend, but won't be throwing a swanky party for political movers and shakers. Instead, he informed supporters in a letter, he'll donate the $15,000 he would've spent on a NYC reception to food banks in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

“I think people running for public office really ought to set an example,” Wolf said. “As long as there are people without food or who are short on food.”

He's clearly hoping to score political points with the gesture, but there also appears to be genuine concern that decadently hobnobbing in the Big Apple just doesn't look good while so many are struggling back at home.

Politically, Wolf is starving for name recognition in a crowded field of Democrats that's currently eight and could soon grow to include former Auditor General Jack Wagner.

The others are Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, former DEP secretaries Katie McGinty and John Hanger, Treasurer Rob McCord, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, and Mechanicsburg minister Max Myers. 

A recent poll had Wolf at two percent and Wolf joked that's probably high. He needs to make a name for himself and he promises not to help his own cause by going negative on the other candidates.

“I'm playing the course,” Wolf said. “I'm not playing other people. I have to get my story out and that's my challenge.”

His story is intriguing. Mount Wolf is named after his great-great grandfather. The family started a lucrative kitchen cabinet company that Tom eventually headed. He sold it and became revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell.

In 2009, he briefly ran for governor but abandoned the race and returned to the business as it struggled during the recession. The company is now on solid financial footing as one of the top distributors of kitchen cabinets and he proudly says they're built in the U.S. 

His political resume is thin, consisting of his stint as revenue secretary, but his overall resume is impressive. Wolf is an Ivy Leaguer, having graduated from Dartmouth. He did time in India with the Peace Corps. He has a Master's Degree from the University of London and a PhD from MIT.

He believes Pennsylvania needs to do more in education and health care.

He's putting his money where his campaign is. He and his wife of nearly 40 years, Frances, have pledged $10 million of their own money. Wolf is confident voters won't see him as a rich guy trying to buy an election.

“If I'm wrong, I won't win the election, but I don't think I'm wrong,” he said. “I think people are looking for something a little bit different, somebody who's actually walked the walk, done things well, done things right, somebody with a moral compass. I think people will give me credit for that story rather than discount the fact that I'm a rich guy.”

But Wolf doesn't discount the fact that no one knows him. He's promising they soon will.

“My strategy is that by May 20th (primary election day) people will know who I am,” he said. “If you go out today and anybody knows who I am I'll be surprised. If you go out May 20th and nobody knows who I am I'll be surprised.”

Wolf recently announced that he has raised nearly $3 million in campaign contributions. He says he'll be using that money to go on television and introduce himself to voters in coming months.


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