HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A year ago, he was virtually unknown and running last in a crowded field of heavyweight Democrats all seeking the state’s highest office.
But it was a year ago that a slew of television ads popped up and introduced Tom Wolf to the Pennsylvania populace.
Wolf spent $10 million of his own money on the commercials that focused on the highly educated cabinet maker, the regular guy who drove a Jeep and shared profits with his workers.
He had a terrific wife and two charming daughters, the near-constant ads reminded us.
Pennsylvania voters bought what Wolf was selling, and paying for, and the Mt. Wolf native stunned those bigger-name Democrats in the primary and cruised past incumbent Tom Corbett to an easy victory in November.
But come Noon on Tuesday, Wolf must deliver on the promise of a “Fresh Start.”
“This is an awesome responsibility I’m taking on,” Wolf said in a moment of reflection. “I hope I’m up to it.”
His many supporters are sure that he is, and they point to his successful track record in business and his educational pedigree that includes an Ivy League diploma and a PhD from MIT.
Tom Wolf insists he’ll do it his way. Though a Revenue Secretary for eight years under Governor Ed Rendell, Wolf is basically a political outsider. Yes, he’s been involved for years as a campaign contributor and organizer, but he’d never run for public office prior to winning the state’s top job.
He doesn’t just espouse traditional Democratic ideals, he lives them. The multi-millionaire can frequently be found volunteering at area soup kitchens. He worked at a Harrisburg elementary school as part of service for Martin Luther King Junior Day.
He won’t live in the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg, preferring to commute in the Jeep from York County.
He won’t take a salary or pension, promising to donate it to charity or back to Pennsylvania’s general fund.
Immediately after swearing in on Tuesday, Wolf said he’ll sign executive orders banning gifts for all executive branch employees and making the rewarding of legal contracts fairer and more transparent.
Those closest to him say the giving isn’t just an act to buy votes. They insist Wolf’s the real deal.
“The man is certainly genuine. He’s got high integrity,” said Representative Kevin Schreiber (D-York). “He’s incredibly smart and well educated, but he’s very passionate about Pennsylvania.”
By all indications, Wolf will need passion.
As a Democrat promising to raise taxes and better fund public schools, he have to negotiate with a House and Senate dominated by increasingly conservative Republicans. Lawmakers, even those from York County, have already reminded Wolf that it’s the legislature that makes laws and budgets.
“This is one thing governors always miss,” said Representative Seth Grove (R-York). “It doesn’t matter who you are as governor, the General Assembly is not interested in your agenda items. Corbett kinda found that out the hard way. If the governor recognizes that, builds relationships, and moves toward the middle, I think we can be successful moving forward.”
Wolf intends to address the partisan divide in his inaugural speech.
“I’m gonna make the point that Pennsylvanians voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for dysfunction, they didn’t vote for gridlock,” he said. We might be divided by ideology, in some ways we might be divided by partisan identification, but we’re all Pennsylvanians and we’ve gotta remember that.”
Wolf will provide the reminders, when necessary, but likely in low-key fashion. Screaming and tantrums are not his style.
“He will be someone who’s very thoughtful and smart,” said Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a fellow York countian. “He wants to hear from all sides before making a call.”
Though pundits and cynics have called Wolf a third term of Ed Rendell or a tax-and-spend liberal, the fact is he comes to Harrisburg with no political baggage and no real political resume.
Nobody can say what Wolf will do until he does it.
“People can characterize me in advance any way they want,” Wolf said, “but they’re gonna have to judge me by what I actually do.”
And that judging is about to begin.
Wolf is 66 years old. He and his wife, Frances, will be celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in 2015. They have two grown daughters.