Gubernatorial candidate Wolf touches base with McKeesport voters
Mon-Yough and South Hills Democratic officials jammed a restaurant meeting room on Saturday to hail York businessman Tom Wolf's bid to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett.
“This man is going to be our governor,” said Wilkins Township Democratic chairwoman Angie Gialloreto, one of dozens invited to meet Wolf at Di's Kornerstone Diner in Olympia Shopping Center.
“I'm going to do my best to make you proud,” said Wolf, revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell and one of eight seeking the Democratic nod to challenge Republican Corbett.
“This is a different election ... because we have a governor who has taken us in the wrong direction,” Wolf said alongside McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, state Sen. James Brewster and Forest Hills U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle.
Doyle hailed Wolf's practices as CEO of a kitchen cabinet and building supply provider that competes with foreign companies while paying employees 20-30 percent bonuses.
“He has shown that this is the way to build a company,” Doyle said.
Can Wolf deal with the General Assembly if Democrats can't flip GOP majorities in either or both houses? He said he's dealt with the legislature as state revenue secretary.
“I would just ask you to look at my background,” Wolf said. “My life has been about getting things done.”
Wolf pointed to experiences as a 19-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in India, his pursuit of a doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in the business world.
Wolf's treatment of his workforce impressed Pleasant Hills Councilman Joseph Esper, who said “he can relate to both Democrats and Republicans.”
Wolf's largely self-financed run put him at the lead among Democrats in some polls.
“His ads supercede any ads that I have seen,” Gialloreto said.
“This was my guy from day one, but it seems the freight train has left the station,” West Mifflin council president Michael Moses said.
Quite a few are on board after the event in the former playroom of a Burger King Diane Elias took over last year. Wolf's visit was requested by state Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak.
“It is kind of refreshing that he looks out of the box,” Port Vue Mayor Brien Hranics said.
“He's fresh, he's new and he's one of us,” Elias said.
Cherepko said Gergely was making calls a month ago about a get-acquained meeting with Wolf, before the candidate's poll numbers took off.
Cherepko said Wolf “truly understands the working people and the kind of people we have in the Mon Valley.”
“The city of Clairton is behind him 100 percent,” said mayor and Democratic chairman Rich Lattanzi, who had petitions with 120 signatures of Clairtonians wanting Wolf on the May 20 primary ballot.
That's enough from Allegheny County for Wolf, who needs 2,000 signatures statewide with at least 100 from each of 10 counties by Tuesday.
Wolf wants a 5-percent gas extraction tax instead of an impact fee assessed under state Act 13. He said producers in other energy-producing states pass their taxes along to Pennsylvania consumers.
“We should exploit this natural resource ... but we need to do it responsibly,” Wolf said. “Most of this gas will be consumed by people outside of Pennsylvania ... who will pay the $600 million to $700 million (a tax could bring in).”
In 2011 Brewster proposed a 7-percent tax with up to 2 percent in credits. Half of it would go to education, the rest to environmental programs and local governments.
“The impact fee will go down in history as the biggest blunder in the history of the legislature,” Brewster said. “(It) cheated taxpayers out of $400 million a year.”
Given the removal of $1 billion in federal stimulus funds from education in 2010-11, Baldwin council president Michael Stelmasczyk said he hoped Wolf's proposal will actually fund education.
Stelmasczyk, a former Baldwin-Whitehall school director, asked a question from the diner audience that allowed Wolf to detail his gas tax plan.
Others at Di's had more than one role. Liberty police Chief and South Allegheny school board president Luke Riley said both police forces and school districts are hurting.
South Allegheny High School principal and Pleasant Hills Councilman Jeff Solomon said Wolf demonstrated his focus on education.
Versailles Democratic chairwoman Tillie Gricar asked Wolf about caps on welfare.
“Food stamps should be for the disabled and the retarded and the senior citizens who need it,” Gricar said.
“When I was revenue secretary, the biggest example of welfare I saw was corporate welfare,” Wolf said.
After the gathering at Di's, Wolf received endorsements in Pittsburgh from Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Staff writer Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed to this story. Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or email@example.com.