Wolf target of two Democratic candidates in final gubernatorial debate; McGinty stays above fray
PHILADELPHIA — With eight days remaining before the primary election, four Democratic candidates for governor debated for the last time on Monday night, with two candidates stepping up their attacks on front-runner Tom Wolf on issues of experience, racism and government ethics.
Treasurer Rob McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, both of Montgomery County, questioned Wolf's experience running a family-owned company as the credentials needed to work with the Legislature on issues such as enacting a gas drilling tax and fully funding education.
Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty stayed above the fray among feuding Democrats.
The candidates squared off for an hour at Drexel University in an event hosted by the university and Democratic City Committee. Executive Producer Larry Kane, a former TV newscaster, called it “a landmark event” because it was broadcast live by 12 TV stations statewide, a dozen more later and by nine radio stations.
Voters shouldn't turn the reins of government to someone “unproven,” Schwartz said. McCord said serving as governor should be about “breadth of experience” and not an “auction” of the election, a reference to Wolf's virtual self-funding.
They touted their own credentials — Schwartz as a state senator and McCord as a twice-elected state official after a career in private finance.
Schwartz hit Wolf on his support for a friend, former Rep. Stephen Stetler, D-York, who was convicted of corruption charges in 2012. Wolf has said he disagreed with the verdict.
“We need a governor who won't tolerate corruption,” Schwartz said.
McCord continued his attacks on Wolf for serving as campaign chairman for former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, an admitted racist who was acquitted of killing a black woman as a city cop in 1969 race riots. Schwartz said Wolf had not done enough to confront Robertson in 2001 after he won the Democratic primary and was indicted.
Wolf said he “acted responsibly in getting him (Robertson) out of the race. I'm proud of that.” He said the campaign chairmanship was an honorary title.
“No quiet conversation was necessary,” McCord said. “I don't care about making Charlie Robertson comfortable.”
McCord on Monday amplified his TV ads started more than a week ago raising questions about Wolf's actions on Robertson's behalf.
McCord was criticized by some Democratic Party leaders and in editorials. “People have an allergic reaction when we bring up racism,” he said. He denied he was “playing the race card.”
“Listen, this isn't a game to me.”
Wolf, a York County businessman, defended his experience serving in the Peace Corps, running a multimillion-dollar company, The Wolf Organization, and serving as state Revenue secretary.
He said he led by example on ethics, declining perks as a state official and paying for his own travel. Wolf said his first act as governor will be to sign a ban on all gifts for state officials.
“I'm a citizen with broad experience,” he said. “If I am unqualified, this is a serious indictment of democracy.”
McGinty said Corbett did away with a fair funding formula for basic education and Pennsylvania is one of the few states without one. She said she will push for a gift ban that covers not only cash but other perks and trips.
McGinty cited her experience not only in former Gov. Ed Rendell's cabinet, but on environmental issues in the Clinton administration.
More than a dozen debates and forums have been held — from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg and Philadelphia — though not all candidates attended each event. A constant theme was slamming Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, especially early in the campaign when candidates were reluctant to take shots at Wolf. Since hitting the airwaves with a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign on Jan. 30, Wolf has led every independent poll.
Corbett of Shaler is viewed by political analysts as vulnerable based on consistently weak showings in statewide polls. He has no primary opponent on May 20.
“Putting a Democrat in the governor's office in November is the prize,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee of Philadelphia.
The debate was interrupted by an anti-fracking protester who took the stage and was removed by security.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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