Gubernatorial hopeful McCord says he's in best position to unseat Corbett

| Sunday, April 6, 2014, 10:40 p.m.

In the early 1990s, decades before he sought public office, Rob McCord sharpened his interview skills by pitching his most entrepreneurial idea yet.

He sat down with Safeguard Scientifics CEO Pete Musser, a man he describes as “a legend,” and did the unthinkable.

He asked for less money.

“I said, ‘How about I start in 10 months, you pay me 10 percent less, but let me devote 20 percent of my time to do consulting?' ” McCord said. “He said, ‘That was the most bizarre negotiating I ever had.' ”

McCord, a Democrat in his second term as Pennsylvania treasurer, is running in the primary for governor. This, he said, is also an interview.

“I'm in the best position to beat Tom Corbett and in the best position to actually get good work done,” he said. “Those are the two jobs that you're really hiring for.”

In a pack of four candidates in the May 20 primary, McCord is the only candidate who has won a statewide race. He secured endorsements from some of the state's most influential unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the political arm of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

His campaign closed 2013 with about $6 million in hand.

Before entering politics in 2008, McCord took risks of a different sort. He was a venture capitalist in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he founded and led several councils and funds investing in startups. This background, he explained, suits him well for legislative deliberations required by the state's CEO.

“You're dealing with a lot of different industries all at the same time,” he said, “and you're negotiating and selling with wildly different amounts of power per negotiation.”

Investment in education

McCord's main mission, if elected, would be to increase economic security for Pennsylvanians through boosting funding for public education and luring businesses. His platform includes devising a formula to distribute state funding to districts regardless of prosperity, and increasing access to low-cost capital.

While visiting the recently constructed South Fayette Intermediate School, he marveled at its state-of-the-art layout, design and curriculum.

“In a blink assessment,” the school is the model the state should aim for, he said. But he asked Superintendent Billie Rondinelli if the project came in under budget, what research they use and what assessments are used to benchmark student progress.

Then he introduced himself to students, trading business cards for high fives inside a third-grade art and technology studio.

After the school visit, McCord stopped at the manufacturing hub TechShop in Bakery Square. He chatted with artists and entrepreneurs about 3-D laser printing capabilities and how steel craftsmen earn a living.

His tailored, checkered suit and pocket square clashed with the assembled hoodies and Converse sneakers, but he embraced the atmosphere. “I like the dress code here,” he said.

During endorsement interviews, McCord's energy and attention to detail resonated with PSEA President Mike Crossey.

“One thing that impresses me tremendously about Rob is he sees education as an investment,” Crossey said. “He sees the connection between education and employment and social services.”

McCord's campaign narrative focuses on his upbringing, noting he was “rescued by public education.” His parents divorced when his father began battling alcoholism. His mother, a teacher, raised her two sons. Though he was an undiagnosed dyslexic as a child, McCord earned entrance to Harvard University. There he studied economics and met Leigh, his wife of 35 years. He went on to earn a master's degree in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Rallying support

Wayne Kimmel was one of three founders of Eastern Technology Fund outside Philadelphia with McCord in the late 1990s. He remembers McCord as the “conductor,” effusive and at ease in a boardroom or with workers on site. McCord displayed a vision unique among others in the trade, he said.

“There are very few altruistic venture capitalists,” Kimmel said. “There are very few people who truly care about society and who think bigger than just making money.”

As treasurer, McCord has criticized the Corbett administration, including its push to privatize management of the Pennsylvania Lottery. That stance rallied support among largely anti-Corbett coalitions, such as AFSCME, whose members include lottery employees.

Pennsylvania Republicans cast as political pandering McCord's comments on issues such as the lottery and higher education funding. Republicans accused McCord of blurring the line between policy and politics, and called his statements taxpayer-funded campaigning.

“At such a critical economic time in our commonwealth's history, Rob McCord should be focused on protecting our taxpayers' dollars, not using them for his political gain,” said Pennsylvania GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney.

McCord disagrees with the notion that he would use the Treasury to make a bid for higher office. He points to accomplishments of the past six years, such as improving performance of the Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Plan and unclaimed property program, coupled with a 23 percent reduction in staff.

As he prepares for the biggest interview of his career, McCord hopes voters will respond well to his record as someone who has met a payroll, and his personal story. He touts his elected experience as someone who has “battled Tom Corbett and won.”

“That blend is something, I think, people are going to want to hire.”

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or

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