Inky scrutinizes Wolf's business history

Published by James O'Toole on .

The most consequential Pennsylvania political story of the day was Joseph N. DiStefeno's report in the Philadelphia Inquirer today, on the recent history of Tom Wolf’s family business.

In his abundant television ads, Wolf has showcased the firm, the Wolf Organization, as a model of enlightened business success. The bedrock of the Wolf campaign is his turnaround story of how he rescued a firm that he had sold in 2006 after it foundered in the the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

DiStefano dives deeper into the story to find that Wolf and two cousins, co-owners of the firm, sold much of their interests  in a complex 2006 transaction. Managers of the organization acquired part of their stake through a deal funded by an investment banking firm and bank loans.

The investment firm, Weston Presidio paid $41 million. It’s stake in the recession battered firm is now worth $21 million. And one of the major investors in Presidio, it turns out, is the Pennsylvania’s State Employees Retirement System.

Wolf also told DiStefano that a substantial part of the $10 million he has invested in his campaign came from a bank loan, rather than his own cash.

“I really cobbled together everything I had,’’ he told the Inquirer.

The Republican Party wasted no time in throwing a harsh spotlight on the details of the Inquirer report.

“In the midst of a growing pension crisis, our state employees have learned that investing in Tom Wolf has cost them critical retirement funds,’’ the GOP said in a press release. “In addition, Tom Wolf’s is running his campaign on a philosophy of ‘spend first, pay later.’ ‘’

Wolf notes in the Inquirer story that while the the investment firm, Weston Presidio, still faces a significant loss from the 2006 deal, the restructuring he engineered upon his return to the firm restored it to solvency. Still, there’s plenty of fodder for negative commercials in the complex story. One immediate question is which of his Democratic competitors will succomb to the temptation shoot first at the frontrunner after one more poll showed a big lead for the York businessman.

Here's the Wolf campaign's response to the GOP attack:

"In 2006, Tom Wolf sold his business and retired. The sale was open and transparent and thoroughly reported in the local newspapers. In 2007, Gov. Rendell appointed Tom Revenue Secretary and Tom put all of his assets in a blind trust.
"As a distributor of kitchen cabinets and home building products, the Wolf Organization was hit hard by the sudden collapse of the housing market and the Great Recession.
"In 2009, Tom Wolf received a phone call saying that the bank was about to pull the plug on the company. Weston Presidio valued its investment in the business at zero.
"Tom was faced with a choice. He chose to put all his liquid assets toward saving his old company along with hundreds of jobs. He could have sat back and criticized, which is what a politician would have done.  Instead Tom Wolf made the decision to come back and save hundreds of jobs. He came out of retirement to buy back the company and he changed the business model.
"As a result of his leadership and a reinvention of the company's business model, the business has turned around. Weston Presidio's investment in Wolf is now valued at over $19 million - up from zero in 2009 - and they expect that number to only grow in the future. Any attempt to portray Tom's leadership of the Wolf Organization as anything but a success story is disingenuous.
"Tom didn't have to save the company, but he did it anyway because he knew hundreds of jobs -- and the families and community they support -- were at stake.
"Now the Wolf Organization is not just on solid financial footing, it is thriving. Just last month, employees received profit-sharing checks in addition to the excellent pay and benefits that Tom has always provided workers''
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Allyson to the airwaves?

Published by James O'Toole on .

The Smart Media Group, which tracks advertising buys, Tweeted Thursday afternoon that the Allyson Schwartz campaign was poised to air its first commercials.  The firm's Twitter feed first said that the ads would begin airing Friday, then revised their projection to say that the congresswoman would be on the air on Monday April 7.

The Schwartz campaign declined to comment on the report.  Schwartz commercial debut has been long anticipated.  She is the last of the remaining four Democratic candidates to launch her ads.  And they better be good, judging by the finding of the latest F&M survey, which showed her a distant second behind Tom Wolf, whose abundant advertising began early.

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F&M: Wolf still leads big

Published by James O'Toole on .

The good news for Tom Wolf’s opponents is that roughly half of Pennsylvania’s Democrats have yet to make a choice in the race for governor.

But that may be small consolation in a contest in which the York businessman’s money and early advertising have built a big and so far unchallenged lead. In the latest survey from Franklin & Marshall College, Mr. Wolf maintained a daunting advantage over his rivals. At 33 percent, his support was greater than that of the other three candidates combined. His tally dwarfed those of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, at 7 percent; Treasurer Rob McCord, 6 percent; and former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty, 4 percent.

While, there’s still time for churn in the standings in the weeks before the May 20 primary, his lead, little changed from F&M’s last survey in February, remains formidable. The new numbers came after a few weeks in which McGinty and McCord had launched their own advertising campaigns with no evidence yet that those ads had given them any real traction. Schwartz has yet to begin to advertise. Her slender advantage over McCord and McGinty was within the survey’s margin of error.

Mr. Wolf led in every region of the state. Ms. Schwartz managed to crack double digits only in her home base. She had 11 percent among Philadelphia voters, while Mr. Wolf had 35 percent. IN the surrounding suburbs in the state’s southeast, Mr. Wolf had 30 percent compared to 16 percent for Ms. Schwartz.  Like Schwartz, McCord is from Montgomery County in the Philadelphia suburbs, but his support in the southeast was just 4 percent. His stronger areas were the Northeast and the central part of the state, where he polls 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively, still far behind Wolf.

As the race approaches its home stretch, the candidates remain unknown to many voters.

When the respondents were asked to offer and opinion on whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of the candidates, “don’t know’’ was the most frequent answer. Commensurate with the trial heat results, Wolf led again in this category. Forty-four percent said they held a favorable view of the York businessman; just 3 percent, an unfavorable view; 11 percent were undecided and 41 percent said they didn’t know enough to offer and opinion. The favorable/ unfavorable rations for the other three were: Schwartz, 25/6; McCord, 16/2; and McGinty, 14/3.

Three out of five voters didn’t know Schwartz; 71 percent said they didn’t know McCord; and 86 percent didn’t know McGinty.

When the poll looked at combined firmer support with those leaning toward a candidate, Mr. Wolf’s lead grew. With leaners, the horse race tally was Wolf, 40 percent; Schwartz, 9 percent; McCord, 6 percent; and McGinty, 6 percent. Among the most reliable primary voters, a smaller group whose results carried a greater margin of error, it was Wolf, 38; McCord, 9; Schw3artz, 6 and McGinty, 2.

The survey, conducted from March 25 through March 31, included interviews with 524 registered Democrats and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

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Jay Paterno punts

Published by James O'Toole on .

Citing the hurdles posed by a challenge to his nominating petitions, Jay Paterno, the former football coach and son of the late Penn State icon, Joe Paterno, announced yesterday that he is dropping from the campaign for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Mr. Paterno's petitions had been challenged by another candidate for the s3econd spot on the Democratic ticket, Harrisburg Councilman Brad Koplinski. 

In a statement distributed by his campaign, Mr. Paterno said, "This afternoon I am announcing my intent to withdraw from the Lt. Governor's race. Over the past twenty-four hours in talking with attorneys it has become clear that the ballot challenge could be a long process with potential decisions and appeals carrying beyond Monday's hearing.

"With less than two months remaining before the primary I do not want an ongoing legal back and forth to be a distraction in this race. The outcome of this election is too important for the future of the working families and all the people of this Commonwealth.''

 His withdrawal leaves a Democratic field including Mr. Koplinski, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, state Rep. Brandon Neuman, and state Sen. Mike Stack.

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DeWeese poised to go free

Published by James O'Toole on .

Karen Langley has the story on one more of of our former House Speakers poised to be sprung from the big house:

HARRISBURG — Bill DeWeese, a onetime Pennsylvania House speaker who was found to have used state employees for political purposes, could leave prison as early as today.

After 22 1/2 months, the Greene County Democrat is eligible for parole, though reporting requirements mean his release could be delayed until Sunday, said William Costopoulos, his attorney.

"The indications are there he's going to be getting out sometime this weekend," Mr. Costopoulos said.

DeWeese, 63, was convicted in 2012 on corruptions charges that included theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy. Prosecutors said he compelled legislative workers to campaign, using more than $100,000 of staff time and other state resources for his political benefit.

He was sentenced in April of that year and resigned from the seat he had held since 1976.

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