Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf fends off attacks from fellow Democrats

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PHILADELPHIA -- Riding high in the polls, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf on Thursday defended his record from criticisms by primary rivals during a debate at a television studio here.

As they have before, state Treasurer Rob McCord maintained that questions remain about Mr. Wolf's past association with a former York mayor once accused in a race riot, while U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz asserted Mr. Wolf has left unanswered questions about his family-founded kitchen supply business.

Armed with a much larger campaign chest than his opponents for the Democratic nomination to contest Gov. Tom Corbett, Mr. Wolf dominated the state's airwaves early with advertisements introducing himself to voters.

He rose in the polls and stayed there, with the most recent public polling of Democratic voters showing him with far more support than Mr. McCord, Ms. Schwartz or Katie McGinty, former state environmental protection secretary who has stayed out of the fray in the attacks against Mr. Wolf. A survey made public last week had him 25 points ahead of Ms. Schwartz.

"The question I'm raising -- and I think it should be asked by the voters -- is really the story he's been telling," Ms. Schwartz said at the WPVI-TV studio Thursday. "The voters need to know, who is he really? What does he really bring? What is true about his business?"

Mr. Wolf responded that from his service in the Peace Corps to his business leadership to a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he has accurately portrayed his history.

"I know it's a tough story to believe," Mr. Wolf said. "It is a very compelling story, and it's true."

After drawing criticism from former Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey for an ad targeting Mr. Wolf on his connections to the former York mayor, Mr. McCord persisted Thursday on that topic.

The treasurer's ad said Mr. Wolf's chairmanship of the 2001 mayoral campaign of former York mayor Charles Robertson raises questions.

Mr. Robertson was charged, after winning the primary that year, as an accomplice to the murder of a young woman in a 1969 race riot. He acknowledged holding racist views at the time, which he said he later rejected, but he denied any involvement in the death. He withdrew from the race and later was acquitted of the charge.

"There's a huge difference between being a racist -- and I know Tom is not a racist, none of us are racists, very few people in Pennsylvania are racists -- but we have to know how to confront racism," Mr. McCord said Thursday.

He said of the York episode: "It did remind me of what happened with Donald Sterling in the NBA, and I felt that my friend Tom had failed the leadership test."

Mr. Wolf responded that while heading a civic organization, he had a professional relationship with the York mayor, and that he had been asked to hold the honorary title of campaign chairman.

"I said sure, and I was doing that on the basis of what I knew of what his administration had done in York," Mr. Wolf said. "And that was the relationship. He withdrew from the race, and the race ended, and my relationship with Mayor Robertson ended."

Mr. Wolf said he is proud of what York has done to confront racism and of his own leadership in the city's transition from the late 1960s.

Thursday's debate is scheduled to air Saturday evening in the Philadelphia region.

Karen Langley: or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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