HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Attack ads are flying as Pennsylvania’s governor’s race heats up heading into the final weeks before the primary.
Three new television ads began appearing Friday, all targeting presumed Democratic Party front-runner Tom Wolf. Their broadcast raised the total to at least five TV attack ads in two weeks against Wolf, the leader of a York-based building products company who is using his personal fortune to outspend the other candidates on TV exposure.
Wolf began airing his own ad Friday to respond to efforts to tie him to a former York mayor who was acquitted of a murder charge in the city’s race riot trials more than a decade ago.
The attack ads were aired by two of Wolf’s competing Democrats, state Treasurer Rob McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, and by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is running for a second term.
The primary election is May 20. Corbett faces no Republican Party challenger. Former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty also is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for governor.
The Corbett ad Friday targets Wolf’s service as revenue secretary in 2007 and 2008 under former Gov. Ed Rendell, and claims that taxes “went through the roof” and led to job losses. But the ad offers no proof of a connection between Wolf and economic conditions. No broad-based state tax increases materialized during those years and job losses were rampant nationwide with the Great Recession.
Schwartz’s ad targets the $20 million that Wolf received from his company in 2006 when he reduced his ownership stake and gave up day-to-day control. The ad claims the resulting debt at the Wolf Organization led to layoffs – company officials blamed the effects of the recession at the time – before Wolf returned to day-to-day control of the company in 2009.
Meanwhile, McCord’s ad questions Wolf’s relationship with former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, who in 2002 was acquitted of a murder charge in the 1969 death of a black woman during York’s deadly race riots. Wolf was a high-profile supporter of Robertson’s before he was charged and was one of many civic leaders in York who signed a letter in 2001 to the city’s newspapers expressing concern about their coverage of the unsolved murders.
Robertson, a police officer at the time of the riots, had admitted shouting “white power” at a gang rally the day before Lillie Belle Allen’s killing, but denied accusations that he handed out ammunition to at least one of the gunmen in an effort to even the score for the fatal shooting of a patrolman.
One of the men who pleaded guilty in the case, Rick Knouse, testified that Robertson gave him 30.06 rifle ammunition and told him to “kill as many” blacks as he could.
“For York, Pennsylvania, it was an ugly episode,” the ad’s narrator says. “For Tom Wolf, there’s just no good answer.”
McCord also raised the issue in two separate debates earlier this week.
In response, Wolf has organized leaders of the black community to come to his defense and his new TV ad Friday features York Mayor Kim Bracey.
“As the first African-American elected mayor of York, Pennsylvania, I am outraged at the racially charged attacks against Tom Wolf,” Bracey says in the ad. “I know Tom Wolf, and here in Tom’s hometown, we’re solidly behind him.”
In an interview Friday, Robertson, 80, insisted he had never been a racist, and said he was unaware that he was being used in a campaign attack ad against Wolf, with whom he’s had no contact in years.
“I was apparently found not guilty quite a few years ago, and they should not be using something like this against a person found not guilty,” Robertson said.
Wolf’s front-runner status is at least partly due to his campaign’s ability so far to outspend other candidates, largely because of a $10 million donation he made to his campaign. He borrowed almost half of the money from a bank.