Mere days after a brutal campaign season ended, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf had breakfast Friday with the three rivals he triumphed over in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.
No, he did not flick a tater tot at state Treasurer Rob McCord.
Instead, after weeks of Wolf’s opponents attacking his business practices and connection to a York mayor involved in a 1969 race riot, party elders said the candidates pledged to work together in the upcoming election against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell attended the “unity” meeting at the Oregon Diner in South Philadelphia with candidates Wolf, McCord, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty, as well as Philadelphia Democratic Party chairman Bob Brady, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Pennsylvania Democratic Party leader Jim Burn.
“Campaigns are tough, rough businesses,” Rendell told reporters afterward. “So this is a first step, and it’s a process that’s going to take some time. But everybody here was uniform on one thing: that we owe it to the people of Pennsylvania to make a change in the governorship and that Tom Wolf is exactly what we need.”
During the campaign, McCord criticized Wolf for his relationship with a former York mayor who was indicted but later acquitted of murder during a 1969 race riot. Asked if McCord’s racially charged ad on the topic came up at breakfast, Brady insisted it had not.
“No. Not even close,” he said. “Not even close.”
Instead, Brady said the Democrats talked about other primary elections, such as the 2002 gubernatorial race in which Rendell bested Casey, and Philly cuisine.
“Tom Wolf [wanted] to know about Philadelphia flavors. He knows not to ask for Swiss cheese on the cheesesteak,” he said. “I didn’t have to tell him that.”
Only one of the four candidates who ran for governor — Wolf — spoke to reporters after the meeting. He said the breakfast was about “coming together so that we could win this election in November.” Meanwhile, Rendell said repeatedly that none of the attendants would take questions on the gathering.
The state’s GOP quickly dismissed the meeting as nothing more than a staged photo-op.
“Today’s breakfast was a weak attempt by the Democratic Party to put on a facade of unity,” said Pennsylvania Republican Party spokeswoman Megan Sweeney. “If there was truly unity, they would have allowed the people at the breakfast to talk to reporters.”
On the other hand, political scientist Terry Madonna said Democratic Party leaders and labor organizations would undoubtedly line up behind Wolf. The majority of Democratic voters who supported the losing candidates would come around too, he said, because the four hopefuls always agreed on major policy issues.
“There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Democratic Party goes into this election united,” said Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College. “Whether or not an individual or two here or there remain a little distant or aloof is not going to make a difference.”