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Who gets time with Gov. Tom Wolf: Work calendar gives a view behind closed doors

Written by Ed Mahon, York Daily Record | Apr 27, 2015 3:30 PM

(Harrisburg) -- When Tom Wolf ran for governor, he toured a Philadelphia neighborhood that Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. represents.

Jones thinks that's a big deal for his constituents.

He put it like this: When a million pieces of paper come across the governor's desk, one related to North 54th Street or the 4th District of Philadelphia "might stand out a bit."

As governor, Wolf publicly releases his work calendar each week. The calendars don't show everyone the Democratic governor meets with. But they do show many, and they give a window into what issues are discussed behind closed doors and who gets sought-after face-time with Pennsylvania's governor.

David Sanko, executive director of a statewide township supervisors association, said everybody wants little pieces of the governor's time.

"I mean everybody. There's 12 million Pennsylvanians," said Sanko who met with Wolf on March 30, later adding, "He's a celebrity. He's the leader of a multi-billion dollar business."

Governors don't fill potholes, Sanko said, but they know people who do. So far, Sanko said Wolf's schedule appears pretty aggressive.

What Wolf's calendar shows

Some of the people and groups that have met with Wolf contributed to his campaign or inauguration, or publicly supported him during the campaign.

Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the University of Pittsburgh each gave $25,000 to his inaugural committee. In separate meetings, Wolf met with Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Jefferson President and CEO Dr. Stephen Klasko his second week in office.

The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust's political action committee gave $5,000 to Wolf's campaign in September 2014, and its CEO gave $12,500 to the campaign in October 2014. Wolf's calendar shows an April 1 meeting with trust leaders.

Others he met with didn't contribute.

Wolf's calendar describes a March 6 meeting from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with "Gerry Lenfest & Carl Buchholz re: American Revolution Museum" in Philadelphia. Lenfest and Buchholz are board chairman and vice chairman, respectively, for the planned Museum of the American Revolution, according to the organization's website. The museum is under construction.

Lenfest, now the publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, supported Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato in 2010. But he was one of the biggest financial supporters of Gov. Tom Corbett's campaign, giving $252,000. Lenfest declined to comment through a museum spokeswoman.

In a February 2014 article, Lenfest told The Philadelphia Inquirer he gave to Corbett's campaign because he appreciated the governor signing off on a $30 million grant, originally approved under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, for the Museum of the American Revolution. The grant money comes from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

"He saw the museum as something worthy of support. . . . It wasn't a quid pro quo because he didn't know that I'd give to him when he approved the RCAP grant," Lenfest told The Inquirer.

When Wolf ran for office, his "Fresh Start" policy plan promised that he would make changes to ensure everyone has "an equal access to state government -- not just those with well-connected lobbyists."

Wolf said the way to make yourself available to everyone is by not sitting in your office.

"So I've been going out," he said during a one-on-one interview on April 10 at York College's Kings Mill Depot, where he had just finished a tour and news conference.

Wolf has dropped by state legislators' Capitol offices unannounced. He's traveled across the state. He said he's met with a variety of people in healthcare, education and other fields that are important to Pennsylvania residents.

"If someone wants a meeting and I can fit it in the schedule, they can come to Harrisburg, I can go out to them," Wolf said during the April 10 interview, later adding, "I would imagine that the overwhelming majority of people I have met with -- I mean, way overwhelming majority of people -- have never contributed a dime to anything I've ever been involved in."

People who have met with Wolf describe it as an honor, a privilege and way cool. They describe him as knowledgeable, congenial and accessible.

"There are some leaders who you would think that you're meeting with the king. I've never gotten that sense with Tom Wolf," said the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, who met with Wolf on March 16.

What the calendar entries don't show

Wolf's calendars don't show everyone the governor meets with.

In February, after the administration released Wolf's first work calendar, Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the people listed are the points of contact and organizers of the meetings. Sheridan said the purpose of the entries is for "the governor to know where he's supposed to be."

Other calendar entries describe a "Legislative meeting" taking place but don't say a specific topic. Sheridan said that's because those meetings cover multiple topics.

Some of the people contacted for this story declined to comment or they provided limited details.

Jones, city councilman for Philadelphia's 4th District, said he didn't want to get ahead of any decision Wolf makes. But he described some of the issues they discussed, including one that isn't exactly high profile and wasn't mentioned in Wolf's March 3 budget address: how to pay for fixes to driveways, alleys and retaining walls that are in bad shape.

Back when Wolf was running for governor, Jones endorsed him ahead of the primary. But Jones said he doesn't think their past relationship is the reason Wolf met with him.

"I really think that if you have the right ideas, he's willing to listen to whoever," Jones said, later adding, "It's not who you know. It's what you know."

Some calendar entries show people on opposite sides of issues, such as a Feb. 24 meeting with the Pennsylvania Municipal League and a March 30 meeting with Les Neri, president of the Fraternal Order of Police's state lodge. The FOP has opposed changes to binding arbitration rules that the league and many Democratic mayors say are necessary for the financial well-being of cities.

Wolf said he's listening to the different sides.

"It's the way I've always done things. I'm really trying to learn what their perspective is," Wolf said.

Listen to Wolf talk about who he meets with and how he spends his time

He's meeting with people who represent a broad range of issues he might have to deal with: the president of the United States, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Pennsylvania business leaders, foundations that award grants, top officials at some universities, and moms who want to legalize medical marijuana for their children.

Here's a look at some of the prominent people or groups Wolf has met with, including some that have supported him before, some that haven't, and some that talked publicly about issues they want to work with him on. Time, location and other information is based on calendar entries.

University of Pittsburgh's chancellor and other officials

WHEN AND WHERE >> 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 27 in Harrisburg

WHAT ELSE >> The University of Pittsburgh contributed $25,000 to Wolf's inauguration, according to information Wolf disclosed.

Pitt is one of four state-related universities, along with Temple, Penn State and Lincoln, that receive an annual appropriation from the state but set their own tuition, fees and related costs.

Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for community and governmental relations, said in an email that Pitt contributed $15,000 to Corbett's inauguration in 2010. The money comes from an account used for sponsorships and composed of private funds, he said.

He said the university does not, by law, participate in electoral activity, so the inauguration "is the one opportunity we have to show support for the Governor, and we have done so on a bipartisan basis."

Supowitz said the Jan. 27 meeting was a chance for Pitt's new chancellor, who started in 2014, and the new governor to meet. He said officials had a broad discussion about Pitt's "role in attracting high-achieving Pennsylvania students and as a powerful economic engine ."

In March, Wolf proposed an $80.9 million combined general support increase for the four-state related universities, including an about $14.9 million increase for the University of Pittsburgh. He proposed the largest increase for Penn State, both as a percentage and in real dollars.

Jefferson president and CEO

WHEN >> 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 29 in Philadelphia

WHAT ELSE >> Like the University of Pittsburgh, Thomas Jefferson University gave $25,000 to Wolf's inauguration.

The other universities that contributed were Carnegie Mellon and Temple, which each gave $5,000. The Temple University Health System contributed another $5,000. In all, Wolf's inaugural committee received more than $2.7 million in contributions, plus in-kind contributions. He capped individual contributions at $50,000.

In an email, Jefferson spokeswoman Jacqueline Kozloski emphasized Jefferson's role as "one of the region's major employers and as one of the most venerable institutions in the" state and said it wanted to demonstrate support for the new governor.

Wolf committed to not using taxpayers funds for his inauguration, and Wolf's staff told Jefferson any leftover funds would be contributed to Pennsylvania nonprofits, Kozloski said.

Wolf met with Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health System, before meeting with President Barack Obama. The next day Klasko posted a photo of him and Wolf on Twitter and said they discussed creative healthcare solutions for the state.

As for the meeting, Kozloski said they discussed a potential partnership to give public school students mentors in health care.

She said they also discussed how Jefferson could help "increase access and triage patients appropriately" as Wolf proceeds with expanding Medicaid.

Previous governors have awarded grants for Jefferson projects through the through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. For a 2015 submission round, $2.75 million was requested to enhance Jefferson's Comprehensive Acute Rehabilitation Unit. As part of the grant program, the General Assembly authorizes a certain level of funding, and then the governor's budget office decides how much money, if any, to release.

The Corbett administration said it added objective criteria to award grant money, although the governor still had the final say.

Under Wolf, the state has not announced grant recipients yet, and it recently announced an extension for the first submission round. In all more than $1 billion has been requested for that round.

Planned Parenthood leaders

WHEN >> 3:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Feb. 6 in Harrisburg

WHAT ELSE >> Meeting participants included Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its advocacy and political arm.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC supported one of Wolf's rivals in the Democratic primary, then-U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, but backed Wolf in the general election.

In a Nov. 5 website post, Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood's political arm in Pennsylvania, said Wolf's election was "a resounding victory for women in Pennsylvania." Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates contributed $2,500 to Wolf's inauguration.

Stevens said she doesn't think the organization's support of Wolf is connected to any access its members get to the Wolf administration.

"I think he would meet with anyone, any organization," she said.

She said the Feb. 6 meeting was a "get to know you meeting." Stevens said they talked about the services that Planned Parenthood provides.

Her organization opposed a number of Corbett moves, including his support for mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion.

Stevens said she and leaders of her organization never met with Corbett personally when he was governor, but they did meet with leaders in his administration.

During the campaign, Wolf described himself as pro-choice and expressed opposition to new abortion restrictions. Corbett opposed legalized abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.

Wolf's calendar shows a March 31 meeting from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, a group that opposes abortion and has clashed on issues with Planned Parenthood. The group says it doesn't oppose or support specific candidates in elections, but instead compiles information for voters, such as candidate positions on abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty and healthcare.

Amy Hill, communications director for the conference, said the meeting was a chance to make introductions.

Tracking Wolf's travels

Here is a look at Gov. Tom Wolf's public appearances from Jan. 20 through April 15, based on information from the Wolf administration. The map below does not include live or taped interviews, or online question and answer sessions.




Natural gas company leader

WHEN AND WHERE >> 9:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. Feb. 17, phone call from Harrisburg

WHAT ELSE >> David Porges is chairman, president and chief executive officer of EQT Corp., a natural gas production company. An EQT political action committee contributed $3,000 to Corbett's campaign in May 2014. The political action committee donated to Corbett's campaign in prior years, as well.

There's no record of it contributing to Wolf's campaign.

In October, the state Department of Environmental Protection said it was seeking a $4.5 million civil penalty from EQT as a result of a 2012 leak from an impoundment in Tioga County. The state attorney general's office, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, filed misdemeanor criminal charges against the company for the same incident, according to StateImpact Pennsylvania.

EQT has called the proposed $4.5 million in fines excessive, and that case is ongoing. For the criminal case, EQT entered a no contest plea through its defense attorney on March 16, according to attorney general's office spokesman Jeffrey A. Johnson. Johnson said EQT was sentenced to pay a maximum fine of $5,000 for each of the six counts, totalling $30,000.

Natalie Cox, an EQT spokeswoman, said the Feb. 17 conversation between Porges and Wolf was brief and "generally about the importance of the natural gas industry to Pennsylvania." Wolf has called for an extraction tax on natural gas drilling to fund education and other things.

The two did not discuss any legal cases, said Sheridan, Wolf's press secretary.

Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust

WHEN AND WHERE >> 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 1 in Philadelphia

WHAT ELSE >> Ronald Rubin, executive chairman of the trust, contributed $1,000 to Wolf's campaign in May 2014 and $1,000 to Corbett's campaign later that month. Joseph F. Coradino, CEO of the trust, contributed $12,500 to Wolf's campaign in October 2014. That's in addition to the trust's political action committee contribution to Wolf's campaign.

Coradino said the group liked Wolf's business background.

Those contributions rank relatively low among Wolf's total campaign contributions. A PublicSource analysis in October 2014, before the campaign ended, found that Wolf's 10th biggest campaign contributor gave $450,000.

Under Rendell and Corbett, the state approved $15.5 million for a renovation project at The Gallery at Market East, mostly through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, or RACP, according to Coradino and state documents. Coradino said the April 1 meeting was a chance to tell Wolf about the project.

"Think about it. You've got a new sheriff in town," Coradino said, later adding, "We really wanted to maintain continuity and get the governor to see what all his predecessors have seen."

Coradino said the governor met with them because of the merits of the project. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has called it a "once-in-a-generation project" that could transform the area and would create more than 1,000 permanent jobs and 2,000 constructions jobs.

State documents show that $31.5 million in RACP money was requested from the state for phase four of The Gallery project, although Coradino said there have been discussions with the Wolf administration about lowering the request.

When asked about how the governor planned on ensuring grants are awarded fairly, Wolf's press secretary said the governor's primary concern is taxpayers and rebuilding the middle class.

"He wants to ensure that any state dollars that are awarded are done so in a transparent and equitable manner to move our economy forward," Sheridan said in an email.

Contact Ed Mahon at 717-771-2089.

You can check out Gov. Tom Wolf's weekly schedules below

Jan. 21 through Feb. 6

Feb. 7 through Feb. 12

Also of interest

Gov. Tom Wolf's sales tax expansion would cover child care, nursing homes and more.

Gov. Tom Wolf backs off campaign tax plan.

Wolf Tracker.

Play the Pa. sales tax revenue match game.

Gov. Wolf: What his emails do and don't show, and a look at email access fights for other politicians.


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

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