Ridge & Corbett: 2 Toms with a difference

ASSOCIATED PRESS Tom Ridge had more success than the current Gov. Tom.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Tom Ridge had more success than the current Gov. Tom.
Posted: October 15, 2013

IT'S HARD TO talk with former Gov. Tom Ridge without drawing comparisons to current Gov. Tom Corbett.

Both, after all, earned the moniker "One-Term Tom."

Ridge's fumbling of a first-term effort to bring big shipbuilding to the Philadelphia Navy Yard brought him the added nickname "Tom Thumbs."

And Corbett, you may have noted, has ham-handed tendencies.

Still, shared similarities are far outweighed by disparities.

They served at different times under separate circumstances but, oh, what a difference a Tom makes.

This hit me during a recent talk with Ridge, part of a well-orchestrated Ridge outreach that Corbett's team could learn from.

Ridge spoke with several journalists - individually by phone - in advance of a ceremony in Erie surrounding donation of his archives to Mercyhurst University.

We started with polite chitchat about how nice it's that he gets to put his stuff in what he called "a great university" in his hometown.

The stuff includes a million-plus pages of documents, 10,000 photos, 1,500 artifacts, all from his time as guv, 1995-2001.

I asked if the collection has Daily News clips from those days and he joked that one should be framed and hung "with a spotlight on it."

That's a reference to a piece I wrote when he started running in the 1994 primary. I described him as "a guy nobody ever heard of from a city nobody's ever seen."

He used the line in his first TV ad, standing on a frozen Lake Erie.

He won the primary (with 35 percent of the vote), beating Philly's Sam Katz, now-federal judge Mike Fisher and later-jailed state Attorney General Ernie Preate.

Anyway, Ridge and I also talked about his ups and downs, governing in general and Washington in particular.

"There's no evidence of leadership at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue," he said.

His greatest disappointment as guv? Not selling the state stores. "It still bugs me," he said. And he "most treasures" that his senior staff stayed through his tenure.

He said politics is "not a science, it's an art." Every issue, he noted, requires different coalitions, and governing and politics can't be separated.

All this made me think of Corbett, who, like Ridge, is a Republican Catholic lawyer and a father of two.

But there are stark differences.

Ridge came to office a practiced, polished pol, a moderate who first served a decade-plus in Congress, a place of political education.

Corbett came to office awkward and stiff, a conservative who spent most of his career in law enforcement, a place where all is black and white.

Ridge kept his senior staff. Corbett's on his third staff chief, his third legislative secretary and his second press secretary.

Ridge is quick on his feet, precise and selective speaking in public. Corbett, as we keep learning, not so much.

Ridge expanded health insurance for kids. Corbett cut health insurance for adults.

Ridge was a hit with many sports fans for helping to build new pro stadiums in Philly and Pittsburgh. Corbett draws the ire of many sports fans for his handling of various Penn State stuff.

None of this is to call Ridge's run ideal.

He signed a legislative pay raise after saying as a candidate he would not. He drew darts for cutting medical assistance after promising not to do so. And he signed a 50 percent pension boost for lawmakers.

Yet Ridge's demeanor - as governor, as the nation's first Homeland Security czar and since - leaves a largely positive image.

Corbett's image, despite keeping a promise not to raise taxes, is far from positive.

Ridge had the advantage of serving during a solid economy. Corbett inherited a huge budget deficit and serves in a bad economy.

But Ridge displayed intelligence and inclusivity and was surrounded by people experienced in politics and governing.

Corbett demonstrates little evidence of same.

This is not a cheap shot. It's a fact.

And Corbett's recent hires heading into a re-election year reflect it.

His new chief of staff, Leslie Gromis-Baker, was Ridge's re-election campaign manager. His new communications director, Lynn Lawson, was Ridge's campaign press secretary.

Pretty clear, eh? One Tom is looking to become more like the other.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|