2010-07-29 / Local & State

Onorato, Corbett, Field Some Personal Questions

By PETER JACKSON
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – In the hurly-burly of a statewide election campaign, it’s easy to forget that most politicians have fairly ordinary backgrounds and personal experiences most people can relate to.

Campaigns are focused on winning a solitary prize – a governorship, say, or a seat in Congress – and candidates carefully parse their public statements to pump up themselves or deflate the opposition.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato abounds with examples.

“A Harrisburg insider like Tom Corbett, who doesn’t even recognize the problems families are facing, will never be able to offer the solutions that Pennsylvania needs,” Onorato said at a campaign event in Lancaster earlier this month.

A few days later, in Enola, Corbett told a gathering of college students that Onorato lacks a positive message.

Since the May primary, Onorato “has been attacking, attacking, attacking,” Corbett said. “He’s been negative the entire time.”

But in recent interviews with The Associated Press, both candidates provided glimpses of the man behind the rhetoric.

A series of personal questions – ‘Your first paying job?’ ‘Your most embarrassing moment?’ ‘Your first car?’ ‘Your favorite hobby?’ – caught both men off guard, but their answers seemed candid.

Corbett’s first job was delivering newspapers for the now-defunct North Hills News Record in Pittsburgh. He rode his bicycle to cover a route that eventually reached about 100 customers.

“If you’ve ever biked in Pittsburgh, you’ll understand why my thighs are as big as they are,” said Corbett, 61.

Onorato, 49, a Pittsburgh resident who is Allegheny County’s highest elected official, stocked shelves and made deliveries for a drugstore during high school.

His summer jobs included working with “a bunch of guys” doing maintenance at a Roman Catholic high school for girls. “The summer,” he stressed when a reporter rolled his eyes. “No one was there.”

Onorato’s first car was a used Chevrolet sedan –”something like an Impala” but not an Impala – that he bought in 1983, the year he graduated from Penn State.

Corbett bought his first car, a 1965 Ford Fairlane, for $500 in 1969 with the help of a loan from his father.

Onorato’s No. 1 hobby is golf “if I ever get time (to play), which I haven’t done for two years, it seems like,” because he is busy campaigning and watching his three teenage children compete in sporting events.

“I’m always running around,” he said. “I usually run from this (campaign events) to sit on the bench for a few hours – or a few minutes.”

Corbett said his favorite leisure activity is “reading a book on a beach,” preferably a mystery novel.

Doesn’t he get his fill of mysteries in his job as state attorney general? “I always like to see what they make up,” he said.

Corbett said his most embarrassing moment occurred at his sister’s wedding, while he and the other ushers were kneeling in tuxedos at the front of a Roman Catholic church during a noon Mass on a sweltering day in July 1965.

“It’s about 95 degrees outside. I’m kneeling, wearing a morning stroller suit,” he said. “I fainted.”

In a humorous twist, the usher next to Corbett – a non-Catholic who was watching the 16-year-old Corbett for cues on the church rituals – dutifully put his head down too.

“He just figures he was supposed to bow down,” Corbett recalled.

Onorato’s biggest embarrassment occurred on a baseball field in Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood, while he was a city councilman in the 1990s.

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