Though I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, I haven’t lived there for years. So why should anybody in the state listen to me about who to vote for as their governor? Because, this time, I can personally attest to the character of the best man for the job.
Tom Wolf is an outstanding candidate. Since I’m someone who cares about education and job creation and women’s health and opportunity for workers and criminal justice reform, it’s easy to see that Tom’s platform aligns with my political positions. But I want to offer an insight into something deeper.
My parents came from the most humble roots. Take my dad — born while India was still under British rule, he grew up with no running water or electricity, with only a grade school that could barely keep up with his voracious mind. And all of this undergirded by unreliable nutrition due to erratic farm crops destabilized by colonial policies that resulted in one of the worst and deadliest famines in human history.
Yet despite all this adversity, my father persevered, coming to the United States, getting his PhD, and with my mother, becoming a leader in both their community and their careers while providing their two kids with nearly boundless opportunity.
What does this classic American story have to do with Tom Wolf? Well, in that poor, fragile region where my parents grew up, one of the first interactions that many in the area ever had with a westerner was with Tom Wolf, who chose to serve in the area as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Tom’s work focused on stabilizing and growing agriculture in western Orissa, the Indian state my family is from. Here is a man who was born with all the privilege and opportunity that America could afford a man, and who chose to serve those who had the least. This is what leadership is, enabling people to live their best lives on their own terms by working alongside them with respect.
My parents succeeded because they worked hard, and they were already on the path to an amazing life when Tom’s work began. But countless others had their prospects permanently improved because someone who had everything was sincerely interested in helping those who didn’t have nearly as much.
Leaders must be curious
Tom Wolf had an honest respect and intellectual curiosity for the culture that he was engaging. As is the custom, my parents’ wedding in India involved almost the entire population of their respective hometowns, with multiple days of celebrations and events. The only American, the only white guy, the only person of such privilege who was curious and committed enough to be present at such an event was Tom Wolf.
From that bond of witnessing their marriage to decades later, in my youth in Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf and my parents stayed true friends. As my mother’s career succeeded she still made time to host legendarily delicious and decadent multi-course dinners of Indian cuisine at home, and I can remember a number of times when Tom Wolf would show up and dig into the food with the gusto of a native.
Now, it’s been decades since I’ve seen Tom Wolf. I was just a kid when we interacted, so I can’t say that I know the man today, or that he’d even remember me. But I know how fondly my parents speak of a friend who knew them in their lives before they came to America, a friend who cheered them on as they cheered him on, over years as they all went on to become accomplished community members and entrepreneurs in Pennsylvania, and loving parents at home.
Around elections, everybody trots out clichés like “character matters”, but what do these phrases really mean? I think they must be a way of asking, “What did this person do with their time on the Earth back when the cameras weren’t looking? How did a person use their privileges and good fortune to serve others?” In short, what is the sincere nature of a person who wants us to give them power?
These are the ways to measure a leader. Many people can say the right things about a slate of political positions, and mean it. But if we’re going to give someone the power and the great privilege of serving as a leader, then we should expect that they’ve proven their character.
Tom Wolf has proven his character. He earned the respect of my parents a world away, nearly half a century ago, by honestly and sincerely engaging with people he’d never known, and simply being of service. That’s what leadership is, and that’s why as someone who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, who still counts many friends in the state, I ask all of you to elect Tom Wolf today.