The bullies in Philadelphia were tireless.
"People would laugh at me and say, 'You can't even speak in front of your class,' " recalls Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) How, they taunted, would he ever be able to run for office?
The 12-term incumbent stuttered badly then, and his halting, blocked speech might have made his congressional aspirations, born in the third grade, seem fanciful. The doubters and teenage tyrants were brutal, and, of course, wrong.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf shows videotape of his fact-finding mission to an Ethiopian refugee camp.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
Frank R. Wolf|
Born: Jan. 30, 1939, in Philadelphia
Education: BA, political science, Penn State; LLB, Georgetown University
Career: Lawyer; member of the U.S. House, 1981-present
Family: wife, Carolyn; five grown children
Campaign Theme: "What I've done, and how I've done it."
"Had I not stuttered, I don't think I would have been in Congress," Wolf said. "It gave me the drive, and the determination, to stay with it. I'd go as far as to say, maybe, it was an uncommon gift. I'm not so sure you could convince me of that at 15."
It's a story line suitable for an after-school special, an inspirational adversity-fuels-success tale that Wolf, 65, shares with kids in similar straits. But Wolf, who as co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus is an outspoken advocate for the abused worldwide, has taken his story into harsher territory.
To step into Wolf's office is to experience a grown-up version of show and tell, with potent images of starving boys and brutalized women in Sudan alongside suburban traffic maps and other staples of local government.
Relentlessly, at times frenetically, Wolf tears through letters, speeches, reports and video footage, offering a view into a broad range of projects both within -- and far from -- his 10th district. The flood of props, and the impassioned presentation, reflect the aggressive style of Virginia's longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. They also hint at a measure of defensiveness as he faces what could be his toughest challenger in nearly two decades.
Although Wolf's district is solidly Republican, his opponent, one-time investment banker James Socas, 38, has led a spirited, at times mocking, campaign that seeks to make a vulnerability of Wolf's extended tenure and his attention to the world's downtrodden. The multimillionaire also promises that, unlike earlier bids to unseat Wolf, his campaign will not hurt for cash.
"He's worked on some noble causes but not the things that matter," things such as traffic and education, said Socas, who answered chants of "Wolf must go!" at a recent rally of a few dozen volunteers and supporters in Leesburg with a dismissive dig. "Frank is scared enough of me as it is. The poor guy's been in so long, he doesn't know how to campaign anymore," Socas said.
Wolf's response is simple.
"Nothing has been neglected," he said. "I work hard."
He backs that contention with a barrage that's a blend of passion and political necessity.
He begins talking about a Chinese labor camp he investigated, then steers the conversation to how he helped find the money to rebuild Wolf Trap after a devastating blaze.
He reaches into a closet and pulls out a Romanian flag with a ragged hole where the Communist emblem symbolizing executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu used to be. But he also sends a staff member hunting for a letter to Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans asking for an accounting of how many U.S. jobs are being moved overseas, an issue raised by his opponent.