Wolf
Wolf (John Pavoncello)

York City's past racial discord is being dredged for the airwaves in an ad the Rob McCord gubernatorial campaign has drafted against Yorker Tom Wolf.

Wolf is the front-runner in the Democratic primary and has for weeks been the target of attacks from Democratic competitors and the state GOP.

McCord's website carries a script and attributions for an ad titled "No Good Answer," and the single topic of the piece is Wolf's having served as 2001 re-election campaign chair for former York City Mayor Charlie Robertson.

"Why would (Wolf) chair the campaign of a man arrested for his role in a RACE riot ... one that left a black woman dead?" reads the script.

It's not clear when or where the ad will hit the air.

McCord spokesman Mark Nevins said the campaign doesn't discuss ad strategy.

"It's something that people will see, but I can't give you specifics about our plans for it," he said.

Yorkers respond: McCord, the state treasurer, first raised the issue at a forum Wednesday night, and York City Mayor Kim Bracey and other black community leaders have stepped up in Wolf's defense.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Rob McCord opened a forum on education by asking why Wolf agreed to chair the campaign for Robertson; Robertson was charged with murder but was later acquitted in the fatal shooting of a black woman during the city's 1969 race riots, during which Wolf was in India and serving in the Peace Corps.

"What were you thinking when you failed to step away from Charlie Robertson?" asked McCord. "We need to have a governor who knows racism when he sees it."

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, also running against Wolf, joined in the questioning.

Wolf responds: Wolf said Thursday he's "very upset" about the implied racism, but he won't "cave into the negative barbs" heading his way.

"I'm not going to descend to that level," he said.

Wolf said Thursday his involvement in Robertson's campaign ended after Robertson was charged and withdrew from the race.

Bracey on Thursday released a statement saying McCord and Schwartz "shamefully used a sensitive time in York's history in a desperate attempt to tear down Tom Wolf and this campaign."

In a widely distributed email, she forwarded a link to a video featuring herself and other prominent black Yorkers.

"It's really sad that these politicians only seem to be interested in winning at all costs, and we need to let McCord and Schwartz know we're not going to let them get away with it," she wrote in the email.

In the video, Bracey, York's first African-American mayor, said she might not be mayor if not for Wolf; he helped her learn to speak to the business community, and he has helped the community heal from its decades-old divisions, she said.

Crispus Attucks CEO Bobby Simpson said Wolf is a mentor and "one of the most decent human beings I've ever met," and that Wolf asked him to serve on important boards despite his having only a high school diploma.

The Rev. Aaron Wilford Jr. of Bethlehem Baptist Church said he knows Wolf's "heart," saying "Tom is a person who really doesn't care about the color of your skin."

'Act of desperation': On Wednesday, Schwartz also questioned Wolf's contribution to a legal fund for former state Rep. Stephen Stetler, D-York, who was convicted of corruption. He was released from York County Prison in February.

Wolf said Thursday he grew up with Stetler; the men were lifelong friends and Stetler "continues to be a friend."

Wolf said the digression into the legal matters of two of his friends is "disgraceful," and candidates should be discussing the issues facing Pennsylvania.

He said his competitors are "swinging for the fences" with dramatic allegations as an "act of desperation" because he has a significant lead in the polls; the swings at him might be part of the territory.

"Hey, no one made me run for office, and no one made me do so well at it," he said.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.