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West York council, residents want mayor out

Sean Philip Cotter

The West York borough council unanimously censured Mayor Charles Wasko and advised its solicitor to look for "any means possible" to remove him from office after listening to locals on Monday night call the mayor's posts on Facebook racist and unacceptable.

"If you are a human being with a heart that is beating, you will reject the message he has put forth," said council president Shawn Mauck. "This legislative body rebukes him in every way possible."

For a half an hour before the council's regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting Monday, a couple dozen people, led by the Black Ministers Association, prayed outside the borough hall at 1381 W. Poplar St., and a few protesters held signs calling on Wasko to resign across the street.

Wasko, who was elected mayor in 2013, has made several posts on Facebook this year that council members and community members took issue with: Two compared President Barack Obama and his family to apes, and one suggested Obama should be hanged with a noose. Another post featured a fictional black person saying that socialism is "when the white folks work every day so we can get all our governmental entitlement stuff for free."

The post with the noose appears to have been removed, but the others remain up on his public Facebook page.

Mauck said that Wasko showed up at the borough office Friday night, screaming that he was suspending acting police Chief Matt Millsaps. Because there actually needs to be cause for a suspension to take effect, Mauck said, Millsaps remains in his position as he had been.

Mauck didn't mince words when asked about Wasko's appearance at the borough Friday night, which happened, he said, as crews battled a three-alarm fire several blocks away at a gun range.

"This guy is unhinged," Mauck said. "He is unfit for his position."

Wasko didn't turn up for the meeting Monday night. Repeated calls from The York Dispatch in the days since the paper broke the story on Wednesday have gone unanswered. Borough council members unanimously want Wasko to resign but don't have the power to force him out, officials say.

Rhonda Phillips, left, of West York Borough, speaks about being one of the first bi-racial families in the borough as she speaks during the Council meeting in protest of Mayor Charles Wasko's facebook posts as the community urges Wasko's ousting at the West York Borough Hall in West York Borough, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Residents speak: Dozens of residents of the borough of 4,600 people and of the surrounding area spoke during the meeting's public comment section, which kicked off the gathering and lasted about an hour and a half. The meeting was held in a larger room than normal, in what used to be the building's cafeteria when it was Grace Loucks Elementary School, so likely a hundred people could pack in.

"This could have been dealt with when my father was my age," said Elijah Cross, a 35-year-old black man from York City.

West Yorkers talk race, the future after mayor's posts

Cross is married to a white woman and said he sees white people "looking daggers" at him with disturbing frequency. He called on the people of West York to be informed in their voting when Wasko's position is up for election next year.

"This mayor has his position because of the lack of people who came out when it was time to elect," he said.

West York mayor faces censure but not removal

Lydia Jones, who went to West York schools but now lives elsewhere in the county, said she knows what it's like to feel like an outsider as a person of color raised by white adoptive parents.

"It sucks a lot," she said.

So, she said, do the mayor's posts.

"Does he look at me and see an animal?" she said.

'Dangerous': Local activist Carla Christopher spoke, saying that Wasko was refusing to do the job he'd signed up for: represent the people of West York, which has a minority population of about 25 percent.

"I think it's vital to remember that Mayor Wasko is not just distasteful," she said. "He is dangerous to our Hispanic residents, he is dangerous to our African-American residents, he is dangerous to our women, he is dangerous to our Muslim friends and neighbors, he is dangerous to anyone who has friends or family members in those communities, and he is dangerous to the economic stability — to the future of West York as a borough."

Elijah Cross, left, and his wife Jessica Cross, both of York City, listen to speakers address the Council, residents and community members as they rally to oust Mayor Charles Wasko in light of racist behaviors during a Council Meeting in West York Borough, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. The council would unanimously give directive to borough solicitor Mieke Driscoll to look into "any means necessary" to remove Wasko as mayor. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The only person who spoke against Wasko's removal was Dalton Greenlee, who objected to punishing people for their thoughts or statements.

"This world is going to perish in an orgy of political correctness," he said. "If anyone tries to turn this country into a socialist hellhole, you're gonna have to go through me."

Several people from the audience tried to shout him down. "Read a book," someone called out.

Officials: West York mayor should resign after racist posts

Sandra Thompson, the head of the area branch of the NAACP, spoke soon after Greenlee and disagreed, saying people can believe whatever they want, but they can't make statements like Wasko's if they're public officials.

"We are not here to change anyone's beliefs," she said. "But don't do that (make racist statements or posts) as an employer, don't do that as a police officer, don't do that as a mayor."

She said people have to vote in a more informed manner.

"Let's stop putting hateful people into office," she said.

Michael Wascovitch, a Hellam borough councilman, spoke at the meeting, saying that as a white guy — who, to use his phrasing, "looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost" — he doesn't know what it's like to be a black person. But he does know what it's like to experience bigotry as a gay man, he said.

"Try holding his hand walking down the road" — Wascovitch indicated his husband, who also spoke at the meeting — "and I hear 'faggot,' and I let go, because I'm afraid," he said.

Then he turned to Bridgette Wilson, a West York borough police officer — who the courts ruled that the borough wrongfully fired three years ago — who's a black woman. Wilson had been one of two officers standing behind the council members all evening. He wanted to know if the council members had apologized to her on the borough's behalf for the mayor's comments.

"Yes," she said.

"Can I give you a hug?" Wascovitch asked.

Wilson nodded, and they embraced, smiling.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.