For York County commissioner, one incumbent and three challengers advance

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

York County voters made their choices for county commissioner in the May 21 primary, and only one incumbent, Democratic Commissioner Doug Hoke, will be on the ballot in November.

Another longtime board member, Republican Chris Reilly, was ousted by two challengers in the GOP primary.

Hoke, Democratic challenger Judith Higgins and Republicans Julie Wheeler and Ron Smith will compete for three seats on the county board in the general election.

Hoke has been on the board since 2008 and is seeking a fourth term. He's also president of the York County Prison Board. He took first place in the primary with 31.21% of the vote, or 6,602 votes.

"I was proud of the candidates who ran on the Democratic ticket," he said. "We had a very issue oriented campaign, with a lot of great comments and good dialogue."

Hoke said he asked voters to look at his record and his character on the board, including his integrity, honesty and fiscal responsibility.

Higgins, a former Democratic candidate for state Senate, campaigned on the importance of workforce development and library funding, among other issues.

She took second place with 28.63% of the vote, or 6,057 votes.

Higgins said she'll be working to ensure York County residents understand how important it is to know who their candidates for local office are, particularly after seeing such low turnout for the primary.

York County Commissioner Judith Higgins, left, talks with
Sarah Hammond, a candidate in the 33rd Senate seat special election, during a watch party at Rockfish Public House in York City Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

Only about 16% of registered voters in York County cast a ballot in the primaries.

"I think a lot of people are very disillusioned and unhappy," she said. "That’s hard to overcome, that feeling of, 'it just doesn’t matter.'"

In her campaign, Higgins also came out against establishing a countywide stormwater authority after hearing overwhelmingly negative public feedback, she said, particularly from farmers.

She said one of the main issues she'll focus on in the November election is the York County 911 Center, which has struggled with staff retention rates and high turnover.

"It’s a very humbling feeling to know that, out of four good candidates, I got to be one of the two that went forward," she said.

There were two other Democratic candidates vying for a spot on the ballot in November: Karen Crosby, a credit analyst for a financial services company in Cumberland County, and Madeline Geiman, an electronics technician.

GOP results: On the Republican side, Julie Wheeler took first place with about 35% of the vote, or 15,629 votes.

In a statement released by her campaign, she said she was grateful to Republican voters who supported her.

"I’m looking forward to a spirited race in November and the next steps in the process," she stated.

Wheeler, whose background is in business and corporate management, is a former state Senate candidate. She lost the 2018 Republican primary to Kristin Phillips-Hill, who went on to win the seat formerly held by Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner.

Julie Wheeler, a businesswoman and Republican committeewoman from Windsor Township, is running for the York County Board of Commissioners.

More:Former GOP state senate candidate Julie Wheeler running for York County commissioner

More:Ron Smith, Dallastown Borough Council president, is running for York County commissioner

Ron Smith took second place in the primary with 24.57% of the vote, or 10,900 votes.

Smith, who's served on the Dallastown borough council for 21 years, worked as an emergency medical technician for 13 years in the 1980s and '90s and was a volunteer firefighter.

"As a relative unknown three-and-a-half to four months ago, to run the positive campaign that we did (and) to get the response of the voters that we got, showed that, I think, York County was ready for a change," Smith said.

In his campaign, he focused on the need to address management and staff retention issues at the York County 911 Center, and he spoke out against the proposal for a countywide stormwater authority.

Smith ran a close race against the incumbent Reilly, who came in third place with 23.48% of the vote, or 10,415 votes.

Incumbent Chris Reilly, left, and challenger Ron Smith share a laugh while waiting for the election results to be posted, Tuesday, May 21, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Fewer than 500 votes separated Smith and Reilly.

"I had a nagging feeling that incumbency was not an asset in this cycle," Reilly said Tuesday night. "And that apparently was proven to be true."

Reilly announced last month that this would be his last run for the board regardless of the outcome.

He served his first two terms from 1996 to 2003, followed by one term away from the board, before he was reelected in 2007.

Reilly said he's had a great run serving York County and that the county would be in good hands with Wheeler and Smith.

More:Commissioner Chris Reilly will seek sixth term in York County government

More:Chronister could face off against one of 'Grandview Five'

Republican Steve Chronister, a controversial former county commissioner, took fourth place with 12% of the vote, or 5,347 votes.

He served three terms on the board of commissioners from 2004 to 2015.

The local GOP did not support Chronister's reelection campaign and instead publicly came out against him in a newspaper op-ed and through a Republican political action committee.

The negative campaign tactics were effective for his naysayers, Chronister said.

"This is the way some elections go," he said.

Chronister attracted widespread negative attention last year when management at the Grandview Golf Club, which his family owns, called the police on five black women and booted them from the premises.

Chronister alleged that the women, later dubbed the "Grandview Five," refused to leave after management asked them to exit the course for slow pace of play.

Democratic candidate Crosby was among them.

More:Karen Crosby, one of the 'Grandview Five,' announces candidacy for York County commissioner

More:Chronister could face off against one of 'Grandview Five'

Crosby came in third place in the Democratic primary with 24.80% of the vote, or 5,246 votes.

Although she's disappointed she won't be on the ballot in November, Crosby said she was happy with the result and with her campaign experience, especially because she was new to politics.

She also had an encouraging word for Hoke and Higgins.

"I just really want to congratulate them in being able to move forward in the general election," Crosby said. "They really put in the work it takes to get there, and I wish them both the best."

Two other women from the Grandview group won Democratic primaries on Tuesday: Sandra Harrison won the nomination for prothonotary and Sandra Thompson won the nomination for judge on the Court of Common Pleas.

Chronister said he has "no plans" to run for public office again and instead will continue to run his family businesses.

He said the four candidates who made it onto the municipal election ballot would all be good choices "capable of doing a really good job at running the county."

The other Democratic candidate for commissioner, and the youngest candidate in the race, was political newcomer Madeline Geiman.

More:York County commissioner candidate wants to expand services, but unsure of funding

More:Officials, candidates line up against York County Stormwater Authority

Geiman, 25, came in fourth place with 14.54% of the vote, or 3,077 votes.

She campaigned on expanding drug and alcohol treatment services without raising taxes, and she was in favor of establishing a countywide stormwater authority.

Geiman could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

There were nine commissioner candidates in total, but Republican Blanda Nace dropped out of the race one week before the primary after accepting a job within the York City administration.

Nace still appeared on the ballot and received 4.36% of the vote, or 1,935 votes.

More:Blanda Nace drops out of the race for York County commissioner

More:Blanda Nace joins crowded race for York County commissioner