York City mayor candidates dispute crime trends, visions at final debate

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

With the Nov. 7 municipal election approaching, the three candidates for York City mayor laid out their plans for the city in front of nearly 200 people at the final debate of the campaign season.

The event Thursday, Oct. 26, at Marketview Arts brought York City Mayor Kim Bracey, York City Council President Michael Helfrich, and York City school board director David Moser under the same roof for the first, and likely final, time in their quests for the top job in York City. 

David Moser (right) answers a question at the York City mayoral debate Thursday, Oct. 26, as fellow candidates Kim Bracey and Michael Helfrich watch. Jason Addy photo.

Bracey highlighted some of her administration’s major accomplishments — $150 million in new investments, a rare credit-rating upgrade and two years of property-tax cuts — to ask voters for four more years to see through some of the programs and initiatives she has put in place.

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Citing FBI crime statistics, Bracey pointed to a 31-percent drop in overall crime under her leadership to show that her platform of creating safe, stable neighborhoods and pushing “economic development for all” is bearing fruit for city residents. 

Helfrich disputed those FBI crime statistics immediately, hitting back at the mayor in his opening statement for trying “spin information” to her benefit. 

After doing his own digging through the crime data, Helfrich said he could not figure out how Bracey came up with the 31-percent drop and claimed his investigations found a 28-percent increase in violent crime since 2015 and a 38-percent increase over last year’s murder rates. 

Helfrich argued the city should be hiring new police officers instead of spending money on administrative assistant positions, but Bracey said city officials need to strike a balance with more than two-thirds of the city’s annual budget being spent on public safety positions, including police officers and firefighters. 

'Status quo wasn't good enough': As Bracey and Helfrich debated public-safety costs and priorities, Moser mostly stayed out of the fray, instead using his time to speak about his two years on the York City school board and his desire to empower neighborhood associations.

Though his time on the board is relatively short compared to Bracey and Helfrich’s tenures in city government, Moser highlighted several points of pride from a “very successful” past two years for the school district.

Through bold decision-making, the school district reopened the Edgar Fahs Smith School in August as the county’s first STEAM school without borrowing any money for the project, Moser said. 

The Smith STEAM Academy provides York City students with a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, a concept popular in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia school districts. 

By trying to make wholesale improvements to the district’s finances instead of trying to chip away at its debts, the York City school board was able to get the district’s budget “back in the black,” Moser said, an approach he would take with him to the mayor’s office if elected. 

“We’ve realized in the school district that just trying to get by or maintain the status quo wasn’t good enough,” Moser said. “We’re going to produce something better than you’ve seen in your lifetimes, and that is a perspective I very much think will benefit the city.”