Facebook video: Some York City residents see bad blood between councilwoman, mayor

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Council Member Edquina Washington following a press conference, at Crispus Attucks Community Center in York City, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. An informational meeting will be held at the community center on Tuesday, March 20, from 4-7 p.m. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After a York City councilwoman accused the mayor in an open meeting last month of making "demeaning" comments about her in a Facebook post, many defended the city's chief executive.

Some suggested Councilwoman Edquina Washington's allegation was nothing more than a symptom of bad blood between her and Michael Helfrich — who, as a councilman, voted against giving her a raise when she worked in the former mayor's administration and, as one of his first acts as mayor, eliminated her position altogether.

During a Tuesday, July 17, City Council meeting, Washington used the final minutes of the night to publicly confront Helfrich regarding comments he made on a video of her and York City Police Officer Justin Main dancing at a First Friday block party.

Upon sharing the video to his own Facebook page, the mayor wrote: "Dang! I left too early. Check out Officer Main and Councilwoman Edquina Washington shaking it up at the 600 West Princess Block Party! Now that's community building!"

According to Washington, Helfrich's comments "were not only demeaning but also disrespectful to me.

"I was not shaking anything," she added. "I was doing a simple line dance in my community."

Helfrich was cut off by Council President Henry Nixon's gavel before he could respond.

After the meeting, the mayor denied having any intention of disrespecting Washington and said the comments were "purely supportive."

Defending Helfrich: On The York Dispatch Facebook page and others, many residents defended Helfrich.

"The comment Mayor Helfrich made was about community engagement and how great it was that they were involved," said Matthew Higgins, of York City. "He was sharing a positive event within our community. It seems as though she’s upset with his use of the word 'shaking,' but it was not negative in any way."

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks as organizers hold a press conference to introduce 10,000 Acts of Kindness, a year-long collaborative effort to spread kindness and goodwill, outside of the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, June 29, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

He also supplied a screenshot of similar comments on Washington's Facebook page that she had liked. 

"It just seems very hypocritical on her part," Higgins said. "I just feel like there’s more to the story on her part, and perhaps she does not like Mayor Helfrich. She reached too far in this situation, and it was her who acted in a disrespectful manner."

Bad blood? York City residents such as Dave Mac agreed there may be more to the story and said that the incident seemed to be a "stunt" by individuals affiliated with former York City Mayor Kim Bracey.

"I can see where there might be some hard feelings among Bracey's cronies," Mac said. "That's human nature, but the way that they ended that council meeting came across as a stunt to make Helfrich look bad in a way he didn't deserve."

Others echoed the seeming disconnect between the mayor and the councilwoman.

Brock Collins, of York City, noted Washington was one of the first people Helfrich let go when he became mayor in January.

"I think there may be some personal issues that come to surface because of that," he said.

Bracey administration: Washington worked under the former mayor as the director of community relations, which earned her $65,000 annually after the council approved a Bracey-proposed $11,000 raise for her and several other city employees in December.

York City Mayor C. Kim Bracey addresses several grants, including one for $7 million to York County History Center, during a press conference outside of the center at 147 W. Philadelphia St. in York City, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Helfrich, who was president of the council and mayor-elect at that time, voted against the raises.

Upon taking office in January, the new mayor eliminated Washington's position as part of a restructuring.

Just weeks later, the council chose Washington from among seven candidates to serve the remaining two years of Helfrich's former council seat.

Washington didn't respond to multiple phone messages asking her to elaborate on her reaction to the mayor's post and comment on whether there are hard feelings between her and Helfrich that predate the post.

More:York City's new mayor cuts position due for controversial raise

More:Helfrich to be sworn in as York City mayor on Jan. 2

The drama isn't new to Helfrich.

Bracey challenged his election as councilman in 2011 because of his guilty plea in 1991 to felony drug possession, after he was arrested with a man carrying psychedelic drugs.

Then-York County Common Pleas Judge Stephen Linebaugh ruled in August 2012 that Helfrich’s felony conviction does not qualify as an “infamous crime,” breaking decades of case law in Pennsylvania under which all felonies were considered infamous.

Bracey declined to appeal Linebaugh’s ruling to a higher court, and Helfrich served out his four-year term and was re-elected to the council in 2015. Helfrich took over as city council president in November 2016.

After Helfrich ousted Bracey in last year's election, six York City residents, including a longtime former city councilwoman, filed a complaint in York County Court seeking to bar him from holding the office of mayor.

More:Six York City residents challenge Helfrich's mayoral eligibility

The councilwoman was Toni Smith, who spent years on the city council and whom Helfrich defeated in a write-in campaign for a council seat.

However, earlier this year, the individuals withdrew the legal challenge.

MoreDA declines to challenge York City mayor's eligibility to serve

Helfrich, through  spokesman Philip Given, declined to comment about whether there is bad blood between him and Washington.

"The mayor's one true focus is on propelling the city forward," Given said. "We believe in unifying the city, including all City Council members and residents."

Nixon said he "doesn't think" there is any turmoil between any council member and Helfrich, chalking the incident up to a misconception.

"A lot of times when there's change or a transition, people are quick to assume that anything that's remotely negative signifies some sort a deep-rooted problem," he said. "But I'm not aware of one."