York City Council president to retire; Mayor Helfrich will seek second term

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Councilman Henry Nixon gives the first responders memorial tribute during the 2016 Court of Valor & Safekeepers Shrine Ceremony with York's Observance of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 at Prospect Hill Cemetery in North York, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York City Council President Henry Nixon has confirmed he will not seek reelection this year, a decision that will leave two seats on the five-person council up for grabs.

The four-year terms of both Nixon, who was was first elected in 2009, and council member Judy Ritter-Dickson, first appointed in 2016 to fill a vacancy, expire in 2022.

Mayor Michael Helfrich's first term will also expire. He plans to run for reelection, he confirmed Wednesday.

"It's self-imposed term limits," Nixon said of his retirement. "This will be 12 years, three terms. I think 12 years in public office is enough. I don't want to be on any more boards. I don't want to be on any more committees. I want to play. I want to travel with my wife and do things we enjoy."

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Council contenders: Ritter-Dickson did not respond to multiple inquiries about whether she plans to run for reelection.

But three Democrats have already announced their plans to run in the May 18 primary election for the two potential seats: Ryan Supler, Felicia Dennis and Betsy Buckingham.

Supler is an active member of the local Democratic Party who works as an overnight services coordinator at the Children's Aid Society.                                         

“I would like to tackle our property taxes, increase our home buyer grants and do what we can to regionalize our city with the county and southcentral region," Supler said. "Have more boroughs pay into our fire system, or we can merge with other police or fire (departments) and have a metro service.”

Dennis is a community activist who was a prominent voice in local protests spurred by the death of George Floyd last year. 

"As a native of York City, (Dennis') goal is to continue to serve the community to the best of her ability and assist to create laws and the approval of the York City Budget that makes sense and meets the needs of the youth, families and community," Dennis wrote Wednesday in a statement announcing her candidacy.

Buckingham is the wife of former council member Michael Buckingham who, before retirement, spent decades leading fundraising efforts for local nonprofit organizations. 

“I have a long history of public service,” Buckingham said. “And I have the time and the energy and the will to continue that through a seat on York City Council.”

Supler's bid in particular could lead to conflict within the council if his bid is successful.

The Democrat in November alleged that council member Lou Rivera exposed himself and propositioned Supler in a bathroom in early 2019. The allegations came after charges were lodged against Rivera in September, accusing him of exposing his genitals to someone he had interviewed for a job at Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen in Manchester Township.

Ryan Supler is one of three individuals who has announced their candidacy for York City Council.

Rivera's case remains active, and he is charged with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and harassment, all misdemeanors. Rivera has denied the accusations. 

"Obviously, Lou Rivera has to go," Supler said.

Mayor race: As of Thursday, no one had announced their intentions to challenge Helfrich in the mayoral race. Former Mayor Kim Bracey, whom Helfrich defeated in 2017, did not respond to inquiries about whether she intends to run.

The incumbent, despite a sometimes combative relationship with members of the council, said one of his main priorities if reelected would be to bolster the city's battered finances and bring back initiatives that were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My goals are to complete the wastewater treatment system deal and bring financial stability to the city for the first time in three decades,” Helfrich said. “To increase business opportunities for residents of the City of York and increase access to social programs, mentoring and community services.”

The proposed $235 million sale of the wastewater treatment system to Pennsylvania American Water Co. has been one of the most significant policy moves of Helfrich's first term.

The city's 2021 budget, which avoided property tax hikes and job cuts, was built on the assumption that the sale goes through. 

The deal requires an up-front payment of $15 million once approved by the City Council and the city's Sewer Authority Board, which is more than enough to cover the anticipated $14 million budget deficit.

The state's Public Utility Commission would then conduct a six-month review of the sale before making a ruling.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.