York City mayoral candidates set up a choice: experience or a new start

Matt Enright
York Dispatch
Incumbent York City Mayor Michael Helfrich and challenger Shareef Hameed, who's running as an independent, will face off at an NAACP candidate forum Thursday night at the Appell Center in downtown York.

York City's mayoral candidates made their initial pitch to voters Thursday night with a clear choice: experience versus a new start.

For Shareef Hameed, a local counselor and activist who's running as an independent, his election would bring an opportunity to have fresh ideas and new voices at the mayoral level.

"I think the city needs a fresh start, new ideas," he said Thursday at the first of two mayoral forums hosted by the York NAACP at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts.

Incumbent Mayor Michael Helfrich, a Democrat, shares many of Hameed's views on policy, but he noted that it's not ideas that get things done. It's the work of writing legislation and supervising departments.

"It's doing all the things that I spent 16 years learning to do before I determined that I was ready and experienced enough to be the mayor of York," he said, in his closing statement.

More:York in 'dire state': Activist Shareef Hameed looks to oust Mayor Helfrich in November

Helfrich, who's served on City Council since 2012 and as mayor since 2018, said that time is valuable in guiding the city today.

"I've got nothing bad to say about Mr. Hameed," the mayor said. "I think he has some work to do and then he'd be ready."

If elected, Hameed said his first six months in office would focus on what the community wants: safety.

"No one person or organization can bring about safety, but that would be priority number one," he said. 

More:York City mayor wants more input on surveillance cameras

He added that he wants to represent the full diversity of York City.

"White, black, Latino, Muslim, Christian, straight, gay," he said. "It's not a religious crusade, it's a crusade to make York City better."

Throughout the night, Hameed touted his skills as a counselor and therapist and said that he would focus on simple solutions and collaboration with the right people.

"When you start giving Disney World promises, that's political stuff, and I'm not a politician. I'm a public servant," he said. "I'm not a politician, I'm your brother. And that's for all." 

More:VIDEO: York City's mayoral candidates to talk at forum|Newsletter

Helfrich, who served as executive director of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper association for more than a decade, said the city has had unprecedented barriers to progress, many of which aren't of the city's making.

"I want to see us put the plans through that we laid the foundation stones for in 2018 and 2019," he said.

Mayor Michael Helfrich, right, speaks and community members gather for the 52nd Anniversary Prayer Service in Memory of Lillie Belle Allen and Officer Henry Schaad at Farquhar Park in York City, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Allen and Schaad were killed 52 years ago during the York Race Riots. Dawn J. Sagert photo

More:York City surveillance program feasible, but taxpayers could be on the hook

Thanks to staff and good advice, York is in a position to have funding for the first time in about 40 years to improve the city's neighborhoods, reduce violence and bring upward mobility to families, Helfrich said.

He highlighted the wastewater treatment plant sale, saying it would give the city money it could invest and grow.

"The team is prepared to move forward," Helfrich said. "I think we can really make it happen over the next four years." 

One contentious question raised at the forum is the city's plan to install a network of surveillance cameras. A recent survey on the issue had only gotten 232 respondents.

More: York City surveillance program feasible, but taxpayers could be on the hook

That's not enough, Helfrich said, which is why he's sought more input from the community in the months ahead.

"I want to make sure that I hear from the voices of the people of the city of York before I take any action or make any vote on it," Helfrich said.

Hameed said he's not opposed to the camera system but has concerns about the cost, namely how much of the burden would fall on city taxpayers.

"I think we can agree we want peace in York City," he said. "I'm not against cameras. I'm just not too sure of the allocation of the money." 

For his part, Hameed said he would keep things simple and try to improve the quality of life in York City. No one person can fix the problems, he said, so it's about bringing in the right people.

Shareef Hameed, candidate for York City Mayor.

"We need a problem solver," he said, "and I am a professional problem solver by trade because I'm a counselor and a therapist. Those other areas, that's what you have a team for." 

Thursday's debate was the first of two hosted by the York NAACP. The second is set for Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Appell Center, 50 N. George St.

To attend events at the Appell Center, attendees must have either proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

York NAACP is taking questions for the candidates. To submit a question, email yorknaacp2294@gmail.com or visit the group's Facebook page.

To watch Thursday night's debate, visit the York NAACP Facebook page. 

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