Top stories of 2016: fallout over West York mayor's racist web content

Written by Emily Previti, Keystone Crossroads Reporter | Dec 28, 2016 5:06 AM

Former West York Borough council President Shawn Mauck (left) is serving as mayor for the rest of Charles Wasko's term expiring at the end of 2017. Mauck's pictured here with Borough Manager Melissa Wirls (center) and Councilwoman Annette Christine. (EMILY PREVITI/WITF)

(West York) -- A 4,000-person midstate borough made international news when its then-mayor posted racist Facebook content.

The fallout over former West York Mayor Charles Wasko's social media activity included a deluge of resignation demands from fellow elected officials: Borough Council members, York County's state representatives and Gov. Tom Wolf.

It also showed how tough it is for Pennsylvanians to get rid of elected officials before their term is up. Voters have more options and direct control in every other state but two: Utah and South Carolina.

And it prompted conversation about York County's reputation as racist and myriad damaging results such as, some say, limitations on economic growth.

Background basics

Wasko became mayor of West York by winning an uncontested election in 2013.

The office afforded him some authority over local police, but no pay or voting power (except to break a tie).

He attracted relatively little notice until late September.

One of his multiple daily Facebook posts was a photo of rows of military caskets draped in American flags and accompanying text that suggested removing the flags from black soldiers' caskets.

It just so happened that a Borough Council meeting was already scheduled a few days after Wasko's Facebook feed first sparked public outcry.

Expecting a big turnout, officials met into the largest space available within a former school repurposed last summer into Borough Hall.  They even stocked bottled water in bins near the entrance.

Carla Christopher was in the spillover crowd.

"To me those posts are not just unattractive. They're not even just hate filled. They're treasonous. They're threatening. They are clear indications that this person does not value the lives of African-Americans," Christopher said. "And the last time I checked the mayor was not just the mayor of white West York."

At the time, Wasko's latest social media activity sparked international outrage - including more than 2,000 who signed an online resignation petition. But it also

drew attention to bigoted content posted in the past.

One post was a photo of wagon of orangutans described as "moving day at the White House."

Another referenced lynching the President.

"The mayor's open bias and open bias - that affects his leadership. He has to go," said Sandra Thompson, head of the York County NAACP.

State law doesn't provide for voter recall or forced removal by council. In fact, rules for removing people from elected office are stricter in Pennsylvania than anywhere else but Utah and South Carolina.

What's next

Wasko resisted the public pressure at first.

But within a few weeks, he agreed to step down, so long as his recommended criteria are considered the next time the borough hires a police officer.

Then-Council President Shawn Mauck was appointed by council to serve out the term expiring at the end of 2017.

Mauck hasn't said whether he'll seek reelection next year.

Wasko has ignored all of WITF's attempts to interview him.

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