Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Treasurer Rob McCord is raising the stakes in the four-way campaign for the party's nomination.
McCord called on one of his opponents, York County businessman Tom Wolf, to explain why he stood by a former York mayor who participated in the city's 1969 race riots as a police officer and was implicated, and ultimately acquitted, in a black woman's murder decades later.
McCord raised the issue in his opening remarks during a debate on education issues in Philadelphia.
"I believe that's fundamentally a failure of judgment to recognize the danger of racism and to check it," said McCord. "And tonight I want to call on Tom to answer the fundamental question, what were you thinking when you failed to step away from Charlie Robinson?"
Wolf was campaign chairman for Charles Robertson (not Robinson), who was charged in 2001 as an accomplice to murder. Robertson was acquitted in 2002. He admitted to racist behavior during rioting in York in the 60s.
"C'mon Rob, I think the real issue is that York did go through some tough times," said Wolf. "As a native Yorker I was deeply involved in those times and I'm proud of where we've come as a community."
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, also running for the Democratic nomination for governor, prodded for further explanation.
"I do think we need a better answer from Tom Wolf, even though it was many years ago," Schwartz said.
Mark Nicastre, spokesman for Wolf's campaign, said after the debate that Wolf's "professional relationship" with Robertson grew out of work they did together on economic development and city revitalization projects in York. When Robertson launched his reelection campaign for a third term as mayor, Wolf accepted a position as campaign chairman, "a largely honorific title," said Nicastre.
The charge of accomplice to murder came in 2001. "When Robertson was charged, the campaign ended, and so did Wolf's association with him," Nicastre said.
But The Philadelphia Inquirer's Thomas Fitzgerald notes that Wolf donated to Robertson's campaign committee as it was paying bills after shutting down. Fitzgerald writes that Wolf was "quoted in local newspapers on the day of the arrest saying he was willing to keep serving if Robertson 'wants me to.'"
Wolf noted during the debate that he has the support of York Mayor Kim Bracey, the city's first African-American mayor.
"I'm a little upset right now," said Bracey after the debate on a conference call with reporters. "I think the people -- or, treasurer and Congresswoman Schwartz -- who're attacking Tom Wolf right now by calling him a racist, should be ashamed of themselves."
The debate was broadcast live on PCN Wednesday evening. Also present was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty, a former state environmental protection secretary.
Wolf, the perceived front-runner in the gubernatorial race, had anticipated his support for Robertson to be brought up at some point before the May 20 primary.
"There's going to be efforts to make everything I ever did or said to be put in the worst possible light," he told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Brad Bumsted in March.
Published in State House Sound Bites
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