Tom Wolf's campaign deployed a group of African American leaders Friday to push back against a Rob McCord TV attack ad that brings up Wolf's past political support for a York mayor who was arrested 32 years after the fact in the murder of a black woman during the city's 1969 race riots.
They said that McCord was attempting to smear as racist the character of a good man whom they know as an inclusive leader.
"I've been a black man for 59 years - I do not need Rob McCord to make a judgment for me," state Rep. Dwight Evans (D.,Phila.) said on a conference call with reporters. "I understand you want to win an election, but at what cost?"
McCord launched his ad Friday, the day after a Muhlenberg College/Morning Call pull found him trailing frontrunner Wolf by 25 percentage points.
McCord's 30-second ad asks why Wolf, a York businessman, served as chairman of the 2001 mayoral reelection campaign of Charlie Robertson, indicted that year on charges that as a young police officer in 1969, he incited whites to attack blacks and distributed ammunition that killed 26-year-old Lillie Bell Allen.
Robertson admitted he had racist attitudes in 1969, but denied the other charges. He was acquitted of murder in 2002.
"For York, Pennsylvania it was an ugly episode. For Tom Wolf, there's just no good answer," a female announcer intones in the McCord ad, accompanied by ominous piano music. The piece is embedded below. McCord's only appearance in the spot is his campaign's name in the disclaimer and a sliver of a photo.
Robertson was arrested the day after he won the 2001 primary. Wolf was quoted in York newspaper accounts of the arrest as saying he would be glad to still serve as Robertson's chairman in the general election. In the event, Robertson dropped out the next day.
"When NBA Commissioner Silver was confronted with racist words from a team owner, he showed him the door," said Mark Nevins, spokesman for McCord. "When Tom Wolf learned his candidate had admitted to being a racist and shouting 'white power' in a race riot, he pledged to stand by his man. No one thinks Tom Wolf is a racist, but voters continue to wonder what he was thinking."
York Mayor Kim Bracey, a Wolf supporter who was on the call, said she was "absolutely sickened" by McCord's ad. "He ought to be ashamed of himself," she said. Bracey, the city's first African American and woman mayor, also stars in a response ad that the Wolf campaign got on the air early Friday morning, as the McCord attack spot was debuting.