State Treasurer Rob McCord has issued a searing new commercial, assailing Democratic front-runner Tom Wolf for his ties to a former York mayor implicated in a 1969 race riot that led to the death of an African-American woman.
In a conference call, and in its own new ad, the Wolf campaign responded with denunciations of the attack by the current York Mayor, Kim Bracey, who is African-American.
Mr. McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz have grown increasingly aggressive in their attacks on Mr. Wolf, who had a large lead over his rivals in the latest public survey of the race, but the new McCord ad takes the assault to a more intense level. Katie McGinty is also a candidate but has distanced herself from the increasingly acrimonious tone of the race.
In the ad, a narrator says, "He spent millions on campaign ads but now -- serious questions Tom Wolf can't answer." While a series of news articles and headlines scrolls by, the voice continues, "Why would he chair the campaign of a man arrested for his role in a race riot, one that left a black woman dead? Why would he stand by a man charged with first-degree murder? An admitted racist who handed out ammunition and shouted 'white power.' For York, it was an ugly episode. For Tom Wolf, there's just no good answer."
The commercial refers to the fact that Mr. Wolf chaired the 2001 mayoral campaign of former York Mayor Charles Robertson, who was charged, after he won that year's primary, as an accomplice to the young women's murder 30 years earlier. Mr. Robertson acknowledged that he had held racist views at the time of the riots, views he said he no longer maintains, but denied any role in the woman's death. He was acquitted of the crime but stepped down from the mayoral nomination and retired from public life.
Mr. Wolf, who said at the time he would have been willing to stay with the Robertson campaign, characterized his role as largely an honorary one.
The issue had been aired earlier in the campaign but the McCord commercial raised it anew at a crucial time in a campaign in which the York businessman has amassed a wide lead. A survey released Thursday by the Allentown Call and Muhlenberg College showed Mr. Wolf continuing the wide lead he had opened up with his widespread television advertising. The survey of likely voters showed Mr. Wolf, 38 percent; Ms. Schwartz, 13 percent; Mr. McCord, 11 percent; and Ms. McGinty, 2 percent.
The Wolf campaign responded with its own ad in which Ms. Bracey describes him as a mentor and an effective voice for civil rights in her city. The campaign quoted her as saying she was "absolutely sickened" by McCord's ad.
"He ought to be ashamed of himself," she said.
In the new Wolf ad, she says, "I personally don't believe I would be mayor of York if it weren't for Tom Wolf ... I'm outraged at the racially charged attacks against Tom Wolf."
In the face of the caustic turn in the race, former Gov. Ed Rendell scheduled a news conference today in which he was expected to address the campaign's increasingly negative tone.
Politics editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562.