TWO GUYS, ONE HOMETOWN
It’s the first time two major-party candidates vying for governor are from York.
At Center and Front streets in York, Gov. Tom Wolf ’s house, hidden behind lush foliage and only slightly larger than neighboring lower-middle-class homes, sits along the train tracks that divide Mount Wolf, named after the governor’s ancestors, and neighboring Manchester.
Across the tracks, a boarded-up brick building is being prepared to be torn down for a new park. A window display in the building across Center Street tells the story of the lot’s history, from its original purchase 272 years ago to its more recent sale by the Wolf family to Otterbein Church.
And just a few yards from the house, where Wolf’s 2006 Jeep Wrangler sits in a driveway alongside Pennsylvania State Police vehicles, a small green Penn Waste dumpster waits for the governor’s garbage. Penn Waste is the trash and recycling company owned by Wolf ’s opponent, former state Sen. Scott Wagner, a Republican.
Rick Kopp, who runs the Otterbein Church’s Gap Youth Center around the corner, said he sometimes sees the governor taking out his recycling. “I’ll holler, ‘Hey, Tom,’ or, ‘Hey, governor!’ And he waves back,” said Kopp, 61, of Dover Twp.
The fact that Wolf still lives in his own house, drives his car (when the state police allow it) and gives his salary to charity are some things Kopp said he really does admire about Wolf. He declined to say who he’ll vote for come November, but said “it’s humbling, it’s an honor” that both major-party gubernatorial candidates call York County home.
Eleven miles south in Spring Garden Twp., the Wagner residence, with its simple brick facade and clean-cut grass, is among dozens of suburban properties that are part of a homeowners’ association. The yards are well-groomed and evenly spaced. Just a couple minutes down the road toward town is York College of Pennsylvania. And one of the closest campus buildings to Wagner’s neighborhood is Wolf Hall, named after the governor’s late grandparents, Evelyn and Earle Wolf.
The Nov. 6 election marks the first time in York County history that the two major party candidates vying for the top job in Harrisburg reside in the county.
York is Pennsylvania’s eighthlargest county, with 446,000 people and a rich history dating to the prerevolutionary War era. The only Pennsylvania governor from York before Wolf was the late Democrat George Leader, who served from 1955 to 1959. His opponent was from Montgomery County. Besides Leader and Wolf, York County has produced two lieutenant governors, Chauncey Forward Black in the late 1800s and Samuel S. Lewis in the mid-20th century, said James Mcclure, editor of the York Daily Record and a history buff.
“For years, it’s been a source of discussion around York County as to why the county hasn’t produced more governors, given our proximity to Harrisburg,” said Mcclure.
Many York County residents interviewed by The Caucus brushed off the unique aspect of two York Countians facing off.
“When people talk politics, I don’t hear it,” said Mary Bortz, a 33-year-old single mother who was smoking a cigarette on a stoop on Broadway Street in Hanover. A Republican, Bortz said the last time she voted was when she was 18 years old. She was aware of Wolf but was not sure of who Wagner was, or what his platform was.
A certain percentage of citizens ignore politics, said Charlie Bacas, a York Democrat, but York residents following state politics are certainly aware of the unique nature of the Wolf-wagner matchup.
Former York Mayor John Brenner said there’s a “buzz” in the county about Wolf and Wagner both being from York.
“I don’t think this prevalence of York Countians at the top of the ticket has yet become a meaningful moment in the county,” Mcclure said. “Perhaps it will become a bigger deal closer to the election.”
The scope is even broader than the gubernatorial candidates. John Fetterman, who won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, grew up in Springettsbury Twp., a suburb of York. His father’s insurance company is on West King Street, about a block from City Hall, and he attended Central York School District.
‘Something in the water’
Rather than take it too seriously, Wolf and Wagner both quip about the unusual nature of the race.
“There is something in the water,” Wolf joked when asked how two candidates from the same county end up as the state’s gubernatorial candidates. He noted that Auditor General Eugene Depasquale, a statewide elected official, also calls York home.
Wagner couldn’t explain it, either. “I have no idea,” he said. “If I had the answer to that, I’d take the next exit and head for Las Vegas.”
Fetterman no longer lives in York but he returns to campaign and see relatives. He reflected on his upbringing there.
“It was just a solid, middle-class, Pennsylvania kind of upbringing,” Fetterman said. “High school football was a big thing. Going to the York County Fair was a big thing. Going to swim at the Pleasureville pool was a big thing. It was a straight-up slice of middle-class America.”
Fetterman now serves as the mayor of Braddock, near Pittsburgh. He was elected separately from Wolf in the primary but is now teamed with him in the Nov. 6 election.
The probability of a matchup of two gubernatorial candidates from the same county is higher in larger counties, making York somewhat of an exception, said Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. However, York has been one of the fastest growing counties over the past decade, census data show.
Having general election candidates for governor from the same county has occurred only three times in the last 40 years — as recently as eight years ago. In 1978, Republican Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney, defeated Democrat Pete Flaherty, a former Pittsburgh mayor, in the Allegheny County contest.
In a 1986 contest between Scranton candidates, Democrat Robert P. Casey, a former state auditor general and senator, defeated Republican Bill Scranton, a former lieutenant governor. Former Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican from Shaler, Allegheny County, defeated former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato in 2010.
The city of York, population 43,718, is heavily Democratic. Outside the city “it’s as red as red can get,” Borick said. The county voter registration as of May included almost 50 percent Republicans, 34 percent Democrats, and the rest “other” or third parties.
Corbett, who lost statewide to Wolf in 2014, defeated Wolf in York County 57 percent to 43 percent. In the 2016 presidential contest, Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton 62 percent to 33 percent in York County.
How will York County go in the gubernatorial race?
Predicted Wagner: “I am going to win it big.”
Brenner, a Wolf supporter, doesn’t disagree. “There’s no question he (Wagner) will win,” Brenner said.
G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said a “blue wave” could flip results in some GOP counties, but he stopped short of predicting York will be one of them.
Orville Lauver, who lived in York 53 years before selling his business and moving to Lake Meade in Adams County, remains a member of the Red Lion Rotary Club. “I’m hoping and praying for Scott Wagner to win. I think he will be a more honest representative of what government is all about.”
He complained that Wolf is too closely tied to the politics of Obama, who has campaigned for him.
“Some political observers have said — and I would agree — that York County, as a whole, is not farright, politically, as some say. But it’s Republican,” said Mcclure. “In terms of addition, York County has been shaped in recent years by a migration from Marylanders in the south, Lancaster residents from the east and Harrisburg-west Shore people from the north.
The Venice Pizza and Restaurant in Manchester is just up the street from the railroad tracks that divide Mount Wolf and Manchester.
“Tom Wolf for Governor” signs last week festooned the fence of an outdoor patio, as well as the restaurant’s windows. The restaurant owner, identified as Eddie, said the building’s owner put up the signs, a fact he explains when diners complain about the political messaging. The building owner is identified in county records as York lawyer Frank Countess.
Countess confirmed that account, though he was not personally informed of the complaints.
“I own the building. I’m the landlord. It doesn’t surprise me. York is a red county and very conservative,” Countess said. He is a huge Wolf supporter, calling him a “well educated man with integrity” and a “statesman.”
On the southern end of the county, a young Republican sees things very differently. CJ Weigle, 23, is the chairman of the York County Young Republicans, a group he says is the second-largest such organization in the state, outside of Delaware County. Weigle said he is a Wagner supporter in large part because of what he views as Wagner’s “business sense.” Weigle works in his family business, North Hills Flooring in Springettsbury Twp.
“We need someone who has that experience and background,” Weigle said. “I love the attitude he takes into government that ‘we’re going to get things done.’”