It's best for York if mayor charged with murder resigns

May 18, 2001

This is an edited excerpt of an editorial that appeared today in the York (Pa.) Daily Record.

"Murder is the charge."

Charlie Robertson spoke those words Wednesday, standing in front of City Hall. He would be the fifth man arrested in connection with the 1969 murder of Lillie Belle Allen.

Thursday, he ducked into a police car with handcuffs wrapped around his wrists while print and broadcast news outlets from all over the country captured it.

Accuse the media, the district attorney, the mayor, the gangs, the riots or racism for the spotlight on York now, but one thing is crystal clear: The mayor's story isn't going to have a happy ending. He has been damaged beyond repair.

And for that reason, Charlie Robertson needs to resign as mayor of York.

We may never know if Mr. Robertson provided to gang members the ammunition that hit Ms. Allen or her car.

Guilt or innocence isn't what a jury will weigh. A jury -- just like the grand jury convened to study this case -- will weigh the evidence to determine if the district attorney has enough to find the mayor guilty of murder.

If the mayor committed a crime, he isn't admitting it. If he didn't, he will still drag York through a bitter and divisive criminal process simply because he is the mayor.

On Thursday, the mayor looked at a TV camera and said that the handcuffs he cried about before his arrest hadn't really bothered him. It smells false.

What does it tell us about this man, who can waffle on a small matter without missing a beat? Is he under great stress, as his advisers suggest, or is it another glimpse into his character? And if this sort of distortion is due to stress, isn't that all the more reason to step down?

City residents might not see the train coming.

Just Tuesday, only 2,762 city residents voted in the Democratic race between Charlie Robertson and Ray Crenshaw. Slightly more than half of those people -- 1,405 -- cast a vote for the incumbent. Despite the issue at hand, most of the 40,000 residents in the city didn't find it important enough on either side to cast a vote.

Most of those who did, however, made it clear in an exit poll that the mayor should resign if he is arrested. More than half of Mr. Robertson's supporters suggested that he should quit if arrested.

For the city, the mayor's legal guilt or innocence isn't nearly as important as the implications of this arrest.

This is a city trying to find its et -- having lost population in the past decades, struggling to attract businesses downtown, fighting city crime and battling with some residents angry over a housing deal with York College and a minor league baseball stadium

A mayor embroiled in a criminal case won't polish this city's image.

Charlie Robertson will wind his way through a preliminary arraignment, preliminary hearing, formal arraignment and a trial or a plea. If he pleads or is found guilty, sentencing will follow.

York simply can't walk that gangplank with him -- guilty or innocent.

This city has already been subjected to its mayor's admission that 32 years ago, as a police officer, he shouted "white power" at a rally. He recently said he wasn't sorry for saying it -- a raw and unpolished moment. He tried to take it back later by saying he was sorry, that his misguided past had affected his life. No tears, though. No contrite apology to blacks. No concern over the family that Lillie Belle Allen left behind.

The mayor's tears came Wednesday, as the mayor of a historic American city stood before a large crowd at City Hall and talked of his pending arrest. The tears were for himself and his arrest.

Directly above him was a sign that speaks volumes -- "York, Pa., see for yourself."

It tells of great hope for visitors to see that this small city once housed the Continental Congress, once watched the son of a slave rise to a level of prominence in the business community, once became renowned for equipping and supplying the military in World War II through the innovative York Plan.

It doesn't want that history to be overtaken by a mayor who admits to being a former racist, arrested for murder. It's time for a new leader.

Mayor Charlie Robertson, these are the words we want to hear you utter on the steps of City Hall: "I'm sorry. Forgive me. I resign."

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