Hours after being arrested last Thursday on murder charges in connection with the 1969 shooting of a black preacher's daughter in York, Pa., Mayor Charlie Robertson called a news conference to declare his innocence and reaffirm his pledge that he would "not be dropping out of any election."
But yesterday, Robertson did just that.
In a brief letter to the York County Democratic Party chairman, Robertson, 67, announced that he would withdraw as the party's candidate in a bid for his third term as mayor. He had won the primary just 10 days ago, May 15.
"This is the most painful decision I have ever made in my life," he wrote to party Chairman Eugene DePasquale. "But I believe it is the right decision for the people of the city of York and for the York County Democratic Party."
The mayor's 180-degree switch is the latest in a series of stunning events that has unfolded since the reopening of the investigation nearly a year ago into two shooting deaths during race riots.
Robertson has been charged in the death of Lillie Belle Allen, the 27-year-old daughter of an African-American minister visiting from South Carolina. The killing of Henry C. Schaad, a white rookie York police officer who was shot three days earlier, has not been solved.
For York, a blue-collar town of 41,000 about 50 miles north of Baltimore, the reopening of the investigations and speculation about the mayor's involvement ensured that his primary against an African-American opponent would be steeped in racial overtones.
Veteran City Councilman Ray Crenshaw was the first black mayoral candidate in a city where minorities make up 40 percent of the population, most of them African-Americans. He lost by 117 votes.
Booked and handcuffed
Less than 24 hours after Robertson basked in the election night glow of his supporters' victorious cheers at a local bar and cafe, he tearfully announced on the steps of City Hall that he would surrender himself on murder charges in the 32-year-old case.
The next day, the retired police patrolman of 29 years and two-term mayor was booked and handcuffed before being released on $50,000 bail. He is accused of distributing ammunition to white gang members who a day later gunned down Allen as her family unknowingly drove into a hostile white neighborhood. At the time, police and National Guard troops were patrolling the city to contain racial tensions.
Eight other men - mostly former members of white teen-age gangs - have been arrested and charged in her death.
Crenshaw, who repeatedly has called for the mayor to resign, told the York Dispatch yesterday that dropping out of the race was the right thing for the mayor to do.
Crenshaw is the only person to publicly indicate that he will seek the party's nomination. He said that he believes he has the most legitimate claim to the spot.
The county Democratic Party's executive board will meet Wednesday to outline procedures for selecting a new candidate, DePasquale said. The 20-member panel will interview interested candidates and decide by vote who will face Republican Betty Schonauer in the Nov. 6 general election.
City's best interests
"I think the mayor, while making what was a personally difficult decision, put the city's interests before his personal interests," DePasquale said.
Robertson, whose term ends in December, could not be reached for comment.
But in the letter to his party chairman, the lifelong York resident described his two terms in office as a privilege and reiterated his sense of pride in what he has accomplished.
"This city is a better place than it was when I first assumed office," Robertson wrote. "Neighborhoods are stronger, people are safer and businesses are more eager than ever to invest in the city.
"I would have loved to continue serving this city for another four years in order to make sure these good things keep happening. But, I recognize that this is not possible. Someone else must now continue this work, and lead this city toward the bright future it has earned."