Danene Sorace, mayor of Lancaster city, is expected to announce her bid for a second term on Wednesday morning.
In a video posted to her campaign’s Youtube page, Sorace says she is “more determined than ever to fight for every block.”
"I'm determined to see it through, to see the work through," Sorace said Tuesday night. "I'm commited to the City of Lancaster and its residents."
Sorace, 48, said the city’s voters “put me to work as your Mayor to build a stronger and more equitable city for all,” adding, “I am proud of the progress we have made. And I know there is still much to do.”
A press release accompanying the video said that under Sorace, the city had “secured the largest commitment to affordable housing in nearly 50 years, began the city’s largest ever lead remediation effort, made strategic and significant investments in public infrastructure, and launched a nationally recognized community engagement and language access program.”
In the video, Sorace touches on the financial issues facing the city and her advocacy for legislative changes that would give municipalities more flexibility manage their own finances.
The draft 2021 budget Sorace put forward last month would use nearly $5 million in the city’s reserve funds to cover a shortfall resulting from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city has tapped its reserves in nine of the past 10 years. In most of those years, though, it managed to avoid actually using those reserves by delaying filling staff vacancies and finding operating efficiencies, Sorace said in November.
“I think there is still more work to do as it relates to the city's four strategic priorities," Sorace said Tuesday, referring to goals of strong neighborhoods, safe streets, secure income and sound government. "COVID has elevated the work as it relates to the structural deficit."
John Meeder, a real estate developer and joint owner of the Holiday Inn, said he was pleased to hear Sorace would be seeking another term.
“I’ve been working in the city for a 30 year, so I’ve seen a lot of mayors,” he said “When you stack her up against the others she comes up pretty near the top.”
Meeder said that if Sorace is reelected, economic development will be “on the plate” of issues she needs to address, given the challenges facing businesses amid the pandemic.
Asked what Sorace could do to help businesses, Meeder mentioned address the homelessness population in downtown, which would need to be a joint effort.
“From a business prospective, we need to keep our downtown feeling good,” he said. “The feeling of being progressive, being the place everyone wants to be, being the envy of the entire state because of the downtown. And there is the human side of that where we need to offer living solutions for the people who are homeless.”
In her campaign announcement video, Sorace mentioned her administration’s work to address racial equality issues in the city. Following Black Lives Matter protests in the city over the summer and the police shooting death of a mentally ill man in September, Sorace announced that police chief Jarred Berkihiser was retiring effective at the end of October.
Though Sorace said the decision was Berkihiser’s alone, Fraternal Order of Police members said the mayor pushed the chief out after his wife posted favorable comments about President Donald Trump on social media .
Sorace denied the F.O.P’s allegation, explaining later that she and Berkihiser did not share the same vision for reforming the police department. She recently brought in former Middletown police chief John T. Bey as interim chief while city conducts a national search for a replacement.
John Maina, executive director of CRASH Lancaster, a criminal justice reform organization, said structural issues in the criminal justice system and trust issues among communities pre-date Sorace’s term and, in some aspects, are outside her ability to control. But he does think she could do a better job listening to the community.
“We just can’t sit here and be like, ‘well, we picked a new police chief and he’s a person of color and that’s good,’ and not look at the things like the structure of the police force and the Fraternal Order of Police,” Maina said. “I won’t put that all on her, but I will definitely tell her that she needs to be getting more consulting for the people in those wards, specifically the Seventh Ward.”
Isaac Etter, co-executive director of SafeHouse Lancaster, another local criminal justice reform group, said he wished more tangible action had been taken by the city under Sorace’s leadership.
Etter said he was disappointed a second social worker has not yet been hired for the police force, but credited the mayor with ensuring the leadership change at the police bureau.
Sorace said Tuesday night that the city was "very close" to making a hire for the second social worker position.
“What I would hope from a second term is a change in who’s consulting on things from the inside, and a bigger commitment to diversity and equity in Lancaster city,” Etters said. “Not just statements, but actionable steps. We need to start seeing actionable commitments to the change.”
Sorace won her race for mayor in 2017, succeeding Rick Gray, who declined to seek a fourth term. She was elected to the city council in 2014 and chaired the finance committee.
Born in Bradford County, Sorace spent part of her childhood in the Elizabethtown area before moving to Juniata County. She attended Albright College in Reading where she met her husband, Christian Recknagel. They married at Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1998 and have a daughter, Aurelia.
From 2007 to 2013, Sorace was executive director of Live Green. The nonprofit helped Lancaster create and fund its first green infrastructure plan . In 2012, she guided Live Green’s merger with the Lancaster County Conservancy.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed the wrong year that Sorace was first elected to the city council. The version above has been corrected.