What do Lancaster values mean to you?
That question kicked off Friday's mayoral forum, co-hosted at Southern Market Center by progressive groups Lancaster Stands Up and Keystone Progress.
“We’re undergoing a national crisis,” organizer Rafael Diaz said, and Lancaster needs a leader who will make the city “a light in the darkness.”
Norman Bristol Colon, Kevin Ressler and Danene Sorace are vying for the Democratic nomination for Lancaster city mayor in the May 16 primary.
Cindy Stewart is alone on the Republican ticket, and Tony Dastra is running as an independent.
For Colon, Lancaster values begin with inclusion. He proudly described founding the monthly networking event First Thursday Latino as an answer to employers claiming they couldn't find qualified Latino job candidates.
Ressler said Lancaster must do more to make its outcomes match its ideals. Both he and Sorace stressed the need to reach out to residents and communities who feel excluded.
Dastra mentioned his decision to interrupt his time in college to care for his grandmother, and his opinion that electing City Council members ward by ward would foster better representation. “We are all one big family,” he said.
Stewart drew laughter by saying that Googling “Lancaster values” brings up Realtor websites. She emphasized “servant leadership” and the values that ensue from putting others ahead of oneself.
Immigration and diversity
Colon, a Puerto Rico native, drew attention to Lancaster's demographics — its large and growing Latino, African-American and Asian populations — and his own bilingual and bicultural heritage. He repeated his pledge to create the city's most diverse administration ever.
In a question on immigration policy and cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Colon drew applause for saying: “Stop calling them illegal aliens. Because no human being is illegal.”
Sorace said current city immigration policy is appropriate: City police don't enforce federal policy, “period.”
Ressler called for policies that prioritize the safety of people at risk of detention and called on Lancaster to join other cities in suits challenging ICE in court.
One question asked how the City Revitalization & Improvement Zone program could support priorities such as community development and affordable, lead-free or lead-safe housing.
That's not how the state initiative works, Sorace said: It's not a grant program, but a way to let businesses apply their own tax dollars to expansion. She agreed CRIZ money has gone to big projects but said the city is working to make it accessible for small businesses, too.
More can be done to ensure minority and female entrepreneurs have access to capital, Sorace said.
Ressler and Stewart called for more transparency and community involvement in directing economic development dollars.
Colon said he would not have voted for CRIZ money for the downtown Marriott hotel. He pledged a mayor's commission on small businesses, “the economic engine of the city,” and to prioritize investment beyond downtown.
Ressler criticized Sorace, a councilwoman, for halting a City Council motion that would have funded police body cameras. That was at District Attorney Craig Stedman's request, due to legal liability concerns, Sorace said.
She said she’s studied the matter and supports moving forward with the cameras, under a clear policy that ensures they're used properly.
Dastra offered several creative or unusual policy proposals: Developing city-owned green energy capability; building neighborhood parking garages with rooftop gardens; and promoting worker-owned cooperatives.
The Atlantic Sunrise
Sorace said the city, which draws its water from the Susquehanna River, has many concerns about the proposed Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline that would cross the county. Stewart said she'd support City Council on pipeline poicy, but would be attentive to potential long-term consequences; Colon said he would lead on the issue.
Ressler said he'd seek partnerships with local institutions like the Lancaster County Community Foundation and Franklin & Marshall College to find, or create, investment portfolios that exclude fossil fuels.
All the candidates said the city should seek more in payments in lieu of taxes, PILOTs, from nonprofits, whether monetary or through in-kind services. Colon said he'd seek a state law strengthening the city's hand.
Ressler criticized the property tax exemption given to the downtown Marriott, asking: “Why are we giving away property taxes to for-profit companies?”
On several points, Stewart leaned less leftward than the other candidates. Though she supports citizen involvement in police policy, she's skeptical of creating a citizen review board, and she's reluctant to impose a $15 minimum wage on vendors getting city contracts.
Colon said he wouldn't hesitate to withdraw a contract if a company didn't pay a living wage.