Steve Chronister attempts a comeback in York County 1 year after golf club incident. GOP leaders want to stop him

Former commissioner is one of four Republicans vying for two seats in the May 21 primary

  • Ed Mahon

Steve Chronister hasn’t spent much money as he campaigns for his old job as a York County commissioner.

He paid a little over $500 for yard signs. But he said he’s not spending money on mailers or campaign literature.

He figures most people already know him, for good or bad.

Still, on a recent weekday morning, as he went door-to-door in a condominium complex a few miles north of York city, the 65-year-old Chronister made a point of mentioning the reason many people know him.

It’s the same reason he received national attention last year. It’s the reason the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission held hearings about his family’s golf course. And it’s one of the reasons York County GOP leaders say Chronister has too much baggage to serve as county commissioner again.

“Have you heard of me before?” Chronister asked one woman, as she walked down the street.

“Yes, I did, actually,” Pat Rice, a retiree in her 70s who used to have a sewing job, replied.

Chronister described himself to her as a 12-year-county commissioner, who spent the last four years helping out with his family’s business.

“For full disclosure, that was Brewvino Grandview, where the incident happened with the five black women,” Chronister said, “if you’re familiar with that.”

Rice, who is white, was.

“There was a lot more to the story,” Chronister told the woman.

“I’m sure,” she said.

Chronister talked to her for a few minutes. And he appeared to make progress.

“Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll pray that you get in,” Rice told him. “And we’ll just keep on praying for our country.”

Rice’s husband drove by to pick her up. Chronister continued chatting with him for a few minutes.

The interaction was at least one promising sign for Chronister.

In April 2018, Chronister received national attention after he twice called the police on five black women who he said were golfing too slowly and creating problems at the course.

The golfers said they did nothing wrong and that Chronister was discriminating against them because of their race and gender.

Chronister stayed quiet for months. But now, as he’s running a campaign, he’s described himself as a victim and says the women were seeking fame and money.

At one point while talking to Rice, he compared the allegations against him to the allegations that actor Jussie Smollett made of being attacked.

Of course, in that case, Chicago police said they investigated and determined the actor was lying.  

In the Grandview incident, there is no dispute about whether Chronister called the police on the black women.

The dispute has been about Chronister’s motives and whether he treated them differently than he would have other golfers in the same situation.

“We’re not being racist,” Chronister said when he first spoke to a 911 dispatcher. “We’re being golf course management that has to have play moving a certain way.”

The women have said they were keeping up the pace of play. And, according to the York Daily Record, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said that their accounts were validated by the testimony of a man who was golfing at Grandview that day and said they weren’t slowing him down.

Four Republican candidates for York County commissioner participated in a debate on April, 29, 2019. They are, from left to right, Steve Chronister, Chris Reilly, Ron Smith and Julie Wheeler.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Four Republican candidates for York County commissioner participated in a debate on April, 29, 2019. They are, from left to right, Steve Chronister, Chris Reilly, Ron Smith and Julie Wheeler.

Chronister declined to testify before the commission.

“He was afforded an opportunity to give his account. Now, he’s grasping for straws as he runs for political office,” Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, recently told the York Daily Record.

In early April, Chronister skipped a candidate forum in York city hosted by an African American group. He said he didn’t want to turn it into a “carnival event” and that he didn’t expect many Republican voters to be there anyway.

Anu Banks, 42, showed up to the forum. He’s lived in York most of his life.

He described himself as a Democrat, but he didn’t have bad things to say about any of the GOP candidates except one: Chronister.

Banks, who said he has African and American Indian ancestors, said Chronister brought a “stain” to the county last year by calling the police on the golfers. For him, a Chronister victory would both be shocking — and kind of unsurprising.

“It’d just be the same old, same old … like we’re stuck in a time warp here in York County to where we don’t move forward and we ignore racism,” Banks said.

Chronister did show up to a debate later in April hosted by the Republican Club of York County. It was a nearly all-white crowd.

Sandra Thompson, one of the black golfers at Grandview that day, was also there as a candidate for judge.

The Grandview incident didn’t come up at the debate. Instead, the toughest question Chronister faced was about his business and personal finances.

In April, the York Daily Record reported that Chronister faced more than $1.8 million in judgments against him from various business dealings and that he lost his own home to foreclosure in 2017.

“When you step out and try to run a business, build a business, it’s risky,” Chronister told the crowd. “And certainly I’ve had my successes and failures.”

Some of the people who showed up to the forum said they probably wouldn’t vote for Chronister. But they didn’t frame their objections in racial terms.

Bonner Smith, the former mayor of Stewartstown in southern York County, said he knew both Chronister and Thompson, and thought they were both “very nice people.” He said he wasn’t sure who to believe about what happened at Grandview.

But he said he held the incident against Chronister — at least a little.

“I’m always concerned when people cannot get along with people. …And if he’s going to be commissioner, sure, he’s going to have to get along with everybody, ” Smith said.

Harold Anstine, a retired human resources manager, attended the debate with his wife, Dorrie. They don’t think Chronister did anything wrong when he called the police on the golfers.

“I just thought the whole thing was blown up,” Harold Anstine said.

But that didn’t mean they would vote for Chronister. They liked two other candidates better than Chronister and weren’t too impressed by him.

“I kind of wondered why he’s doing it,” Harold Anstine said.

The competition

Chronister is one of four Republican candidates running for a seat on the three-member Board of Commissioners for the county.

The others are:

A fifth candidate, Blanda Nace, dropped out of the race on May 8, saying he took an economic development job with York city government. He will still appear on ballots. The primary is May 21.

York County, the eighth most populous in the state, has voted solidly Republican at the county level for many years.

The city of York and its population of about 44,000 people is surrounded by suburbs, small towns and farms. More than 83 percent of residents in the county are white.

Three candidates for a seat on the York County Court of Common Pleas participate in a debate hosted by the Republican Club of York County on April 29, 2019. From left to right, they are Jonelle Eshbach, Matt Menges and Sandra Thompson.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Three candidates for a seat on the York County Court of Common Pleas participate in a debate hosted by the Republican Club of York County on April 29, 2019. From left to right, they are Jonelle Eshbach, Matt Menges and Sandra Thompson.

In the commissioner’s race, two Republicans and two Democrats will move onto the November general election. It’s a system that ensures one party doesn’t control all the seats on the board.

It is tough to say what the odds of victory are for the candidates. There has been no public polling in the race.

Wheeler has endorsements of several high-profile York County Republicans. The list includes the York County coroner, the York County district attorney and former gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner. Her campaign reported spending a little more than $19,000 from the beginning of the year to May 6.

Reilly has won five York County commissioner races and is the only commissioner candidate to receive the official recommendation of the York County Republican Committee. His campaign committee spent nearly $18,000 from the beginning of the year to the beginning of May.

Smith’s campaign committee reported spending nearly $51,000 as of May 6.

Chronister, meanwhile, reported spending about $525.

At the Republican Club debate, Smith, Reilly, Wheeler and Chronister avoided directly criticizing each other.

All of them criticized the state requirement for the county to replace its voting machines.

None expressed support for creating a new stormwater authority and the implementation of a so-called “rain tax” to clean up waterways. Reilly even called it probably the most contentious issue he’s seen as a commissioner.

They all called for improvements at the York County 911 center, which has struggled with understaffing.

The York County Administrative Center is seen on May 1, 2019.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

The York County Administrative Center is seen on May 1, 2019.

 

Mostly they focused on their experience to differentiate themselves.

Smith talked about the importance of fiscal discipline and his experience at the local level, including as a member of the York Area Regional Police Commission and Dallastown Borough Council.

“I can tell you that as a 21-year municipal official, I’m probably one of few candidates that actually had the privilege of voting for a tax decrease,” he said to scattered applause. “Not many people can say that.”

In her closing statement, Wheeler quoted the Bible twice and talked about wanting to make sure other people have the same opportunities as she did. She said the county lacks “a strong strategic vision” for the future.

She said she walked away from “corporate America” to serve the community through elected office.

“I believe in paying it forward,” Wheeler said.

Reilly, meanwhile, talked about his six years as Dallastown mayor and 20 years as a county commissioner. He said it’s important to promote economic development and preserve farmland.

“I want to continue the fiscally conservative policies that I have pursued over my tenure as commissioner, which I feel has placed York County in a great position financially,” Reilly said.

And he made some news. If he won re-election for what he called an “unprecedented sixth term,” he would not seek re-election again.

After the debate, the other commissioner candidates mingled with voters at the Republican Club of York County meeting.

Chronister didn’t stick around long. He was the first one to leave.

Door-to-door

Republican Steve Chronister talks to voters in their car on May 8, 2019, while campaigning for York County commissioner.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Republican Steve Chronister talks to voters in their car on May 8, 2019, while campaigning for York County commissioner.

On the recent weekday morning when Chronister went door-to-door, he was curious to see how recent criticisms from the local GOP were playing out.

In a York Daily Record op-ed, the chairman and vice chair of the York County Republican Committee referred to the Grandview incident, but much of their criticism focused on Chronister’s personal and business finances, as well as his support of raising property taxes in December 2015. They said he “led the charge” for the tax increase.

The letter was signed by former state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, who is chairman of the York County Republican Committee, and Rebecca H. Ream, vice chair of the committee.

“In this current era of constant scrutiny against our party, our beliefs and our President, the local Republican party can’t afford to elect someone who is already seen in a negative light by a respectable portion of our citizens,” they wrote.

Chronister said the reasons the party gave for opposing him are just excuses.  Reilly, who is recommended by the local GOP, voted for the same property tax increase in 2015 that the local GOP criticized Chronister for.

Chronister said he’s not really a party-loyalist and has an independent streak. He voted for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2014, for instance.

Rice, the retiree in the condominium complex north of York city, was the first voter he talked to on the weekday morning.

“The way this — Democrats are carrying on, well, I can’t even say,” Rice said. “It’s too bad to even talk about.”

“Well, we kind of felt it a little bit,” Chronister said, and then talked about Grandview.

Chronister spent about an hour in the neighborhood. It had a no-soliciting sign at the front entrance, but Chronister figured campaigning for votes was OK.

He received a mixed reaction.

One voter told Chronister he wouldn’t support him but the only reason he gave was that Chronister had held the position before.

Several people, including Rice, brought up the no-soliciting policy. One man told Chronister that he shouldn’t be knocking on doors, but that man still planned to vote for Chronister.

One voter had never heard of him, which Chronister thought was funny.

And, on the last door he knocked on, another voter told Chronister about the no-soliciting policy and that he should “leave right now” or someone would shove him right out.

Chronister apologized and asked if she would still vote for him. She laughed and said she’d think about it.

She closed the door.

He walked away, toward his SUV.

“Well, I guess they’re gonna send a sheriff,” Chronister said.

But the neighborhood remained quiet. No one, it seemed, had called 911.


Ed Mahon can be reached at 717-421-2518 or emahon@papost.org.

 

 

 

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