The 3 Democratic candidates for Gettysburg Mayor, who will be running against each other in the the May 18 primary — Chad Alan Carr, Kierstan MaryBelle Demps, and Rita Frealing — expressed their views in an online question and answer session hosted by Gettysburg Rising last night.
The Republican candidate, Thomas Carr, who is running unopposed, was invited but did not respond to the invitation.
The meeting, during in which all three candidates were cordial and supportive of each other, was hosted by Gettysburg Rising coordinator Jenny Dumont. “This is an exciting time with so many people running for mayor,” she said.
I’m the best person to facilitate the healing the borough needs,” said Gettysburg Native Demps. “I would like to work with council to help make Gettysburg feel a little bit more like home again.” Demps said she would be available “to help anybody who may need help” and that she would be “someone the borough can listen to and talk with.”
Demps said she has had a career in the mental health field and is currently studying psychology and criminology. An important goal for her was to “create a better relationship with our police department” and “to get back on track. I’m committed enough to be able to do this job,” she said.
Candidate Chad Alan Carr said he moved to the region from Texas in 2006 and to Gettysburg in 2009. Carr is the Founding Executive Director of the Gettysburg Community Theatre. Carr noted his work with special needs students at Gettysburg High School and with the local LGBT advocacy group Gettysburg Pride. “Education and awareness and inclusiveness are very important to me,” said Carr.
Carr said he was running “to bring people together. I want to get our voters informed. Many residents are not registered to vote. I want to get people involved. We have to include everyone in the process of local government,” he said.
Frealing said she had studied law at Penn State University and had spent over 20 years in government as a public servant. She has worked as a news reporter, as Deputy Press Secretary in the office of Sen. Bob Casey, and was Director of Government Relations for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“The best way to find answers is to listen, learn, and let people talk. Then you bring consensus and collaboration and move forward. Were all in this together and everyone has a voice that needs to be heard,” said Frealing.
Carr said the three most important issues facing the borough were communication, inclusion, and public safety. “We have to talk to each other. We have to get together and find common ground. There are so many people in our town who don’t understand how local government works,” he said. Carr said he wanted to help get more people to attend council meetings and to vote.
In terms of public safety, Carr said he understood members of the Gettysburg Police Department go through a “certain amount” of human relations training but that he would like to see additional training on those topics. Saying he understood the cost of this training, he pledged if elected to give his $5,000 annual salary to police training.
Frealing focused on the effects of the pandemic and inclusion, saying COVID was affecting community safety and local businesses. “It’s going to be a different strategy to run a campaign and keep the community safe,” she said.
Saying she wanted to support the Gettysburg Police Department, Frealing noted “they are here to protect and serve. I admire our police department.”
Frealing also said speeding in the borough was a problem. “People just speed through the borough. They’re not going 25 miles per hour.” Frealing said she would use her mayoral salary to make contributions to the borough.
Demps said her primary focuses were on family, community, and history. “My priority as the mayor is to keep the community first and stay family focused. Our community is made up of families. It’s very important to know where we can receive help and receive the trust about what is happening in our local government.”
Demps said the opioid crisis was having a negative effect on the community and highlighted efforts to address that issue including the annual “Black Balloon Day” event.
“Gettysburg is a beautiful, wonderful place. We can continue to be better and do better. We need a leader who will lead that charge,” said Demps. “I hope and pray we can continue to work together to do what needs to be done.”
When asked how they would respond if they found themselves disagreeing with police policy all three candidates said the first response would be to increase communication.
“You have make sure all groups are treated equally. We saw people riding across our community with guns across them. It’s not our peaceful community anymore,” said Frealing. “I want to serve as an ambassador to the police department and the council. I love this town. It made me who I am and I’d like to give back to it and serve,” she said.
“The mayor is the voice of the people. The mayor’s job is to find common ground between the residents and the police department,” said Demps. “It’s important to continue to celebrate our history and solve our community’s problems. We need to have better relationships with our police department.”
Carr read a sentence from the police department website: “The police are the public and the public are the police.” Carr said if elected he planned to create a task force to address police-community relations. He hoped the committee would have council members, the borough manager, the mayor, the chief of police, and 2 or 3 members of the community with skills in mediation and community health.
Responding to a question about the Gettysburg’s African American community, Demps said “The black community is very vulnerable right now. We’re often seen but not heard.” She asked members of the black community to be proactive, reaching out to community leaders and collaborating with other people within and outside of the black community.
Alan said he was looking forward to the Juneteenth celebration in the Gettysburg rec park on June 19. “We owe everything to black trans women. The LGBT community owes them so much,” he said.
Noting the extensive and rich history of African Americans in in Gettysburg, Frealing talked about a history teacher who had made a difference in her life. Frealing said she grew up in a time when this area wasn’t inclusive and said she would be “open to all people.”