By Denise Clay
For Black Women Unmuted
HANOVER BOROUGH, Pa. — On Saturdays, almost everyone in Pennsylvania’s Hanover Borough makes their way to the Hanover Market House.
If you wait long enough, you can connect with a large swath of the nearly 16,000 people who call the borough home as they buy anything from fruits and vegetables to Christmas lights.
On most Saturdays, Mayor Myneca Ojo is doing just that. From roughly 8:30 a.m. to noon, she’s seated at a table at Moon’s Café —- which also has a juice bar and serves the Vietnamese Pho of the owner’s homeland —- and listens to concerns ranging from loud music to standing water and the mosquitoes it attracts.
“She’s smart, she’s experienced and she’s been doing a great job,” said John Gerken, a former Borough Council president who is also one of the Market House regulars. “She’s been a great asset to the community.”
Ojo was sworn in as Hanover Borough’s first African-American mayor in October 2018. She’s only the second woman to hold the office and the town’s first Democratic mayor since 1962.
When former Mayor Ben Adams moved out of the borough a year into his term in 2018, the Borough Council had to find someone who could fill the seat until the 2019 elections. Ojo, who has lived in the borough for more than 10 years and was concerned about borough taxes, applied for the job because she wanted to become more active in the community, which includes a lot of retired government workers. She was appointed mayor by a 7-3 vote.
EDITOR’S NOTE FROM BLACK WOMEN UNMUTED
In April 2018, five black women were asked to leave a golf club near the majority-white borough of Hanover, Pennsylvania. The problem? They were accused of playing too slowly. Words got exchanged; the police were called. No charges were filed, but the incident made its way to the state Human Rights Commission. The women were offered golf club memberships — and lessons from the man who called the police on them — as a settlement. Six months after the incident, Hanover’s mayor moved away. One of those women, Myneca Ojo, 56, was appointed to replace him — making her the first black mayor of Hanover, located about five miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Ojo, a Democrat, is now running for the office in the upcoming Nov. 5 election.
In this second installment of Black Women Unmuted’s “Madame Mayor” series, veteran Philadelphia journalist Denise Clay caught up with Ojo to get her reflections on her political journey.) This series is being presented with FierceforBlackWomen.com, a founding content partner.
Click here to read the first installment on Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who spoke with legendary journalist and fellow Atlanta native Charlayne Hunter-Gault about her struggle to balance the city’s economic development needs against concerns that gentrification spurred by that development is pushing out the poor.
More Than a Ceremonial Role
While the mayoral position is largely ceremonial and serves mostly to enforce borough ordinances and to break ties in deadlocked council votes, Ojo has stretched it out a bit through being active in the community and fostering economic development through investor tours. She’s enjoyed the role so far because it’s allowed her to build relationships with community members, business leaders, and the council that hired her.
“Oh my God, it’s been amazing!,” she said. “First of all, we have a tremendous council, very supportive. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie, the interactions with everyone. When I first became mayor, I did a listening tour and so I met with each of the council members individually to find out what they were doing because they’re all chairs of committees. I wanted to find out what their platforms were and what was important to them so that I can support them in what they’re doing.”
Now if Ojo’s name sounds familiar to you, it might be because she was one of the members of Sisters on the Fairway, the group of five Black women who made national headlines for being asked to leave the Grandview Golf Club, near Hanover, last April for allegedly playing too slowly.
Three of the other women she was golfing with —- Sandra Harrison, Sandra Thompson and Karen Crosby —- were also on the York County Primary Ballot in May. Harrison and Thompson won their races for the Democratic nominations for Prothonotary (a county clerk of court) and York County Common Pleas Judge, while Crosby lost her bid to be the Democratic standard-bearer for York County Commissioner. The fifth woman from the golf outing, Carolyn Dow, didn’t seek public office.
The Grandview golf outing comes up every once in a while, Ojo admits.
“That’s almost what made me decide not to apply for [the mayor’s office],” she said. “But my friend said at the time ‘You should apply anyway! That shouldn’t have any bearing on whether or not you can do the job, because someone discriminated against you and it made the national news.’ But it was in the back of my mind. I thought that they may not consider me in this town.”
‘This Isn’t Hanover’
Ojo ran unopposed for the Democratic Primary nomination for mayor, and also ran a write-in campaign to get Republican votes. She managed to get 163 of those voters. In fact, some of the visitors to her table at Moon’s Café are Republicans sharing electoral strategies.
But shortly after she turned in her nominating petitions for the May primary ballot, flyers were placed in the doors of targeted prominent Hanover residents referring to Ojo as an “African Bolshevik” and a “Communist” who wants to build subsidized housing that will attract “thousands of Negros from Maryland, PA and DC” to this rural South Central Pennsylvania town.
Some locals have also been describing Ojo as a “black Socialist outsider.” Code words for her not being “one of them.”
When asked about the flyers at the Market, residents wouldn’t comment on the record. The most anyone would say is, “This isn’t Hanover” — something that Ojo also believes.
According to the 2010 Census, the Borough of Hanover is more than 90 percent White, with Blacks and Latinos comprising 3 percent of the population cumulatively.
‘Things Change Slowly Here’
Visitors to the market, most of them white, also declined to talk about the mayor’s race in general. In fact, the closest anyone came to discussing the race is Scott C. Roland, a candidate for council in the Second Ward whom some suspect of posting the flyers.
When asked about the flyers, Roland denounced them.
“I’ve lived here for 23 years, and [the flyer] wasn’t indicative of the Hanover I know,” he said. “But this is a fairly conservative town and things change slowly here.”
Roland says that he knows Ojo and that she talks to a lot of townspeople. Before hanging up the phone, he added that Ojo has a Republican challenger, but that he prefers to focus on his own election.
No Novice to Ugly Politics
Years before becoming mayor, Ojo managed the political ambitions and campaigns of other candidates in Texas and Maryland, so she’s no novice to ugly politics.
She attributes the nasty murmurs about her own candidacy to a combination of fear and ignorance.
“This came out after I announced I was running in the primary,” she said. “I had already been mayor and had already been well-received by people who liked what I had to say.”
She’ll be running against a Republican opponent from her ward, a self-employed landscape designer named Sue Ann Whitman. Whitman announced her write-in candidacy shortly before the primary and managed to get more than 280 votes due to the borough’s sizable Republican voter registration edge. Ojo is one of only three Democrats holding municipal office in Hanover.
After her visit to the Market House, Ojo stopped at her house to grab the letter she wrote counteracting the “Bolshevik” flyers, and to connect with her friend Carole Silezar and campaign manager Bill Poole, above. The three take to the streets of Hanover to canvass neighborhoods.
And even then, her day isn’t done. Later that day, Ojo judged a wing sauce tasting at the Hotel Hanover.
Then, there’s more campaigning to be done. And probably a phone call from a constituent or two to return.
She’s hoping that the commitment she’s shown is enough to get another two years from borough voters.
“They care about this town,” Ojo said. “And they know that I do, too.”
Fill out the form below to keep up with Black Women Unmuted and its content partners.