Pa. primary spotlights Democrats' divide

Williams, an African-American, says she's seen more improvements here on race issues than she has on gender issues. "Discrimination against color is less acceptable than discrimination against women," says Williams, 70. She's supporting Clinton.

In York, about 30 miles east of Lancaster, unresolved racial tensions played a key part in Mayor John Brenner's election. Brenner was nominated to the post in 2000 when then-mayor Charlie Robertson was indicted in a murder case, stemming from the death of a young black woman in a race riot in 1969.

Robertson, a police officer at the time of the riots, ultimately was acquitted. But two co-defendants were convicted, and the case reopened deep wounds.

Brenner, who is white, hired professional facilitators to run community discussion groups "so York could cleanse and heal itself." He said the experience influenced his decision to endorse Obama.

York and neighboring Lancaster were named after the blue-blood clans whose rival claims on the British thrones set off a series of battles that provided fodder for many of Shakespeare's famous plays.

This year, however, the mayors of both south-central Pennsylvania cities are on the same side: Brenner and Lancaster Mayor Richard Gray have endorsed Obama. They've formed an informal team with McMahon of nearby Reading.

"We're like the three tenors," McMahon quips.

It's a striking development, not only because most Pennsylvania mayors are following Rendell's lead and backing Clinton, but because the three cities sit at the base of the T, as local politicians call the state's small-town central core and rural northern tier. The region votes so conservatively that Democratic strategist James Carville once famously described it as "Alabama."

That still irks locals such as Gray, a cheerful iconoclast who owns 12 motorcycles and decorates his office with his wife's paintings.

Gray cites the three mayors' endorsements as proof that Democrats in the region are "more progressive" than many of their peers in urban Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Ringing the edge of Amish country, where farmers still travel by horse and buggy, Reading, Lancaster and York reflect the tension between progress and tradition in a state with one foot on the East Coast and another at the edge of the Midwest. They are cities with a proud manufacturing past giving way to a still-uncertain future.

York, where the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1777, is the kind of city Bruce Springsteen writes songs about.

The York Barbell Co. and the Weightlifting Hall of Fame earned the city the nickname, "Muscletown, USA." A Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory is one of the city's biggest employers. But a steady loss of manufacturing jobs has forced Brenner to try to transform what once was a big-shouldered industrial economy.

The mayor is busy rehabbing the city's brick town homes to attract families and businesses priced out of the Baltimore market, one hour south. "We're trying to brand ourselves as a design center," he said.

Reading has been through waves of reinventing itself: The city decades ago lost one of its first manufacturing businesses when textile mills moved south. More recently, Agere, a major employer, moved thousands of jobs at its computer chip-making facility to Asia.

In what may be the ultimate indignity, Pennsylvania-based Hershey's last year announced plans to close a Reading factory where it made 5th Avenue candy bars and York Peppermint Patties.

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