Gannon Alumnus To Become First African-American Mayor Of New Castle

courtesy of Mayor Elect Chris Frye on Facebook

courtesy of Mayor Elect Chris Frye on Facebook

A Gannon University alumnus will make history as the first-ever African-American mayor of New Castle, Pa. when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 6.

Mayor-elect Chris Frye ’10 will succeed current Mayor Anthony Mastragelo, who had served for 12 years. A public inauguration ceremony is planned for 6 p.m. on Jan. 6 in the New Castle Junior/Senior High School Auditorium, 300 E. Lincoln Ave.

Frye said he was in disbelief when he received the news of his election. 

“My initial reaction was that I’m proud the votes came through. But the honeymoon phase lasted about five minutes. My mantra on election night was that it’s time to get to work,” Frye said.

Frye said he has his sights on four pillars of change-making as the new mayor. These include bringing fiscal responsibility to the city, restoring the city’s deteriorated infrastructure, eradicating the blight, and building bridges within the social community. 

Frye said he also hopes to enact an economic development strategy during his tenure to rid New Castle of its current status as a financially distressed community under Act 47. New Castle’s current population is 21,797, according to the 2019 United States Census estimate. 

Frye said his journey presented some challenges, including running as an African-American republican in a city with a voting base that’s predominately democratic. At age 31, Frye will also be among the youngest to hold office in the city. 

Frye’s $9,000 grassroots campaign, which launched in January 2019, consisted of knocking on more than 3,500 doors, using social media to draw attention, and listening to the needs and desires of the people. 

The election ended with a 39 percent voter turnout at the polls, where Frye amassed 2,869 votes compared to opponent democrat Mark Elisco’s 1,913. 

“Winning by 956 votes was unexpected,” Frye said. 

Frye said his run for mayor proved historic, humbling and rewarding. 

“Some people were planning to move out of the community, now they are heartbroken to leave,” Frye said. “Senior citizens up to 80 years old came out to vote. Many of them had never voted in their life. Young kids were inspired to speak up and be advocates in their own schools. The most heartwarming thing was building relationships with people who wanted to put their trust in me.” 

Frye said his candidacy has its roots in his past. He said his background growing up in an impoverished neighborhood with a mother and grandmother who displayed their faith through community volunteer work influenced his decision to pursue social work, and eventually his candidacy. 

Frye received his Bachelor of Arts in Social Work in 2010 from Gannon University, where he held numerous leadership positions including president and vice president of the social work and leadership clubs, respectively, and as resident assistant. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012 with his master’s in social work with a concentration in community organizing and social administration. 

Frye said Parris Baker, Ph.D., MSSA, director and assistant professor of the social work, mortuary science, and gerontology programs at Gannon, was a central figure in his life during his time as a student. 

Baker said he is proud of what Frye has achieved so far. 

“Chris recognizes the distinctive nature and diversity of each individual,” Baker said. “He is acutely aware that the protection and development of each individual happens best through relationships and in the context of community. He passionately advocates for the equitable treatment and protection of diverse and vulnerable populations, issues related to social and economic justice, and is determined and dedicated to helping the citizens transform the city of New Castle.” 

“Chris has decided to take his light and the light of Christ to New Castle. In two to three years we will again talk about the mindboggling transformation of New Castle that will be championed by Chris,” Baker said. 

Following graduation from Gannon, Frye worked for Cray Youth and Family Services Inc. as a therapist and neighborhood development coordinator from 2011 to 2013. He then worked at Lawrence County Social Services Inc. for six years as a regional lead and healthy homes coordinator where he oversaw operations in 13 counties. He is currently LCSS’s community supports coordinator.

Frye is an active member on New Castle’s YMCA board of directors. He is a current participant on the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Lawrence Country program. He and his wife are additionally working to resurrect his family’s 40-year-old nonprofit organization that aims to empower women and families affected by domestic violence. 

Frye will be leaving his current position at the Lawrence County Social Services Inc. to become mayor.

He said he used Gannon’s motto, “Believe in the Possibilities,” in his campaigns and everyday conversations with community members to inspire change. 

“Actions follow beliefs. Believe that New Castle can change, believe that New Castle can look better, and believe that New Castle will be a place people will want to come to. Now put that belief into action. That’s what I tell people,” Frye said.  

Frye said he is ready to revitalize the community by continuously listening to its people. 

“I want to encourage people to look at themselves and find out what’s best for themselves, their families and their community. They have a voice and need to be heard. The world is not black and white. We need to be careful not to be one-sided and let people make decisions for themselves,” Frye said.  
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