YOUNGSTOWN Colleagues speak of former mayor
The Ohio GOP chairman says the Republican Party and Mahoning County suffered a great loss with the passing of Jack C. Hunter.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- To those who knew him, Jack C. Hunter, an eight-year Youngstown mayor who died Saturday, will be remembered for his ability to bring people on both sides of an issue together to reach common ground.
How else could a Republican win four elections as mayor in Youngstown, one of the most Democratic cities in Ohio, they say.
"He and I got along beautifully in spite of the fact he beat Anthony Flask, who I was working to get elected in 1969," said Democrat Harry Meshel, a former Ohio Senate president and minority leader and ex-state Democratic Party chairman. "When I saw him on election night [in 1969], he kept saying over and over, 'I can't believe it. I can't believe it.'"
Meshel said Hunter worked exceptionally well with Democrats during his eight years as mayor.
"He was viewed as a decent person, clean, with no political vices," Meshel said. "He was partisan when it was time to be a Republican. When it was time to be a mayor, he was fair. He appointed Democrats to his administration. He had a steady hand."
Diagnosed with cancer: Hunter, 71, of Boardman died Saturday afternoon in St. Elizabeth Health Center. He was diagnosed with cancer a week before his death. His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church in Youngstown.
Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said he first met Hunter in the late 1960s when Bennett was working to get Republicans elected in Cleveland and Hunter was considering a run for Youngstown mayor.
"Jack was an up-and-comer before he was elected mayor," Bennett said. "He was able to get re-elected in Youngstown because he was a man of the people. He was able to bridge the gap with the ethnic diversity of Youngstown. He was one of those people who could bring people together. He was a coalition builder. He had the unique ability to understand the other guy's point of view, and he tried to seek the middle ground."
Hunter was elected Youngstown mayor in 1969, serving until 1977. Hunter, who was 5th Ward councilman from 1965 to 1969, is the last Republican to serve as Youngstown's mayor and the first one elected to four terms.
That 1969 election saw a Republican renaissance in Youngstown politics with members of the party capturing four of the seven council seats.
"Those were the glory days of the Republican Party in Youngstown," said Bill Binning, chairman of Youngstown State University's political science department and a former Mahoning County GOP chairman in the 1980s. "His administration was one of the reasons I became active in local politics. I campaigned for him a number of times."
Taught at YSU: Hunter was a vice president of Mahoning National Bank both before and after his years as mayor and also taught economics at YSU before getting into politics.
After leaving the mayor's office, Hunter served on the state board of education from 1982 to 1991 and was a longtime GOP state central committeeman. He also served as state Republican treasurer under Bennett.
"There are certain people in politics who are just decent people who you're glad you knew, and Jack was one of them," Bennett said. "He was one of the decent guys in politics. It's a great loss to the Republican Party, Youngstown and Mahoning County."
William Wade, who served as Mahoning County Republican chairman from 1976 to 1978, remembers Hunter as "an honest guy" and a "man of his word."
During his eight years as mayor, Hunter developed Federal Plaza, obtained federal money for infrastructure projects such as water and sewer lines and helped develop the downtown's East End. Also, at the end of his term in office, the city experienced severe economic woes with the closings of its largest steel plants.
Hunter opted not to run for a fifth term in 1977. A year earlier he was defeated by Democrat Charles Carney for Congress.
Hunter also made a run at the Ohio House in 1994 but lost to Democrat Ronald Gerberry.
Education: Hunter was a 1949 South High School graduate and received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Denver and a master's degree in political science from Kent State University.
He was a member of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, the Lake to River Health Care Coalition, the Builders Association of Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio, the Tri-State Marine Corps League and the Area Agency on Aging. He was president of Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
He leaves his wife, Pauline, and their five children.
Calling hours will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Thompson Funeral Home in Boardman and at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the church.