It is a given in politics that an incumbent has an advantage going into an election. However, in the race for the Democratic nomination for Youngstown City Council president, John R. Swierz's hold on the office spans only a year. Swierz was appointed to the position April 17, 2002.
Thus, his challenger in next month's primary, veteran 6th Ward Councilman James E. Fortune Sr., can make a strong case for his candidacy based on his record in office and his involvement in the community. Fortune has served in council a total of 22 years, is president pro tem and chairman of the finance committee.
But more than that, he has established himself as a leader in Youngstown and an advocate for those city residents struggling to survive.
That passion to make a difference in the city is reflected in what he intends to do if elected council president.
Here's the introduction to his campaign literature that details his objectives: "These are trying times. It is time to move the office of Council President from a position of reaction, or no action, to the position of pro-action."
To understand just how far he intends to expand the role of council president, consider one of his goals: to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight inner-city crime.
There will be those who argue that Fortune wants to take on responsibilities not granted by the city charter and that he would be stepping on the mayor's toes. We disagree. Like the mayor, the president of council is elected citywide and, therefore, has a broader constituency than individual council members who represent wards.
Swierz, on the other hand, says his priority, if given the chance to serve out the term -- it expires Dec. 31, 2005 -- is to develop an information sheet about council meetings that will assist visitors who attend meetings. He also intends to continue pushing for a comprehensive plan for Youngstown, which has taken the form of a long-term planning document called Youngstown 2010. He has been a member of city council since 1996, representing the 7th Ward until last April.
While we agree that encouraging the public to actively participate in government is one of the responsibilities of the president of council, we believe the individual who presides over the legislative branch must be someone with vast experience in city government, and with the ability to assist the administration in dealing with the current fiscal crisis. The administration could certainly use a helping hand in developing a strategy for creating jobs and stabilizing the neighborhoods.
We believe Fortune has the experience, the knowledge and the commitment to become an activist president of city council. That's what Youngstown needs, and it is why The Vindicator endorses his candidacy in the May 6 primary election.