Strong case can be made for keeping base off list
If Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey is sincere about participating in the Mahoning Valley's battle to keep the Youngstown Air Reserve Station off the 2005 federal base closing list, and there's no reason to doubt his sincerity, then he should begin regularly attending the meetings of the community-based group that is leading the charge.
Members of Save Our Airbase Reservists (SOAR) and officials of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber have spent many months familiarizing themselves with the legislation that authorized the president to close military installations in the U.S. and around the world. They've also developed a database of information pertaining to the Vienna Township facility, they've hired a high-powered consulting firm from Washington, D.C., and they have formed a bipartisan coalition of elected officials in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys to show that the region does not view this challenge in Democratic or Republican terms.
At the congressional level, the support comes from Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, Stephen LaTourette, R-Madison, Phil English, R-Erie, and Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Hills. They have been actively engaged in the effort.
Indeed, as state Rep. John Boccieri, D-New Middletown, an Air Force Reserve major based at the Youngstown station, noted last week, next year's Base Realignment and Closure Commission will use objective criteria in determining which facilities will be on the list presented to the president. The president, in turn, must accept or reject the list in its entirety. In other words, he cannot cherry pick.
Boccieri, who has flown out of the local base on an assignment in Iraq, also voiced concern about McKelvey's contention that if the Democratic nominee for president, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is elected in November, the Youngstown reserve station will lose out in a contest with the air reserve station at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Both facilities house C-130H transport planes.
McKelvey, a Democrat who endorsed Republican President Bush last week, contended that Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, a pillar of Pittsburgh, would not agree to the Pittsburgh base's being closed and the Youngstown facility's remaining open.
But Boccieri notes that a study undertaken by SOAR and the chamber shows that the two bases are not in competition and that McKelvey does not understand the process when he argues that a Kerry presidency would be detrimental to the future of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
As we said at the outset, we believe the mayor is sincere when he talks about using his relationship with Bush to keep the local facility off the closing list, but to credibly argue the case, he needs to become more familiar with the process and the finer points of the base closing commission's assignment.
He also should become knowledgeable about every aspect of the base, from its mission, to the various services that call it home, to the military and civilian populations and the economic impact on the Valley.
Too many people in our region have spent too many hours developing a strong case for continued operation of the base for the wrong impression to be left with residents of the Mahoning and Shenango valleys as to how the process will work next year.