One Democratic councilman isn't ready to make a mayoral endorsement.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It took some time, but state Sen. Robert F. Hagan, the Democratic mayoral nominee, has the support of most members of city council.
Council President James E. Fortune Sr., who lost to Hagan in the May Democratic primary, along with three council members -- Carol Rimedio-Righetti of the 4th Ward, Paul Pancoe of the 6th Ward and Mark Memmer of the 7th Ward -- are supporting Hagan's mayoral candidacy.
Fortune and the three council members had withheld their support since the May primary until recently. They said they wanted to talk to candidates and determine who was the best person to help the city.
"Endorsements and support are very important," Hagan said. "I'm of the belief that Democrats support Democratic candidates, but in some cases, it takes time. We're divided in so many ways, and we need to be united."
Less than two months ago, Hagan said the endorsements of council members "don't carry a lot of weight," but he was still actively seeking support from them.
Councilmen Artis Gillam Sr. of the 1st Ward and Michael Rapovy of the 5th Ward had previously endorsed Hagan.
The lone Democratic holdout on council is Rufus Hudson of the 2nd Ward.
Hudson met one-on-one with Hagan and Jay Williams, who resigned in April as the city's Community Development Agency director to run as an independent candidate. There are four other candidates running for mayor.
During those meetings, Hudson said he discussed several key issues, including cutting costs of city operations, better management of the city's budget, changes in the police department and keeping workers' compensation costs under control.
"I'm not a sheep," Hudson said. "I want to make judgments and assessments by looking at the leadership of both candidates."
Fortune was initially resistant to endorsing Hagan after the May primary. But because of Hagan's years in the state Legislature, the outgoing council president is throwing his support behind the Democratic nominee.
"We have to continue on the right course, and inexperience will kill us," Fortune said. Hagan's "not a guarantee, but he's got the most experience in government of all the candidates."
Supporting fellow Democrat
Rimedio-Righetti, Pancoe and Memmer said one of the prime reasons they are supporting Hagan is that he's the Democratic nominee, and Democrats support Democrats.
"Both [Hagan] and Jay bring a lot to the table, but being a Democrat, I'd have to support" Hagan, Rimedio-Righetti said.
The councilwoman also cited Hagan's experience in the Ohio Legislature, and said that could help bring state funding to Youngstown, particularly if Democrats make inroads in the 2006 statewide election.
"I have nothing against Jay, but with all the connections Bob Hagan has in Columbus, we as a city can get more with him as mayor," she said.
Memmer and Pancoe downplayed the importance of council members endorsing mayoral candidates but said they support Hagan.
Memmer said he asked Hagan numerous questions and is pleased with the answers.
"He's a good communicator and listener," Memmer said. "He's genuine in his concerns for what's going on in the city."
'Both viable candidates'
Pancoe spoke to Hagan, Williams and Maggy Lorenzi, another independent mayoral candidate, before making his decision.
Pancoe asked the candidates how they would run the city and wanted to make sure the next mayor appoints the most qualified people to Cabinet positions.
Hagan and Williams are "both viable candidates, but I'm a good Democrat, and I'm going with Bob. I think he can lead the city in the right direction," Pancoe said.
Richard Atkinson of the 3rd Ward, the only Republican on city council, said he would probably support Williams but hasn't made a final decision.
"I know Jay, his abilities and his vision for the city," said Atkinson, his party's council president candidate.
Atkinson said he is concerned about being too involved in the campaign because local Democratic leaders, including Hagan, are painting Williams as a Republican.
Williams is running as an independent and is a registered Democrat. Williams said he is attracting support from Democrats, Republicans and independents.