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YOUNGSTOWN MAYOR Jockeying begins for May primary



Published: Sat, January 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



At least six people have said they want to be mayor.

YOUNGSTOWN -- City voters will select the first mayor of the 21st century this year, and several people already have indicated they want the challenge of leading the city.

Incumbent Mayor George McKelvey's second term ends at the end of this year. Term limits will force him to step aside.

The filing deadline for the May primary is Feb. 17, but these people have said they will be vying for the city's top job:

UState Rep. Sylvester Patton.

UCity Council President James Fortune Sr.

UCity Police Chief Robert Bush.

UJohn Swierz, former 7th Ward councilman and council president.

UJay Williams, city Community Development Agency director.

UCouncilman Michael Rapovy, D-5th.

Several of those interviewed said the key qualities they will hammer home to voters are experience, leadership skills and a commitment to economic development.

The city cannot afford to have a mayor who needs on-the-job training, they said.

Fortune cites experience

Fortune said he brings a wealth of experience to lead the city.

"I have 241/2 years as a councilman and council president and working with the economics of this city," he said. "I am one of the only people left behind who dealt with creation of the Salt Springs Road industrial park" on the city's West Side.

More recently, he said he worked to get RRI of Ohio, the minority-owned tire shredding company, to locate in the city. He points out that he has sponsored and passed more than 2,100 pieces of legislation, and served for several years as chairman of council's finance committee.

"The mayor's job is not one where you come in and get on-the-job training. It's a job that calls for someone with experience, especially in economic development," Fortune said.

Swierz's hat in ring

Swierz announced last March that he would run for mayor.

"I have taken out petitions, but haven't circulated them yet," Swierz said.

"I believe what I bring to the table is experience," he said. "I was a city employee for 25 years as a firefighter, retiring as a captain. I also spent eight years as a councilman and council president."

Swierz also was owner of R & amp; S Appliance Service for 26 years, a city-based household appliance repair company, which at one time employed seven people.

"The experience I've gained through those positions [civil servant, businessman and councilman] allows me to understand the challenges that face the next mayor of Youngstown," Swierz said. "I will bring a fair and balanced leadership."

He also has been active on various community boards, including First Night Youngstown and the Greater Youngstown Area Soap Box Derby.

Chief claims administrative edge

Bush, who is also a lawyer, also has circulated petitions for mayor.

"I think my experience has given me a working knowledge of the pluses and minuses of the city," he said. "I have served as city law director, so I know about the major issues of the city. As police chief, I know the pulse of the city. I also manage the largest department with the largest budget, and I believe I manage it well."

He said one of the critical issues that will come up in the mayor's race is finding someone with proven, demonstrated leadership skills.

Rapovy's a go

Rapovy had petitions with him at last week's council meeting, and a couple of city residents signed them. "As you can see, I'm definitely running for mayor," he said.

Williams faces job decision

Williams said he's interested in running "and am giving it some serious thought and doing the research right now. I anticipate being in the race."

By law, however, Williams cannot engage in partisan political activity as long as he keeps his civil service job. He said if he does go forward in the partisan race, he would resign as CDA director.

Patton faces term limits

Patton, of Youngstown, D-60th, could not be reached to comment for this story, but he recently told The Vindicator's editorial board that he is definitely running for mayor. The state's term-limits law doesn't allow a legislator to serve more than four elected terms in a row in the Ohio House.

Patton was appointed to fill a House vacancy in 1997 and was first elected in 1998. He was re-elected in 2004, and he would have to leave the House after his term ended in 2006.

State Sen. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, who also faces term limits, was another name mentioned for the mayor's job.

For now, however, Hagan says his focus is on being the assistant minority leader of the Ohio Senate for the next six months to a year.

"Am I interested in another office? Well there's always that possibility. But at this particular time, I am focusing on my new position," Hagan said.

"As far as running for mayor goes, that's down the road. I haven't ruled it out," the senator added.

Racial dynamic

There's a new dynamic in the race that makes predicting a winner, or even speculating on a front-runner, an exercise in futility, says William C. Binning, a long-time observer of politics in the Mahoning Valley and former chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party.

"The contest has become racial," Binning, chairman of Youngstown State University's political science department, contended. "That was played out [in 1997] when George McKelvey ran against Edna Pincham. She was [former Mayor] Pat Ungaro's administrative assistant and had cleared the field of other black candidates. Now we get in a dynamic where you have the driving energy in the race that is racial."

Given this dynamic, is it possible for a black to be elected mayor of Youngstown if there are several black candidates on the Democratic Party's primary ballot? Binning said it is, but is more difficult than if there were only one black contender.

"A lot of times, these races are settled before the filing date, but in 2005 you could have Bush, Patton and Fortune, all formidable candidates whose appeal could be beyond the African-American community, but who would be looking to the black community [for their base of support]," he explained.

Indeed, as the list of candidates grows, the likelihood of the field being set before the petition filing date of Feb. 17 diminishes. In the past, such races were settled before the deadline and usually involved one person anointed by the Democratic Party hierarchy and a challenger from some anti-party group, Binning said.

As for the white candidates, Hagan might have the advantage, seeing as how he has won citywide in his bids for state House and Senate seats, Binning said. Swierz, on the other hand, took on Fortune in the council president's race and lost.

The bottom line, however, is that the contest for Youngstown mayor will be wide open, which means anyone could emerge the winner. But even the Democratic primary might not bring political closure, as it has done in the past.

The possibility of Williams, the city's Community Development director, running as an independent could give city voters a first: a true general election campaign in the fall.

The absence of an energetic Republican Party in the city of Youngstown makes it irrelevant in the race.




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