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Community leaders extol mayoral victory



Published: Wed, November 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



City residents elected their first black mayor.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Local business and religion leaders hailed Jay Williams' historic mayoral victory as a sign that this city will finally move in the right direction.

The Rev. Jay Alford of Youngstown, who organized more than 100 members of the local clergy in support of Williams, said the independent candidate's overwhelming victory shows city residents want to improve Youngstown's poor national image and rally behind a true leader.

Thomas Humphries of Girard, head of the Regional Chamber and a Williams supporter, said the business community is thrilled with Tuesday's mayoral result.

Williams won a six-person mayoral race capturing 52 percent of the vote. Democrat Robert F. Hagan, a state senator, finished second with 39.8 percent of the vote even though Youngstown is one of the most Democratic cities in Ohio.

Williams is the first black candidate elected mayor of Youngstown and the first independent candidate to win the seat in about 80 years.

Williams quit his job as the city's Community Development Agency director in April to run for mayor as an independent candidate. Federal law prohibited Williams from running for the job while serving in his civil service position.

As the public mouthpiece for the city's 2010 redevelopment program, Williams received much praise for how he handled the responsibility. It was during that time that Williams decided he wanted to run for mayor.

"The city was ready for change, and I want to be part of that change," he said.

As mayor, Williams said he'll make mistakes, but he'll learn from them and make the city better.

Hagan's reaction

Surprised by how badly he lost, Hagan blamed others for the defeat.

The Democrat said "every single story written" by The Vindicator about the mayoral race "was negative toward me." Hagan also said WYTV-Channel 33 released two "bogus" polls about the race, even though both showed Williams with a higher favorable rating than the Democrat.

Hagan also attributed his loss to negative fliers and television ads from the conservative Liberty Committee of Independence, Ohio, and New Vision Youngstown, run by Mahoning County's Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign coordinator.

"The negative ads in the last week had an impact," Hagan said. "It shows that negative ads work."

He also blamed the ministers who supported Williams, particularly the Rev. Mr. Alford, saying it was dishonest for them to publicly support a candidate. As for Mr. Alford, Hagan called him "one of the weakest links in the religious world" in this area.

But for all his finger-pointing, Hagan also gave credit to Williams for his "cross-over appeal."

The city historically votes along racial lines, but that wasn't the case Tuesday.

Mahoning County Board of Elections officials didn't have a ward or precinct breakdown of the vote totals. But officials said a cursory look at the results showed that Williams did well enough in white-dominated wards to win the election.

"I was more concerned about the racial divide more than anything, and he proved that isn't the case anymore," Hagan said of Williams.

Williams said he is still somewhat bitter at local Democrats for painting him as part of a right-wing extremist group.

"I could justifiably walk away from the Democratic Party," said Williams, a registered Democrat. "But this is not about partisan politics. I intend to have a relationship with the party and other people in Youngstown who want to help the city."

What party head said

Lisa Antonini, the county's Democratic Party chairwoman, acknowledged disappointment that the Democratic nominee lost the mayoral race in such a Democratic city, but she said this was one of the party's best-run campaigns.

Antonini hopes Williams embraces Democratic principles as Youngstown's mayor but said Republicans and outside organizations helped Williams win here "with an eye in assisting the Republican Party" win statewide races in 2006 and delivering Ohio to the 2008 Republican presidential candidate.

After taking a few days off, Williams plans to select members of his mayoral Cabinet.

"They'll be some same faces and some new faces," he said.

Mr. Alford said Williams' victory is "a great start" for local clergy when it comes to getting more involved in politics. He said the group plans to find and support viable candidates for other area elected offices.

Humphries said the local business community is thrilled with Williams' win. He added that Hagan has a long track record in the state Legislature of being anti-business.

Hagan's term as state senator expires at the end of next year, and he can't run for re-election because of the state term limits law. Hagan plans to finish his Senate term but said it is too early to make any decisions about running for another political office.

"I'm not thinking down the road," he said. "I'll continue to be a pain in the a-- of every Republican who tries to take the rights away of working people."

In other races, Youngstown Water Commissioner Charles Sammarone, a Democrat, easily defeated Councilman Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, for council president. Sammarone held that job for 12 years before resigning in 2002.

Other city results

Also, Canfield Mayor Lee E. Frey was soundly defeated by Bill Kay, a retired school administrator running for office for the first time. Kay received 68.6 percent of the vote against Frey, who first won election as Canfield mayor in 1999.

"I was shocked by the margin of victory, but I'm excited about representing the city," Kay said.

Campbell Mayor John E. Dill, first elected to the post in 1999, easily defeated former Councilwoman Juanita Rich on Tuesday.

Also, Patrick P. Cunning beat two other candidates in the race for Campbell Municipal Court judge. Cunning has served as the court's acting judge since October 2004. Judge John Almasy couldn't run for re-election because of the state's judicial-age restriction.

skolnick@vindy.com




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