Youngstown’s mayor wins prestigious national award

Jay Williams has added another first to his trailblazing résumé: He is the first Ohioan to receive The John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award. You read it right. No one in the state of Ohio has been so honored since the first awards ceremony four years ago.

Why Williams? Here’s what the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government, which created the award, had to say:

“Jay Williams, 36, made history in November 2005 when he became the youngest and first African-American mayor of Youngstown, Ohio. A former banker who left the corporate world to serve as director of the city’s community development agency, Williams staked his mayoral candidacy on an unusual and politically bold plan to revitalize the city. ... Williams won a six-way race with more than 50 percent of the vote, on a platform that called for the city to acknowledge its diminishing population and poor economic health, and to improve its circumstances not by growing, but by shrinking.”

The awards committee also made mention of Youngstown 2010, the blueprint for the city’s future development, which Williams helped formulate and is now implementing.

In addition to his being the first black to be elected mayor of Youngstown, he also was the first independent candidate to win in more than 80 years, and as a result of Tuesday’s election, will be the first mayor in more than 70 years to oversee the Youngstown Park and Recreation Department.

Bipartisan campaign

Not bad for a political newcomer in 2005 who not only refused to seek the Democratic Party nomination, but forged a true bipartisan general election campaign.

The award Williams received is one of two given out each year to Americans under the age of 40 “who are changing their communities — and the country — with their commitment to public service,” in the words of the JFK Library Foundation.

The other recipient this year at a luncheon ceremony Tuesday in Boston was Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi native and American citizen who founded Women for Women International, a non-profit organization that mobilizes women worldwide to reach out and help women survivors of war.

The presentation was made by Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, John F. Kennedy

In her remarks, Kennedy called on young Americans to become involved in public service.

“Jay Williams and Zainab Salbi are remarkable young leaders who share my father’s belief that one person can make a difference, and everyone should try. Today, we honor these two outstanding individuals for all they have given back to our country and for the extraordinary examples they set.”

In commenting on the award, Williams told The Vindicator that “Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley are being looked upon very positively.”

It’s about time, given this region’s sordid political history and its reputation as a haven for organized crime.

Williams is the new face of the Valley and the award he received should make us proud.

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