Top Newsmakers of the Decade
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams has been selected as the top news maker of the decade by The Vindicator’s reporters and editors.
Although he didn’t emerge on the local political scene until midway through the decade, he’s managed to make a name for himself on the local, state and national levels.
He is the first black person to be elected mayor of the city and was the first independent to win the post in 80 years. He won election to a second term last month.
He first gained notice as one of the key architects of Youngstown’s 2010 comprehensive redevelopment plan while he was director of the city’s Community Development Agency. That plan won the American Planning Association’s 2007 National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach.
As mayor, he has made battling crime, downtown redevelopment and business development and expansion some of his key priorities.
Governing magazine picked him as one of its eight 2009 Public Officials of the Year for his developing “an aggressive plan to create a Youngstown that will be smaller, but better,” and he was honored in November 2007 by The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and Harvard’s Institute of Politics with its New Frontier Award, given annually to an American under age 40 who is changing his/her community through public service.
Williams spoke on behalf of small and midsize industrial communities at a national conference in Washington, D.C., in early 2009, and was one of about 70 mayors to meet with President Barack Obama regarding the president’s plan to create an Office of Urban Affairs. He’s appeared in other national forums as well.
He’s also made headlines in his battles over municipal employee residency laws, efforts to create a Joint Economic Development District with neighboring communities and his stance against the casino gambling issue approved by state voters in November.
“I didn’t set out to be a newsmaker. I set out to be a small part of transforming the community that I love,” Williams said.
One thing that he is most proud of is the improving image of the city, something he said has been collectively accomplished by the hard work of a lot of people.
To represent this community is a great honor, he said.
The Youngstown middleweight boxer won his world championship title in a September 2007 fight against Jermain Taylor, bringing pride and bragging rights to the city. Pavlik has successfully defended his title since, including two bouts in Youngstown. A hand injury kept him out of the ring for an extended period of time in 2009, but he returned in late December to again defend and retain his title.
We Americans are a list-loving bunch. We make lists to replenish our pantry shelves. We scribble lists to organize our daily tasks. We await lists to learn of the best movies, CDs, TV shows and books of the week.
And so it is that The Vindicator over the next four days will present our own lists of the top stories and newsmakers in the Mahoning Valley over the past 12 months and the past 10 years.
Our lists, which begin today on Page A1 with the top newsmakers of 2009 and of the decade, are not a neat, orderly (they’re not even ranked numerically) niche to precisely pigeonhole or prioritize the impact of events and people that shaped our lives and our Valley.
Rather, they are intended as a retrospective snapshot of highlights of local history as part of our ongoing mandate to serve as a warehouse for community information.
In reviewing those lists, it was a very mixed decade for the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
On the up side, downtown Youngstown saw a revitalization fueled by construction of a $45 million arena now named the Covelli Centre, the Lordstown GM plant underwent a billion-dollar makeover and secured highly sought products, and the Valley played a visible role in all three presidential campaigns of the decade.
On the down side, corruption continued to pollute Valley politics from congressional seats to judge’s benches, high crime rates continued to cancel other gains in our quality of life, and thousands of job losses in manufacturing and other sectors continued to lessen our livelihoods and drain our population.
But amid these ups and downs were many reassuring constants. There is the longstanding Mahoning Valley devotion to the work ethic that no doubt played a role in much of the good news emanating from GM Lordstown.
There is our longstanding resilience, ingenuity and grit that have enabled us to fight off adversity. Witness the success and international recognition of the Youngstown 2010 plan that has enabled the city to manage controlled shrinkage and turn many urban negatives into positives.
There is also our longstanding compassion and spirit of giving, as evidenced by successful United Way drives and massive capital campaigns at Youngstown State University.
We have no doubt that Valley residents will continue to harness that work ethic, that compassion and that grit to move our community ahead for many years and decades to come.
For Bertram de Souza's look back at a decade's worth of corrupt columns, click here.