Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams has chalked up another first in his relatively brief political career: On Tuesday, he became the first black in the history of the city to win the Democratic nomination for mayor. While that may not be as epochal as when he became the first black to win the mayoralty in 2005, or the first independent to win in many decades, the result Tuesday does provide Williams with a mandate few officeholders receive.
Indeed, the absence of credible opposition in the Democratic primary and from the Republican Party — we do acknowledge that Republicans are a rare breed in Youngstown — is a testament to the incumbent’s popularity and his record in office. His first four-year term will end in December and he will begin his second — and final — term in January.
That’s enough time for Williams to deliver on the campaign promises he made during the 2005 election, when he ran as an independent and defeated the Democratic nominee, Robert Hagan, whose name is synonymous with politics in the Mahoning Valley.
As we noted in our endorsement of him for the Democratic nomination, Williams is refreshingly honest about the challenges that still confront the city. As he did when he first ran, the mayor conceded that crime remains a major problem and combatting it is one of the top, if not the top, priority for his administration.
Although the latest data shows that homicides and other serious crimes are down, there still are neighborhoods in Youngstown where criminals have the upper hand. Law-abiding residents have long complained about drug dealings in broad daylight, of abandoned homes being used as crack houses and of heavily armed gangs shooting blazing away on the streets.
During his interview with Vindicator editors and writers, the mayor said that Police Chief Jimmy Hughes would remain the city’s top cop even though the grade he would give him thus far is a B-/C+. Indeed, that’s the same grade the mayor gave himself.
While we applaud such forthrightness, we do believe Youngstown needs A+ leadership in government as it deals with the myriad problems that afflict many older urban areas.
One of the biggest challenges confronting Youngstown is the loss of population — especially those who are younger and college-educated. As the ranks of older residents on fixed incomes increase, the city’s push to expand the tax base by attracting businesses and high-paying jobs becomes all the more difficult.
However, there is reason for some optimism. Should the $1 billion expansion project announced by V&M Star Steel become a reality, it will be a template for other economic development initiatives. That’s because the cities of Youngstown and Girard have joined forces to provide V&M with whatever incentives are necessary to keep the company firmly planted in the Valley.
With Williams’ background in development — he was director of the city’s Community Development Agency prior to becoming mayor — and Girard Mayor James Melfi’s expertise in government finances — he has led his city out of state-mandated fiscal emergency — the two cities were able to forge a strong alliance.
Williams told The Vindicator he wants to replicate that relationship with other surrounding communities.
One of the biggest challenges the mayor will confront next year is to ensure that every resident in the city is counted so that the expected population loss is not as dramatic when the 2010 Census figures are released.
We believe Williams is ideally suited to take on this important task.