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Jay Williams will join Obama administration as auto czar

Published: Wed, July 6, 2011 @ 5:58 a.m.



YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams has accepted an executive position in the President Barack Obama Administration, and will resign as the city’s top official for the new job.

The announcement that Williams will be the executive director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, effective Aug. 8, will be made at about noon today in Flint, Mich., according to sources close to the decision.

The main responsibilities of Williams’ new position are to:

• Work to coordinate a federal response to factors that have adversely impacted automotive communities and workers.

• Provide advice to Hilda L. Solis, the secretary of labor; Gene B. Sperling, director of the National Economic Council; and Obama on the potential impact pending legislation could have on those communities and workers.

• Provide recommendations on executive-policy proposals affecting automotive communities, and changes to federal policies and programs intended to address issues of special importance to those communities and workers.

• Conduct outreach programs for nonprofits, businesses, labor organizations, state and local government agencies, elected officials, among others, that will assist in bringing to Obama’s attention concerns, ideas, and policy options for expanding and improving efforts to revitalize automotive communities.

Williams, 39, declined to comment on the job. He’s done so since he confirmed in October 2010 to The Vindicator that he had met with White House officials to discuss the vacant position. 

Williams has had ongoing discussions with White House officials about this job for several months. An offer was recently made to Williams to take the post and he decided to take it.

Ed Montgomery resigned the position, also called the auto czar, in June 2010 to be Georgetown University’s dean of public policy. Obama appointed Montgomery in March 2009.

Williams doesn’t have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate and will start his new job on Aug. 8.

The draft of an Obama executive order, obtained by The Vindicator, states in order to help stabilize the automotive industry the president’s administration will “require the use of expanded strategies by automotive communities that include land-use redevelopment, small business support, and worker training.”

That responsibility will be in the hands of Williams in a month.

As for who will run the city after Williams' departure, the city charter calls for the president of city council to automatically fill the remainder of the mayor’s term. Williams’ term expires Dec. 31, 2013.

Long-time Council President Charles Sammarone, a Democrat, has said he would fill the unexpired term as mayor.

Williams’ impending resignation as mayor leaves several key decisions up in the air. 

They include: adopting a comprehensive citywide rezoning plan, appointing a replacement to outgoing Police Chief Jimmy Hughes, who’s already retired and is supposed to serve on an interim basis until Aug. 31, and the creation of a charter commission to look at proposing significant changes to the city’s laws.

Williams rose to prominence in late 2002 as the city’s Community Development Agency director. In that capacity, Williams was the face of Youngstown 2010, a comprehensive land redevelopment plan for the city’s 31 neighborhoods. 

The plan has garnered much national — particularly in Detroit and Flint, Mich., and Gary, Ind. — and even international attention primarily for embracing the city’s shrinking population. But progress in improving many of those neighborhoods is either slow-going or nonexistent.

Williams was elected mayor in November 2005 as an independent. He is the city’s first black mayor and was the first independent to win the seat since 1922.

He was re-elected in November 2009 to his second term as Youngstown mayor, running as a Democrat.

Because of the city’s term-limits law, Williams couldn’t run for another term in 2013.

“Mayor Williams’ appointment is a loss for Youngstown, but a win for the auto sector and the nearly 800,000 Ohio workers whose jobs are tied to this critical industry,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who’s been a strong advocate for Williams to get the Obama administration job.

“Mayor Williams has not only been a strong leader for Youngstown, but also understands how important auto manufacturing is to Ohio and our nation’s economic recovery," Brown added. "I have no doubt that he will excel as director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, and I am proud to congratulate him on this new opportunity.”

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