By David Skolnick
City council President Charles Sammarone said he’s “prepared, excited and looking forward to” being the city’s next mayor.
The city charter calls for the council president to succeed the mayor if the latter resigns. Mayor Jay Williams is resigning, effective Aug. 1, to become the executive director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, also called the auto czar.
That means Sammarone will serve the rest of Williams’ term, which expires Dec. 31, 2013.
Williams has discussed the possible move with White House officials for close to a year with an announcement made Wednesday.
“It didn’t look like it would happen a few months ago, so I haven’t really thought about” being mayor and the responsibilities that go with it, Sammarone said. “This surprised me. I’m prepared to deal with [various issues] even though I haven’t thought about them from a mayor’s perspective.”
As for a 2013 mayoral run, Sammarone said he’s “99 percent sure it’s no. But you never say, ‘No.’ There’s always that 1 percent chance.”
Sammarone, 68, added: “I’m not getting any younger.”
Council members said the city is fortunate to have Sammarone, who has extensive city government experience, as Williams’ successor.
“It’s good to have someone step in who knows how the city operates,” said Councilman Michael Ray, D-4th. “There’s a comfort level with Chuck as mayor.”
Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, said Sammarone “knows what we deal with every day” and he is “looking forward to working with” the incoming mayor.
Sammarone has criticized the administration at times for not including city council in some key decisions. Now that he’s going to be the city government’s top administrator, Sammarone said his philosophy on the subject won’t change.
“Government is supposed to be checks and balances, especially with finances,” he said. “I will definitely include council. They’re supposed to be responsible for the finances of government and know what’s happening.”
Though members of council are pleased to have Sammarone as mayor, many of them have no interest in succeeding him as council president.
Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, as council president pro tem, is supposed to be named council president if the council president becomes mayor, according to the city charter.
Swierz, a former council president, said, “At this juncture, I don’t want to run citywide again for president of council. I’m satisfied where I’m at now. I might go in another direction in the future. Who knows?”
Swierz plans to resign as council president pro tem to avoid being named president.
Councilmen Jamael Tito Brown, D-3rd, and Ray said they aren’t interested in the job and don’t know of any member of council who wants the presidency.
Drennen said he’s “leaning towards no right now. I’m focused on the tasks at hand as a councilman. [Being council president is] not at the top of my list.”
One reason for the lack of interest is five of the seven council members are running unopposed in the November general election for four-year terms that pay $27,817 annually. The other two face opposition from political newcomers.
The council president appointment expires Dec. 31, 2013, so the incumbent would have to run for the seat in about 2 1/2 years. Council president, a job that pays $300 more a year than a council seat, is a nonvoting position, and those seeking the job must run citywide.
“Everybody’s there for four years, so I can understand” the lack of interest, Sammarone said.
City Law Director Iris Torres Guglucello said she isn’t sure how the council president position would be filled if no one on council wants the job. She said she’d have to research state law on the issue.
Sammarone and Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, who’s an attorney, said they believe the party’s precinct committee members from Youngstown likely would get to make the appointment if no council member wants the job, but the matter needs further research.
Sammarone, a retired schoolteacher and administrator, was first elected as a city councilman in the 5th Ward in 1983.
After serving six years, he was elected president of council. He served in that capacity for a little more than 12 years. He resigned in March 2002 to serve as water commissioner under then-Mayor George M. McKelvey. Sammarone was elected in November 2005 to a four-year term as council president. That was the same election that saw Williams elected as mayor.
Sammarone was re-elected council president in November 2009.
Sammarone will have a lot on his plate when he takes over as mayor Aug. 1. He said he plans to sit down shortly with Williams to discuss all the issues.
Sammarone said he’ll be responsible for making the final decisions but is willing to listen to Williams’ advice.
Sammarone said he also will speak to all department heads before he’s sworn in as mayor.
When asked about changes to the mayor’s cabinet, Sammarone said, “I don’t know. I don’t see any drastic changes. Will there be changes? There could be.”