By DAVID SKOLNICK
Outgoing Mayor Jay Williams said he’s leaving Youngstown in better shape than it was before he took office in January 2006.
“There is work to be done, but we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.
Others contacted to sum up Williams' legacy
compliment his vision for the city but say there is more that needs to be accomplished.
The national recession has impacted the city’s
finances, but Youngstown has finished each of
Williams’ five full years as mayor in the black. Also, the city is projecting a modest surplus for this year.
During the more than 51⁄2 years of Williams’
administration, the city has reduced the number of employees by about 150 with only 18 of them — seven full-timers and 11 who worked part-time — through layoffs.
Among his proudest achievements, Williams said, is the city’s negotiations with V&M Star to locate a $650 million pipe-mill expansion near the company’s location on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“We’ve seen more sustained growth in the city by creating an environment for the private sector to come here,” Williams said.
The city’s economy “may not be what some people want, but without him it would have been a lot worse,” Council President Charles Sammarone said.
Williams is resigning as mayor Aug. 1 to become executive director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, effective a week later. The job is often referred to as the “auto czar.”
Williams will be replaced by Sammarone, as spelled out in the city’s charter.
During Williams’ time as mayor, the city’s downtown has enjoyed a renaissance with new businesses, restaurants and housing projects.
Also, major crime in the city declined during his tenure.
For example, the number of annual homicides dropped every year, except in 2007, from the previous year.
In 2005, the year before Williams took over as mayor, there were 34 homicides. There were 21 in 2010, and there have been just seven so far this year.
Though homicides have dropped, a few garnered national attention, including the murders of a pair of senior citizens in two separate South Side shootings, one in the parking lot of St. Dominic Church and the other a parishioner who was leaving the church. That parishioner’s wife also was seriously injured in the shooting.
Williams was quick to react to the murders, receiving assistance from state and federal law-enforcement officials to help crack down on crime.
He also ordered the demolition of 27 vacant houses near the church that were used for criminal activity.
“I’m pleased with the declining murder rate, but even one murder is one too many,” he said.
Williams also brought stability to the city-owned Covelli Centre.
When Williams took office, the center was managed by an outside company and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The mayor successfully negotiated an end to that contract and new deals with JAC Management of Struthers to run the center’s day-to-day operations and SMG of Philadelphia to serve as its management consultant.
Though the center doesn’t earn enough money to cover the debt the city incurred for building the center, it has ended the past two years with operational profits.
Williams, 39, gained national and international attention for Youngstown 2010, a land-redevelopment plan for the city that embraces its shrinking population.
The city shrunk significantly more than Williams had anticipated.
The U.S. Census Bureau said the city’s population declined by 18.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, going from 82,026 to 66,982. That’s the largest percentage decline among the state’s 25 most-populous cities.
When the 2010 population number came out in March, Williams called the population loss “shocking.”
Williams had expected the population to be around 72,000.
As the city’s Community Development Agency director, prior to becoming mayor, Williams was the face of the 2010 plan at a series of community meetings.
Despite the attention of the plan, which also helped launch Williams’ successful mayoral campaign, Youngstown 2010 has met with mixed results.
The report outlined plans for each of the city’s 31 neighborhoods. Progress in improving many of those neighborhoods is either slow-going or nonexistent.
“While we have an enormous amount of work needed, we’ve seen great progress” in some areas, such as the Idora Neighborhood and portions of the West Side, Williams said.
The mayor points out that since he took office in January 2006, 2,400 vacant and dilapidated homes were demolished and turned into green space as part of the Youngstown 2010 effort with about 140 more structures to be taken down this year.
The demolitions, likely more than during any other five-plus-year period in the city’s history, helped stabilize neighborhoods by removing blight and eliminating locations where illegal activity occurs, Williams said.
Phil Kidd, an activist who briefly worked for the city and is a community organizer for the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, said he moved to Youngstown seven years ago after reading articles in The Vindicator about the 2010 plan.
“I was impressed by Jay Williams,” Kidd said. “He’s a very talented and articulate person.”
Kidd worked on Williams’ winning 2005 mayoral campaign. Williams is the first black mayor in Youngstown and its first nonparty mayor since 1922. Williams was easily re-elected as a Democrat in 2009.
“What Jay Williams did was he was able to give a lot of hope and energy to the community,” Kidd said. “He inspired people to get involved with the city. From a political standpoint, he was a breath of fresh air and a break from the old political process.”
However, Kidd said he and others are frustrated that there is too much “unfinished business” from the 2010 plan.
“There could have been more focus” on implementation, he said, adding that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be mayor, and the job is a challenging one.
Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who spent five of her seven years on Youngstown council with Williams as mayor, said, “He was key in pursuing economic development projects. He brings strong value on economic development to the table.”
Regarding Youngstown 2010, Rimedio-Righetti said though “some things aren’t in place,” the mere fact that Williams had a “vision and a comprehensive plan” greatly benefits the area.
County Commissioner John McNally IV, who served as Youngstown’s law director when Williams was the head of the city’s CDA, said Youngstown 2010 will be at the top of Williams’ legacy list.
“I know people say he hasn’t pushed hard enough for it at times, but his vision as to how to deal with a shrinking community will be his legacy,” McNally said. “He deserves a lot of credit for putting the city on the right path.”
Sammarone, who will become mayor Aug. 1, said Williams, more than any other mayor, attracted national attention to Youngstown.
“He’s done a great job as far as I’m concerned,” Sammarone said. “The recognition he brought to the city and the work he did helping with economic development has been great.”