By DAVID SKOLNICK
Incoming Mayor Charles Sammarone describes himself as “no nonsense” and someone not interested in “excuses when we have a problem.”
Beginning Monday, the longtime city council president inherits a lot of responsibilities and a lot of challenges when he becomes mayor.
Problems include crime, vacant
houses, filling key positions in the mayor’s cabinet, an aging infrastructure, high unemployment, cuts in state funding, a struggling economy, a declining population, business attraction and neighborhood stabilization, and dozens of other issues.
Though he’ll be the city’s top public official, Sammarone, 68, said he finds it strange that people will call him
“I’m more of an informal guy — I’m Chuck,” he said, adding that he’s going to have to get used to wearing a tie.
While praising the job outgoing
Mayor Jay Williams has done for the past 51⁄2 years, Sammarone said he “won’t be a caretaker.”
Williams is resigning to be the
executive director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers in the President Barack Obama
administration. The city charter calls for the council president to automatically succeed the mayor if the
Though he will serve the remainder of Williams’ term, which expires Dec. 31, 2013, Sammarone said he’s “99 percent”
positive he won’t run for re-election.
Mapping out his upcoming two-plus years term as mayor, Sammarone told The Vindicator he will demand “accountability” from those who work in city government.
“What I don’t want is excuses,” he said. “I don’t want to hear we can’t do something because of [a lack of] manpower. Don’t give me an excuse. I don’t want to hear that.”
If city employees, particularly administrators, aren’t accountable for their actions, they’ll no longer work for the city, he said.
His first priority as mayor is to hire a new police chief. Jimmy Hughes’ last day as police chief is Aug. 31.
Sammarone plans to talk this week with Law Director Iris Torres Guglucello, who will retire in about a month, and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, a nonprofit organization composed of police executives, to discuss the search for a new chief.
His relatively short time as mayor may make it difficult to “get a top-notch applicant” for the police chief job, Sammarone said.
The police chief is an “at-will” employee hired and fired at the sole discretion of the mayor. That could make police chief candidates who aren’t already city officers hesitant to come to Youngstown, he said.
Current officers are protected under civil-service law, and if the next mayor doesn’t retain the new chief, that person would return to his/her previous job on the force.
Some current officers, including Detective Sgt. Donald Scott, who also is an attorney, are interested in the police chief appointment.
Association officials “may say, ‘You won’t get a top-notch applicant for two years. Do it yourself,’” meaning finding someone already on the force, Sammarone said.
Sammarone said he may have the same issue with a law director, and may have to select someone already on staff to replace Guglucello.
Also, Sammarone likely will select this week someone to replace Jason Whitehead as the chief of staff/secretary to the mayor.
Though he doesn’t plan to make major changes to the city’s operations, Sammarone said he wants to cut spending. One example is conducting a review of city-issued cars to see if money can be saved in that area.
Councilman Jamael Tito Brown, D-3rd, who will succeed Sammarone as council president Monday, and Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, agree that Williams is more of an innovator while Sammarone is more pragmatic.
“Jay had more of a grand idea of what the city would be, and Chuck is focused on getting what needs to get done today,” Drennen said. “Chuck won’t be a placeholder. He’s got two-plus years, and he’ll do whatever is necessary to get things done.”
One isn’t better than the other, they added, noting Williams can be pragmatic and Sammarone can be innovative.
“He won’t be a guy sitting idling watching the clock go by,” Brown said of Sammarone. “Chuck is like, ‘OK, here’s what we can do today and let’s get it done while also looking at what is to be done in a year.’”
The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church on Hillman Street, said Williams was a “great mayor” who “helped change the image of the city.”
The Rev. Mr. Simon called Williams a “visionary.” Mr. Simon said that Sammarone is “a seasoned elected official” who will “maintain what we’ve achieved so far with Jay’s administration and prepare the city for the next mayor. He has a lot of knowledge to help prepare the next mayor and build on what Jay has done during his time as mayor.”
The Rev. Lewis Macklin, pastor of the Holy Trinity Baptist Church on Parkcliffe Avenue, said he is “not at all” concerned about Sammarone replacing Williams as mayor.
“Chuck is very fair, open, honest and transparent,” said the Rev. Mr. Macklin, a supporter of Williams. “I don’t feel reluctant or concerned that strides made during Jay Williams’ administration will disappear. Have we arrived? No. Are we close to that? Absolutely. [Williams] brought pride to the community. But we have leadership remaining in our community.”
Bill Binning, a former chairman of Youngstown State University’s political-science department and former Mahoning County Republican Party chairman, said the city is fortunate that Sammarone is replacing Williams.
“He knows so much about Youngstown city government,” Binning said. “There’s no learning curve. In this situation, the city needs someone like Chuck. You couldn’t find anyone better to fill out a two-year term. He’ll be an effective interim mayor. Youngstown is lucky that Chuck is there to replace Jay.”
Williams said he’s proud of what he and his administration accomplished in his 51⁄2 years in office.
During that time, the city landed a $650 million expansion project from V&M Star, one of the largest economic-development projects in the state, as well as demolished about 2,400 vacant homes, brought stability to the city-owned Covelli Centre and revitalized downtown. Also, the city was recognized nationally and internationally for its business environment and potential for job growth.
“I hope we raised the expectations of what government can accomplish,” he said. “The perception of Youngstown is changing.”
Williams said he’s not easily definable.
“I didn’t micromanage my department heads though some would say I was one of the most-involved mayors in what was going on,” he said. “I made sure things got done. As mayor, I’m so involved in many things. As for being hands-on, it depends on a person’s perspective.”