By DAVID SKOLNICK | firstname.lastname@example.org
It would be challenging to find a greater contrast between Jay Williams, Youngstown’s first black mayor, and Charles Sammarone, a longtime old-school politician who succeeded him a year ago.
When first elected mayor in 2005, Williams had five years of government experience as Youngstown’s Community Development Agency director. But he made the most of that time as CDA director, garnering attention as a chief architect of Youngstown 2010, an ambitious though largely unrealized vision of making changes to the city as its population shrinks.
The plan placed Williams in the spotlight and helped him win the mayoral race.
During his 51⁄2 years as mayor, Williams, an articulate and charismatic speaker, delivered speeches all over the country on the 2010 plan, garnering attention from national and international media. He also attracted the interest of the President Barack Obama administration, which wooed Williams away from Youngstown to a federal
position in Washington, D.C.
In comparison, Sammarone spent 28 years in city government as a councilman, council
president and water commissioner before succeeding Williams as mayor on Aug. 1, 2011.
Sammarone was known for demanding accountability from city workers, a focus on constituent service, often using sports terms to describe government and sometimes shooting from the hip.
During his time as mayor — it will be one year Wednesday — Sammarone has lived up to that reputation.
“When I became mayor, I thought the biggest issue was the lack of accountability” of city workers, Sammarone said. “It turns out I was right. I base a lot of my thought process on athletics because I participated and coached. You either produce, or you sit on the bench and get cut.”
That has meant letters of reprimand for some department heads, and what Sammarone calls management training with him teaching some supervisors “on a daily basis” how to run their offices.
“I’m trying to change attitudes,” he said. “That’s a long and hard process. It’s one of the hardest things you have to do. Not everyone
in city government, but some government workers have a tendency to do enough just to get by rather than make the best decision. We have to be proactive, and not just be reactive to complaints.”
The mayor’s effort to increase accountability — he’s planning to require city employees use time clocks, each city-owned car will have GPS tracking systems, and he wants to create a one-stop complaint department for those not happy with city services — is
receiving praise from community activists.
“I like his approach to city workers as far as accountability,” said Christine Silvestri, vice president of the Boulevard Park Block Watch on the South Side. Police Chief Rod Foley, who the mayor hired in his first month in
office, and “Sammarone are willing to listen and give us answers. He’s had a hands-on approach and he knows what’s going on.”
Also, Sammarone has focused on code enforcement, something he says has been largely ignored for several years.
The city will have a website in place shortly that allows residents to follow the progress — or lack thereof — of houses in violation of code-enforcement laws or on the demolition list,
But Sammarone won’t see the website.
Why? Because he doesn’t use computers, including the one sitting on his desk in the mayor’s office.
“I haven’t turned it on since I got here,” Sammarone said. “I’m an old-school guy. If I want to talk to someone and have real communication with them, I talk to them face-to-face.”
Following in Williams’ footsteps on demolishing vacant structures, Sammarone made sure the city set aside $1 million for housing demolitions that will be spent in addition to
$1 million the city will receive through a special state attorney-general program. Sammarone said he also wants to find another
$1 million in 2013 for demolition work.
“I like what he says about demolition, code enforcement and the organization of city government,” said Chris Travers, a member of the Youngstown Neighborhood Leadership Council and former president of the 7th Ward Citizens
“I and a few other people spoke with him on a couple of issues, and he took immediate action on our concerns. Even though he isn’t the warm and fuzzy and charismatic Mayor Jay [Williams], he gets things done, and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Sammarone also wants to save money by consolidating departments and services with Mahoning County. The city’s building inspections are being handled by the county as the two
entities move to make that effort permanent. Next is a consolidation of the building departments, followed possibly by health departments and emergency 911 dispatch centers, he said.
Sammarone hasn’t been hesitant to make changes.
He gutted the law department/prosecutor’s office. When Iris Torres Guglucello retired as law director 30 days after Sammarone became mayor, he promoted Anthony Farris to replace her and replaced all of the deputy and assistant law directors.
After firing Jay Macejko as prosecutor in April, fallout from a racist text message Macejko was accused of sending [which he denies], Sammarone also got rid of two assistant city prosecutors.
It was “not a difficult or hard decision to make” to get rid of Macejko, Sammarone said. “I told him to make sure you cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s, and don’t get me involved. He got me involved in an issue” and “I had to make a decision.”
Past Youngstown Mayors George M. McKelvey and Patrick Ungaro, who worked with Sammarone, gave the mayor high marks for the work he’s done the past year.
“He’s taking on a lot of issues and getting things done,” said Ungaro, Liberty Township administrator. “He’s active. He’s probably [not pleasing] a lot of workers, but he’s working hard for the people. He’s a
bottom-line guy, and he’s not going to take any [excuses] from anybody. He knows city government inside and out better than anyone.”
McKelvey, who appointed Sammarone as his water commissioner during his final four-year term, which ended in 2005, said, “I like his approach very much. A lot of people who I interact with in the community express to me they have the same feelings about him. He’s a no-nonsense mayor. He believes in holding people accountable. He’s service-oriented. I like his approach. As a citizen, I feel I’m better protected with him as mayor and I feel he makes my hometown a
better place to live.
Thomas Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said he appreciates the work Sammarone is doing.
“I trust him implicitly to get things done,” Humphries said. “I like working with people who are direct and get to the point and tell you his expectations. He’s a man of his word. Chuck’s done an exceptional job.”
The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church, said “Sammarone makes the departments accountable. Being a seasoned veteran, he is able to push his weight around. ... I have no complaints with Chuck’s leadership. I think he’s done well, but there’s always room for improvement in some areas,” such as “bringing in jobs and economic development.”
When Sammarone succeeded Williams, he said he was “99 percent sure” he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2013.
“People tell me I ought to stay,” he recently said. “It’s tough. My answer today is ‘I don’t think so.’ But I have a lot of time to make a decision. I like the challenge.”