By David Skolnick
John McNally IV and Jamael Tito Brown, the two leading Democratic candidates for mayor, answered questions about downtown, regionalization, the city’s school district and what Youngstown will look like in 2020 during a Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber debate.
Brown, city council president, said downtown needs signage as to where to park and better exterior lighting, adding he’s “concerned walking on streets without good lighting.”
McNally, a former Mahoning County commissioner and city law director, said downtown streets need to be cleaner and when it snows, the sidewalks need to be shoveled.
“I’m not afraid to walk in downtown Youngstown; it’s the safest place in our city,” he said.
Both praised the impact the city-owned Covelli Centre has on downtown.
Friday’s chamber event, at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Banquet Hall, was the second Democratic mayoral debate. The primary is May 7.
Matthew Smith, a third candidate in Democratic primary who struggled during the first mayoral debate March 21, did not attend the chamber event.
When asked Friday about the No. 1 issue facing the city, Brown said it’s jobs.
The city needs to be more aggressive marketing the city’s benefits — a low cost of living, a strong workforce, and the various arts and entertainment offerings — to help with job growth and retention.
“We do it, but not well enough,” he said.
McNally said the top issue is improving the neighborhoods.
“We need to have a focus on all of the wards and all of Youngstown,” he said. “We’ve talked about it for 15 years, but we need to focus on the neighborhoods.”
What would the city be like in the year 2020?
Brown said he wants “vibrant neighborhoods” in which people “feel safe in [their] neighborhood, safety is critical,” as well as a “focus on the quality of life” issues. He also suggested surveillance cameras in neighborhoods to monitor crime.
McNally said by 2020 he wants 6,000 vacant homes demolished, grass cut on vacant land, neighborhoods with “people who want to be with each other,” a “vibrant downtown,” Youngstown State University students living downtown, for the city to be a “college town,” and for Youngstown to regain “its foothold as the hub of a three-county area.”
Neither, however, provided details about how any of that could be accomplished, the cost and how the city could obtain the money needed to implement the concepts.
Both candidates agreed that the city must partner with the surrounding communities to improve the Mahoning Valley. Both added that joint economic development districts — in which the city provides infrastructure, such as water pipelines, in exchange for sharing income tax with the suburbs — have to be done with the cooperation of the other communities and not forced on them in order to succeed.
As for regionalization, McNally pointed to the city’s recent consolidation of its building department into the county’s department, and said the same could be done with information technology departments and planning.
The city and county should merge its emergency 911 facilities, and “anything that better serves the city and county” should be considered, Brown said.
The two were asked if the mayor should be more involved with the school district.
Both said the mayor “needs to be at the table” regarding important school issues, but neither favored a mayoral takeover of the district.