By David Skolnick
The Democratic candidates for Youngstown mayor in the May 7 primary point to numerous challenges facing the city — crime, job creation and retention, blight, a continuing population decline and a struggling school system.
They all acknowledge the answers to these issues aren’t easy, but each says he can take the steps needed to improve the city if elected.
“There’s tremendous challenges ahead,” said John A. McNally IV, a former city law director and Mahoning County commissioner.
“All of these [issues] need [attention] and for there to be a sense of urgency.”
City Council President Jamael Tito Brown said, “We have to be leaner, smarter and continue to provide customer service. We need to hire people with multiple skills.”
The city needs to use focus on customer service with a “centralized switchboard” that can direct people to the right city workers to address their specific needs, Brown said.
SMITH NOT A ‘JOKE’
Matthew Smith, who last ran for public office in the 1980s and has a criminal record, says crime, specifically drug use, is destroying the city.
Smith, who has a 2002 drug-related misdemeanor conviction, contends “politicians are helping the drug trade.” When asked who, Smith said he didn’t know.
Smith said some people consider his candidacy a “joke,” but he’s sincere “about helping the city.”
Brown said the major issue facing the city is job creation and retention.
To help that effort, “the city needs to market itself better,” he said. “We need a marketing strategy to attract businesses.”
McNally said the top priorities are crime reduction, job creation and the elimination of blight.
“All of these things have to be focused on with a sense of urgency,” he said. “These things need to start getting done. There needs to be more proactive efforts on all these different fronts to improve our city.”
The city is considering hiring a firm to handle planning services, McNally said.
But that’s not enough, he said.
“We don’t need one planner, we need like six or 10 planners,” he said.
“We all know there’s neighborhoods on every side of town, every ward in town, that need improved, that need the same attention that the Idora Neighborhood group is getting rightfully so. Good work is being done there. When it comes down to it, there needs to be an urgency, to focus on safety, to focus on increased economic opportunities, not only for residents, but for the businesses in our community.”
BROWN ON INCENTIVES
Brown said as mayor, he would offer economic incentives to have businesses expand and locate in Youngstown.
That involves revolving loans to existing businesses in the city for upgrades and improvements, Brown said. That’s something that currently exists through the Youngstown/Small Business Association Initiative.
To fight crime, Brown said, the city police department needs to have a greater presence in neighborhoods that would allow officers to react more quickly to crime, and they could build better relationships between residents and officers.
Demolition of vacant rundown houses will be a priority to them, if elected, Brown and McNally said.
But cleaning up houses that don’t need major rehabilitation will be a priority, Brown said.
Brown and McNally said the mayor’s office needs to be involved in the city school district, but they don’t want to see the mayor take over the school system.
Brown, a former city school board member, said the “mayor needs to have a seat at the table. You make sure you sit down with the superintendent. It’s more of a partnership.”
McNally agrees, saying, “The mayor needs to be more proactive in the school system.”
The winner of the May 7 Democratic primary would move on to the November general election to face independent candidates. Independents have until May 6 to file.
OTHER YOUNGSTOWN RACES
Also, Mayor Charles P. Sammarone is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for council president, a seat he had until the August 2011 resignation of then-Mayor Jay Williams. Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly, first appointed to the seat in 2000 to fill a vacancy and then elected in 2001 and 2007, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for another six-year term.
The Green Party has a competitive primary for council president between Susie Beiersdorfer and Terrance P. Esarco.