Jamael Brown gets our nod in Youngstown mayoral race

The two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor of Youngstown agree on most of the major issues confronting the urban city, which means voters have to look at other aspects of the race to make a decision.

To us, pertinent experience would be the deciding factor, and in that regard, Jamael Tito Brown, the president of Youngstown City Council, has the advantage over John McNally, a former Mahoning County commissioner.

Here’s the bottom line: Brown has been directly involved in city government since 2008 and before that was a member of the Youngstown City School Board for four years. McNally has been away from city government since 2005, when he was sworn in as county commissioner. Prior to that, he served as the law director and assistant law director for the city for six years.

There is a third candidate in the race for the Democratic Party nomination in Tuesday’s election, Matthew Smith. He previously ran for the First Ward council seat. Smith’s candidacy defies comprehension.

Thus, the choice is between Brown and McNally.

Both candidates have a clear understanding of the problems that confront Youngstown: a shrinking, aging, population; deteriorating neighborhoods; an unacceptably high crime rate; and an uncertain economic future due to a stagnant income tax base. Add to those the academically challenged Youngstown city schools system, and it’s a given that the next mayor will not have the luxury of a learning curve.

We have no doubt that either Brown or McNally would be able to hit the ground running, but when we balance both candidacies, we come away with the belief that Brown is better equipped to guide Youngstown through these challenging times.

On the front lines

“I know what it takes to shut down a drug house, to remove a blighted property, and improve the quality of life issues,” he wrote in the questionnaire sent by The Vindicator to the candidates. Being in the legislative branch, first as a ward councilman and now as president of council, means he is on the front lines of the battle to keep Youngstown from imploding.

Brown’s understanding of the tensions that exist in the high-crime neighborhoods is reflected in his proposal for “neighborhood precincts,” which would be located in storefronts and fire stations, to provide a police presence and cut down on response time.

His pledge to conduct town hall meetings in the wards on a regular basis is also a recognition on his part that a large number of city residents aren’t able to attend council meetings, which necessitates government being taken to the people.

This is not a new idea and in the past there have been attempts to decentralize city government, but today’s reality requires the practice to become standard operating procedure.

On the issue of crime, McNally proposes the expansion of the Youngstown Community Initiative to Reduce Violence program, the creation of a county wide re-entry program for released felons in the community, and support for the continued delivery of mental health services and drug court programs.

McNally does earn points for suggesting that the entry ways into the city need to be upgraded and spruced up so visitors will get a positive impression of Youngstown. We have long advocated such an initiative, and would urge the next mayor to make the appearance of the community a top priority.

Past problems

There is an issue in this election that has been raised by reporters and by Brown that cannot be swept under the rug. It involves the state criminal charges that were filed against McNally, as commissioner, and other county officials pertaining to the relocation of the county Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on the East Side to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place, formerly South Side Medical Center complex.

The charges were subsequently dropped, but they could be refiled either by the state or the federal government.

Asked if he would abandon his fall campaign or step down as mayor if charges were filed again, McNally has responded with an unequivocal “no.”

Voters must decide if this issue is a political deal breaker.

We make our endorsement in this race on the basis of each candidate’s qualifications and experience in city government. One has been dealing with city residents’ concerns on a daily basis for many years, while the other has been away from city government for eight years.

The Vindicator endorses Jamael Tito Brown for the Democratic nomination for Youngstown mayor.

The winner of the primary will face several independent candidates in the November general election. No Republican has filed to run for the top post in city government.

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