Regardless of how you cut it, John A. McNally IV’s 150-vote margin of victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Youngstown mayor was an embarrassment. McNally, the endorsed Democratic Party candidate and former Mahoning County commissioner, should have rolled over the other credible contender in the race, city council President Jamael Tito Brown.
Not only did McNally have a huge advantage monetarily — as of mid-April he had raised $107,953 to Brown’s $30,277 — but he had a proven track record as a campaigner.
McNally, who had served as law director for the city, won the Democratic nomination in the 2004 primary for commissioner with 50 percent of the vote. He defeated a well-known Democrat, Atty. Mark Belinky, and Beth Stanko.
He won re-election in 2008, which was after he had voted against the relocation of the county Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place (formerly South Side Medical Center), but before criminal charges were filed against him and others.
The charges, triggered by the so-called Oakhill Renaissance controversy, included racketeering and bribery.
They were filed by the state after a two-year review of boxes of documents and investigations by various law enforcement agencies.
In addition to McNally, the defendants included Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co., and county Auditor Michael Sciortino.
However, the charges were dropped by the state after the federal government refused to hand over the results of 2,000 hours of FBI surveillance of Cafaro and others involved in the Oakhill scandal.
The special state prosecutors reserved the right to file charges at a later date.
And that became an issue in Tuesday’s primary contest between McNally and Brown.
The former county commissioner was given the opportunity on several occasions to demonstrate to voters that he understands the frustration of area residents with the never-ending incidents of government corruption.
McNally was asked the following question by this writer twice, once during a debate sponsored by the 7th Ward citizens group and then during his appearance on Vindy radio, which is streamed live on The Vindicator’s website, www.vindy.com.
“If charges are refiled against you by the state or the federal governments, will you give up your campaign for mayor, or if you are the mayor, will you step down?”
McNally answered thus: “No and no.”
That was a mistake.
The Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate was surprisingly tone deaf about the public’s response to the Oakhill scandal. Many honest, hardworking residents find power-broker politics abhorrent.
It is this writer’s belief that had McNally said publicly he would step aside if charges were refiled, his margin of victory Tuesday would have been much larger than 150 votes.
The outcome of the primary election appears to have shaken the county Democratic Party. Consider this statement from Chairman David Betras when the results were announced:
“MCDP [Mahoning County Democratic Party] is prepared to devote ‘considerable’ resources to its standard-bearer’s general election campaign.
John ran an exemplary race and his victory is well-deserved. He stayed positive throughout the contest, assembled a broad-based coalition of supporters ... .”
“Considerable resources?” What does Betras call $107.953 McNally had in mid-April?
“Broad-based coalition of supporters?”
McNally received 3,292 votes, while Brown garnered 3,142.
Although there isn’t a Republican candidate, the nominee will face several challengers who are running as independents, including DeMaine Kitchen, chief of staff/secretary to Mayor Charles Sammarone, and former police Chief Jimmy Hughes. Kitchen and Hughes are black.
Chairman Betras will be put to the test because there already is talk about persuading one of the two leading challengers to drop out. If both stay in, McNally will have the advantage.