Crime, housing demolition must top new mayor’s list

When John McNally IV is sworn in as mayor of Youngstown on Jan. 1, the promises he made on the campaign trail will be expected to form his agenda. Residents will be looking to the new administration to quickly tackle the myriad problems contributing to the city’s decline.

We would hope that crime and housing demolition are given top billing because they not only affect the quality of life in Youngstown but play on the psyche of the residents. Each homicide, each robbery, each house invasion and each dilapidated structure adds to the long-standing reputation that the city is unsafe and is crumbling.

Outgoing Mayor Charles Sammarone, who will take over as city council president come January, has spent the last two years and three months dealing with the issue of crime.

Sammarone, who was council president when he took over the mayor’s job after Jay Williams left to join the Obama administration in 2011, has not been reluctant to seek the assistance of state and federal law- enforcement agencies in the Youngstown Police Department’s aggressive crackdown on drug gangs and other lawbreakers.

McNally, former city law director and former county commissioner, is well aware of what the illegal drug trade has done to the inner city neighborhoods. But, a recent rash of robberies around Youngstown State University — and one incident on campus — have students on edge and the new president, Dr. Randy Dunn, calling for a concerted effort by law enforcement to address the security concerns of the university community.

Public acknowledgement

It is significant that Dunn, who became president on July 15, is willing to publicly talk about crime in the vicinity of the campus. Previous presidents were reluctant to publicly discuss safety issues because they did not want to cause students, especially those from the suburbs, and their parents to rethink their decision to attend Youngstown State.

“The crime issue right now has to be dealt with,” Dunn told The Vindicator recently. He said he had spoken to many students, parents and community members about the issue, and also has talked to YSU Police Chief John Beshara.

The president said he wants to ensure that patrols and placement of officers are being administered to try to prevent more occurrences.

Dunn’s concerns were triggered by the spate of off-campus robberies — city police arrested a 17-year-old for those crimes — and the robbery of a female student by two juveniles while she was in her car in the Lincoln Avenue parking deck on campus.

Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley has responded with a show of force on the North Side, while the mayor has made it clear that the safety of YSU’s students is a top priority.

McNally, who has already begun laying the groundwork for when he takes office, is undoubtedly aware that the decline in college enrollment has a major economic impact on the city.

Thus, the issue of crime must remain on the front burner.

Likewise, the demolition of the 3,000 or so dilapidated houses in the city will require his undivided attention.

That said, we aren’t prepared to buy into McNally’s approach, outlined during his meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board, that envisions “some form of civil disobedience” against the federal government.

The former law director expressed frustration at the legal hurdles erected by Washington that prevent the tearing down of uninhabitable structures on a block-by-block basis.

The federal government could punish the city financially for disregarding environmental standards that must be met for the removal of asbestos.

We believe McNally would be better off meeting with former Mayor Williams, who is now with the Obama administration, and seeing if the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations can be waived.

The mayor-elect is right to be impatient, but there is nothing to be gained by taking on the federal government.

City schools

On Tuesday night, after the vote count showed him to be the winner in the six-candidate race, McNally talked about reaching out to Dr. Connie Hathorn, superintendent of the Youngstown City School District, and Bishop George Murry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, who oversees the city’s Catholic schools, and to Gov. John Kasich presumably to find ways of boosting public education in Youngstown.

The school system continues to struggle academically and financially, and during the campaign McNally said he wanted to take a more aggressive role in helping the district turn things around.

We were intrigued by his failure to mention Sammarone, who easily won his race.

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