By David Skolnick
All three candidates for Youngstown council president agree that the position as it currently exists isn’t necessary.
“I might be one of the few politicians in America who would support eliminating the position” he is seeking, said Chris Travers, an independent candidate for the seat. “I feel strongly it’s not necessary, but I’m running to change it from the inside. I can be a whole lot more effective in navigating change while in the position.”
Also running for the job is Democrat Charles Sammarone, the current mayor, and Susie Beiersdorfer, a Green Party candidate.
The three support a proposal last year by the charter review committee to select the president from the seven sitting council members. But city council chose not to put that proposal in front of voters.
Sammarone and Travers also support the charter review committee’s idea of a vice mayor who would run on a ticket with the mayor — as do the president and vice president of the United States — but that was also rejected by city council.
“Council chose not to put either on the ballot so the position [of president] is still on the ballot,” said Sammarone, who served in that position for 171/2 years.
Beiersdorfer said she didn’t have an opinion on the vice mayor proposal.
The city charter calls for council president to serve as mayor when that person is absent from the city or is unable to perform his duties, and automatically becomes mayor if the officeholder dies, resigns or is removed from office.
Since that charter amendment passed in 1933, the council president took over permanently as mayor one time — when Jay Williams resigned in August 2011 to join the President Barack Obama administration, and was replaced by Sammarone.
Other than that, the president runs city council meetings but doesn’t get a vote.
The job pays $28,117 annually, $300 more a year than members of council.
“As it stands now, you’re just running the public meeting,” Beiersdorfer said. “You can’t even introduce legislation.”
The three say the president’s job should be considered an at-large council position with the officeholder helping those who need assistance they may not get from their ward council member, and as an adviser to the mayor.
“As president, I serve as a middle man between the mayor and council,” Sammarone said. “I respond to complaints. I do what taxpayers want.”
“You can exert influence as council president,” Travers said. “You can expand it to being another advocate for citizens.”
Beiersdorfer said she is running, in part, because of “the frustration of not being listened to and heard by council” on fracking concerns.
Sammarone decided in January not to run for mayor and to seek election to his former position.
“To correctly manage government takes a lot of time, and at my age, I want to spend time with my family, especially my grandkids,” Sammarone said at the time. “As council president, you can manage your time better than as mayor. I want to stay in city government to continue my policies of accountability, pushing for improvements in the neighborhoods, including more demolitions, more consolidation with [Mahoning] County, and financial stability.”
Beiersdorfer and Travers said that comment was a key reason they decided to run for the post.
“Sammarone decided to run for council president because it was less of an impact on his time,” Travers said. “He wants to stay involved in the city but work less.”
“Sammarone is running because he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren,” Beiersdorfer said.
Sammarone said remaining mayor requires a “major commitment,” but with his years of experience, he has proven he can be an excellent council president without having to spend as much time as he would as mayor.