When Jay Williams first took office as Youngstown’s mayor in 2006, I wrote a column imploring the city’s residents, particularly its black residents, to do whatever they could to ensure that Williams’ first mayoral term would be successful.
I called for a severe reduction in black-on-black crime. I urged black folks to clean up our neighborhoods and properly maintain our properties.
I asked black parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and guardians to partner with Youngstown City Schools teachers and administrators to improve the school system.
Finally, I urged the black community to eliminate littering. I had driven along many of the city’s East Side streets and saw bags of trash, sofas, tires and other unsightly items lining those thoroughfares.
The column’s purpose was to challenge the city’s black community to do all it could to ensure that Williams’ first mayoral term would be successful.
I received several emails and letters chastising me for “my racist comments.” One letter writer questioned why I didn’t write a column calling for these positive changes when white men were sitting in the city’s highest elected office.
Certainly I was baffled that a columnist who writes a minority-affairs column would be bashed for challenging those in his community to do the right thing.
Well, John A. McNally now is the mayor of Youngstown, and my challenge to my community remains the same: Let’s work together to make sure the mayor can do his job to enhance Youngstown’s reputation and pave the way for a brighter future.
McNally recently said, “Youngstown has its rough edges, but it has great people in it. It has proud people. I look forward to picking up the pace and to make it a better place than it is now.”
The mayor wants to work with the schools to see what the city can do to help their performance.
He added he also would like to expand mental-health and substance-abuse treatment to reduce pressure on the court system.
And, like other mayors before him, McNally wants to try to make the city a favorable place for business ventures. Economic development is high on his priority list.
Those are all plans everyone should want to embrace.
What my critics fail to realize when I wrote the 2006 column was that before Williams’ victory, no black person had ever been elected mayor.
Not only did Williams run and win as an independent — a feat unheard of in Youngstown politics — but he also was one of the youngest people elected mayor of an urban city.
Those were accomplishments to be applauded and acknowledged, and Williams finally succeeded where other black politicians who desired the city’s top seat had failed.
The column was never meant to disparage any past mayor.
The issue of race continues to be the tie that unbinds, unfortunately. The era of political correctness has made discussing the dynamics of race tenuous at best.
If you are a white person and criticize a black person, you can be called a racist or bigot. If you are a black person who lauds or praises a white person, you can be called an “Uncle Tom” or a sellout.
What is giving me greater cause to pause about McNally, however, is I’m just not sure the cloud of a possible federal indictment is going to fade away.
This paper and other media outlets have reported that McNally, along with other officeholders and a prominent businessman, were charged by the state with conspiring to undermine the relocation of the Mahoning County Job and Family Services agency from the McGuffey Mall, owned by the Cafaro Co., to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, on Oak Hill Avenue.
Trial was set to begin when the state dropped the charges because the FBI would not share the 2,000 hours of audio and video surveillance of at least one of the defendants in the state case, Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.
The charges can be re-filed.
How bad would it be for our city to have a sitting mayor indicted by the feds?
I guess McNally could still retain his job, but wouldn’t his ability to perform his mayoral duties be severely impacted as he prepared to defend himself in court?
Obviously, I wish our new mayor the best. I’ve known him for several years, and I know he loves this city.
The city charter, however, says the council president takes over as mayor if the sitting mayor cannot perform his duties for whatever reason.
That means council President Charles Sammarone, who already has served as mayor when Williams got the call from President Obama to come to Washington, D.C., in 2011, would again be mayor.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org