Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally touted the successes of his administration while Jamael Tito Brown, his Democratic primary challenger, said more improvement is needed.
The two faced off Monday in a 75-minute debate that aired live on Vindy.com and served as The Vindicator’s editorial board endorsement meeting with the candidates in advance of the May 2 primary election.
It was the first time the newspaper editorial board aired its endorsement meeting live. Viewers could watch the debate on Vindy.com and Facebook.
“Over the past three years [as mayor], we’ve done many things ... I promised would get done,” McNally said.
That includes reducing crime by 15 percent to 20 percent in most major statistics, making the city cleaner through the paving of about 200 roads and the demolition of about 1,100 houses, and making city hall more open and transparent.
If elected, Brown said Youngstown’s residents would “be my first and only priority. I’m not going to cave, compromise to money, power or politics.”
When asked about public trust, McNally acknowledged he “made mistakes” related to the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal that resulted in his pleading guilty February 2016 to four misdemeanors. During his time as a Mahoning County commissioner, McNally was accused of being part of a criminal enterprise that conspired illegally to stop the relocation of the county’s Job and Family Services Department from a building owned by a subsidiary of the Cafaro Co. to Oakhill, a former hospital.
“I’ve paid a price personally and professionally,” McNally said, maintaining he was trying to save taxpayers from a bad decision.
He added that voters aren’t “really worried about the Oakhill situation at this point.”
The two also responded to questions from The Vindicator panel about the Feb. 27 convictions of 25 city water employees and one former worker of falsifying their credentials for taking credit for a course they didn’t complete. The class allowed all but one of them to receive additional money from the city.
McNally’s administration reduced the salaries of all but one – that one didn’t receive bonus pay for taking the class.
Brown said he would have disciplined the workers who “violated the trust of Youngstown citizens” when they were indicted months earlier, including suspensions.
“More than anything, [voters want] honest government,” Brown said, adding that if he was mayor, behavior like that wouldn’t “be tolerated.”
McNally said the workers are good employees who “did something stupid.”
McNally also said: “I was not going to remove 26 workers. They are paying a personal price, and they’re paying a professional price.”
One twist to the issue is the workers’ instructor was Anthony Vigorito, a Mahoning Valley Sanitary District employee. Brown serves as an MVSD board director, appointed by McNally.
Vigorito is on paid administrative leave facing six felonies on charges of falsifying the training records.
Brown initially wanted to fire Vigorito but backed off when told by Tom Wilson, MVSD’s attorney, that was premature. Instead, Brown voted with the rest of the board to suspend Vigorito with pay.
“If [Brown] didn’t want to put a person on administrative leave, he could have simply voted no,” McNally said.
During the 2013 Democratic primary for the then-open seat, McNally beat Brown by only 142 votes.
The two answered a variety of questions asked by the newspaper panel Monday.
Regarding the city’s general-fund problems, which Finance Director David Bozanich said he expects likely will lead to a deficit next year, the candidates differed.
McNally said he expects an increase in tax collections while saving money by not filling all vacant positions in city government will go a long way toward avoiding a deficit.
Brown said every city department needs to look at how it can reduce its expenses, suggesting that the city doesn’t need a law director and a prosecutor, saying the two jobs can be done by one person. He also said the city needs to be more aggressive in marketing to attract businesses that offer jobs with livable wages to Youngstown residents.
The two disagreed on the proposed downtown amphitheater and riverfront park with Brown saying because of the weather it would be underutilized. He also said that rather than borrowing $4 million in federal money to help pay for the project, the funds should all come from private donations.
McNally said the amphitheater will be a true community asset used for church services and family reunions, among other events. He said it’s appropriate to borrow money from the federal Community Development Block Grant program to help pay for a part of the project.