Saying 'no' isn't so hard

If Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally loses his re-election bid on May 2, he will have only himself to blame. McNally’s failure to say “no” to a very rich and influential individual may have cost him a chance to burnish his record as the city’s chief executive.

But even if he is successful in overcoming a challenge for the Democratic nomination from former Councilman Jamael Tito Brown, and ultimately winning the general election, he will still be “the mayor with the criminal record.” That’s a shame.

In truth, the shame should be borne by Mahoning Valley millionaire Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co., who treated McNally and other public officials as chattel.

Cafaro did not want Mahoning County government to buy the Oakhill Renaissance Place (the former Southside Medical Center) because two commissioners at the time, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, publicly stated that one of the occupants would be the county’s Job and Family Services agency. The JFS was housed in the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side for many, many years. The county had shelled out millions in rent.

McNally was a commissioner at the time and opposed the purchase of Oakhill Renaissance. But rather than just serve as the representative of the people, he let himself become a captive of Cafaro Sr.

The powerful shopping center developer shouted “Jump,” and McNally, former county auditor Michael Sciortino and other public officials replied “How high, sir?”

Sordid tale

Therein lies the plot of this sordid tale of government corruption. State prosecutors labeled the Cafaro scheme a “criminal enterprise.”

If only McNally had told Cafaro “Leave me the hell alone, I’m no one’s puppet.”

But he didn’t. Why? Because in the culture of the Mahoning Valley, being embraced by someone rich and famous is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Unfortunately, such captivity affects an individual’s psyche. It chisels away at one’s self-respect.

Cafaro Sr., whose family has a personal relationship with McNally, should have known that he was creating an untenable situation for the public officials when he lured them into his criminal enterprise.

McNally’s guilty plea to four misdemeanor charges stemming from his involvement in the scheme is even more significant because nothing has happened to the mastermind, Cafaro.

And so, McNally seeks re-election with a dark cloud hanging over his head.

A goodly number of his supporters and apologists for the wealthy businessman accuse this writer of beating a dead horse that is the Oakhill Renaissance scandal.

But it is worth noting that there was a similar reaction to this writer’s preoccupation with the late Valley Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.

Traficant spent almost eight years in federal prison after he was found guilty of 10 criminal charges of using his public position for personal gain.

McNally has paid a judicial penalty for his criminal conviction. It remains to be seen how he will be judged in the court of public opinion.

Here’s a question for the voters: Does having a mayor with a criminal record hurt Youngstown’s reputation?

The answer will be revealed May 2.

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