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Race for Youngstown mayor pits two hopefuls who clashed before

Friday, April 28, 2017

On the side

During a recent meeting with Heather Wilson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as secretary of the Air Force, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, highlighted the need to upgrade the C-130H planes at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna.

“The mission at YARS supports local jobs and keeps communities safe during emergencies and natural disasters,” said Brown, co-chairman of the Senate Air Force Caucus. “The men and women at YARS deserve the most up-to-date fleet possible, and I will work with Dr. Wilson, if confirmed, to bring these planes to the Mahoning Valley.”

The most compelling race on Tuesday’s ballot is the Democratic primary for Youngstown mayor.

It’s a rematch from four years ago between John A. McNally and Jamael Tito Brown. In the 2013 Democratic primary, McNally won by only 142 votes.

Since then, McNally went through a high-profile indictment and subsequent conviction on four misdemeanors related to his involvement in the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal.

In his capacity 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 Department of Job and Family Services from a building owned by a subsidiary of the Cafaro Co. to Oakhill, a former hospital.

The convictions, made through a plea deal, relate to McNally illegally faxing the county’s confidential offer to buy Oakhill to a law firm that represented Anthony Cafaro Sr., former head of the Cafaro Co.

McNally has said he’s “made mistakes,” and has “paid a price personally and professionally,” but voters aren’t “really worried about the Oakhill situation at this point.”

Brown said McNally should be “disqualified as an officeholder” because he violated the public trust by being convicted of crimes directly related to the performance of his public duties.

We’ll find out Tuesday what those voting in the Democratic primary in Youngstown believe.

Turnout for the primary is expected to be low just as it was in 2013.

Here are a few reasons why both candidates will win.

For McNally:

He’s done a good job keeping the struggling city afloat during his three-plus years as mayor.

Statistics show that major crimes have declined during McNally’s administration. Several of the city’s major corridors, which were largely ignored for years, have received much needed attention.

He’s raised about three times as much money as Brown leading to the primary.

Despite his convictions, McNally remains a popular figure in the city, and has the endorsement of the county Democratic Party.

For Brown:

He managed to come within 142 votes of McNally four years ago and that was before his opponent was indicted. Brown showed in 2013 that with less money and less name recognition, he could push McNally to the limit.

Brown has campaigned on a good-government platform saying that honesty and integrity are important. This should resonate with those concerned about McNally’s convictions.

Brown is focused on improving how the city handles job creation and has a number of ideas to increase employment opportunities for residents.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face opposition in the general election with at least two independents, as long as their nominating petitions are certified by the county board of elections, ready to challenge.

Former 6th Ward Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, who won twice as a Democrat and also unsuccessfully ran for an Ohio House seat as a Democrat, has been planning a run for months.

Also, Sean McKinney, who quit on the spot April 14 as the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner, is seeking the mayoral seat.

This would be McKinney’s first time running for elected office. While he’s spent more than 10 years as a city department head and is visible in the community, McKinney is going to have to do a lot to raise his profile to win the mayoral race.

McKinney is attempting to duplicate the strategy that led to Jay Williams, a close friend, winning the 2005 mayoral race as an independent in his first try running for an elected position.

The difference is Williams was better known than McKinney as the face of the Youngstown 2010 city revitalization plan that saw him speak in front of hundreds of people numerous times about the proposal.

The dynamics of a general election race will change depending on who wins the Democratic primary.

If McNally wins, his convictions will still be a campaign issue.

McKinney told me earlier this week that while he doesn’t want to talk about McNally’s criminal past, he did just that.

“Leadership and integrity are critical, [and] they’re lacking in the current” administration, McKinney said.