In keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season, this writer offers his congratulations to Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally for receiving the key to the city. After all, McNally, who will be leaving office at the end of the year, has blazed a political trail that will not be replicated any time soon.
Congratulations are also in order for Finance Director David Bozanich, who is departing after more than three decades with a record that puts him in a class all his own.
The keys to the city were presented last week by city council to the two top officials of the outgoing administration.
To hear some lawmakers tell it, McNally and Bozanich have distinguished themselves as public servants and, therefore, are deserving of recognition.
“I think the new administration has some big shoes to fill,” said Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th, about the new mayor, Jamael Tito Brown, who will take office Jan. 1.
Brown, a former member of city council and Youngstown Board of Education, won this year’s mayoral race by defeating McNally in the May Democratic primary, then barely holding off a challenge in the Nov. 7 general election from independent Sean McKinney, former commissioner of buildings and grounds. There were two other independent candidates in the race.
McKinney has filed a complaint in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court claiming there was widespread “election fraud with many irregularities.” He lost by 201 votes.
Democratic Councilwoman Basia Adamczak of the 7th Ward said she fully supports McKinney’s call for a new election because, “We just need to make sure things are done right, so that at the end of the day when we do have a new mayor that things are done fairly.”
There are six words in Adamczak’s statement that apply to Mayor McNally and Finance Director Bozanich: “ … make sure things are done right.”
So, let’s examine the records of the two top city officials to figure out why city council rewarded them with keys to the city.
McNally has the distinction of being the only mayor in the history of Youngstown to boast a criminal record.
On Feb. 26, 2016, the Democratic officeholder pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges: two counts of falsification and one count each of attempted unlawful use of a telecommunications device and attempted disclosure of confidential information.
The charges relate to his participation in a criminal enterprise while he was a Mahoning County commissioner. The enterprise was the brainchild of prominent Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., who sought to block county government’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center.
Two of McNally’s colleagues, commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, had announced they would move the county’s Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance.
Cafaro, the retired president of the Cafaro Co. who has long contributed financially to political campaigns, corralled McNally and other county officials to be a part of the enterprise.
Cafaro was given a pass by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in the corruption case, even though state prosecutors identified him in court documents as the mastermind of the criminal enterprise.
In addition to McNally, two others bit the dust: former county Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown attorney Martin Yavorcik.
Despite pleading guilty – and receiving a tap-on-the-wrist sentence from Judge Janet Burnside in Cuyahoga County – McNally refused to resign as mayor.
Indeed, his decision to seek re-election while sporting a criminal record has assured him a place in the annals of Youngstown politics.
That, in and of itself, is worthy of a “Key to the City of Youngstown.” After all, he has unlocked the door to government corruption being acceptable behavior by elected officials.
But McNally’s history-making doesn’t end there.
He has the distinction of being only the second mayor in the past 50 years to lose a re-election bid.
In November 1969, Republican Jack C. Hunter defeated Democratic incumbent Anthony B. Flask in an election that roiled the political waters in the predominantly Democratic city.
Hunter defeated Flask, a prominent city politician, by more than 3,500 votes of the 45,000 votes cast. In so doing, Hunter also pulled in a Republican majority in city council.
The Stop 5 steelworker riots weighed heavily on Flask’s re-election bid, just as the criminal conviction played a major role in McNally’s defeat in May.
Having the distinction of being only the second mayor in almost half a century to be denied another term does make McNally deserving of a “Key to the City of Youngstown.”
Likewise, his finance director, Bozanich, who has handled the city’s books for more than a decade, has distinguished himself by being a target of a criminal investigation.
Investigators with the office of Ohio Auditor David Yost are looking into several downtown development projects launched by Mahoning Valley developer Dominic Marchionda.
Marchionda has pleaded not guilty to more than 100 criminal charges relating to his use of public dollars in the projects.
In the criminal indictment handed up by a Mahoning County grand jury, prosecutors with Ohio Attorney General DeWine’s office allege that Marchionda paid Bozanich $25,000 to gain city approval for one of the projects.
Bozanich has denied any wrongdoing, but the word from Auditor Yost’s office is that a criminal indictment of the finance director is imminent.
It’s evident, therefore, why he would be so deserving of a key to the city. He went that extra mile to make sure that the renaissance of downtown Youngstown is umimpeded.
There’s another reason Bozanich’s departure should be heralded. As the city’s chief financial officer, he has projected a $2.5 million to $3 million deficit in the general fund.
Bozanich and McNally knew that the red ink was building in the city’s ledger, but they decided to let the new mayor, Brown, and members of his administration deal with the teetering budget.
Unless there’s a miracle, Mayor Brown will have to confront the reality of layoffs.
Talk about a Christmas present from one administration to the next. Ho! Ho! Ho!