By David Skolnick
The Mahoning County Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally for re-election with the incumbent addressing his criminal convictions in his nominating speech.
McNally defeated Jamael Tito Brown, a former council president and 3rd Ward councilman, 56-17 in a Saturday vote of the party’s central and executive committee members from the city.
McNally, seeking his second term, said, “Hopefully this moves us forward in the May 2 primary and into the fall [election]. The election will be won by going door to door.”
Before the vote, a motion to not endorse was defeated with Brown and his supporters among those who backed it.
Endorsements “further divide the party when we have two qualified candidates,” said Brown, who lost the 2013 primary to McNally by 142 votes.
McNally pleaded guilty in February 2016 to four misdemeanors: two counts of falsification, and one count each of unlawful use of a telecommunications device and attempted disclosure of confidential information.
He was given one year’s probation in March 2016 and allowed to remain in office. He was facing 18 felonies and seven misdemeanors when he took the deal.
McNally was accused of being part of a criminal enterprise that conspired to illegally stop or impede the relocation of the county’s Job and Family Services Department from a building owned by a subsidiary of the Cafaro Co. to Oakhill, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center. McNally was a county commissioner when the county, over his objections, purchased Oakhill in 2007.
The convictions relate to McNally illegally faxing the county’s confidential offer July 13, 2006, to buy Oakhill to attorneys at Ulmer & Berne, a Cleveland law firm that represented Anthony Cafaro Sr., former head of his family-owned Cafaro Co. shopping-center business.
During his nomination speech, McNally acknowledged his plea and that he was punished for his crimes.
“The Oakhill matter hasn’t stopped our city from moving forward,” he said.
McNally said the crime rate is down since he took office, Youngstown is “physically cleaner,” improvements are being made to parks, a new municipal court is under construction, an amphitheater will be built, and streets are being resurfaced.
“Progress is being made across the city,” he said.
The party also endorsed Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, for council president, and city Magistrate Anthony Sertick for municipal court judge. Clerk of Courts Sarah Brown-Clark, who is running unopposed, was unanimously endorsed.
The endorsements left hard feelings with some local black leaders who noted African-American candidates for mayor, council president and judge lost.
“This is Youngstown; race is always an issue,” said the Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church. “There’s two Youngstowns. That’s the problem.”
When asked to respond, county Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said, “I always believe there’s room for the party to grow. It is my hope that the party is inclusive.” He added that he “understands the frustrations” about black candidates not getting endorsed.
Brown was noncommittal about race as an issue in the endorsement process saying, “You’ve got to make that decision yourself.”
Ray captured 42 votes to win the council president endorsement. DeMaine Kitchen, a former chief of staff to the mayor and 2nd Ward councilman, finished second with 16 votes. Ex-Council President John R. Swierz was third with 13 votes and political newcomer Young Tensley was last with two votes.
Cynthia McWilson also is a Democratic candidate for council president, but she couldn’t attend because of a work commitment.
“My track record speaks for itself,” said Ray, the longest tenured member of city council. “We need people with energy. This is a different Youngstown than years ago. We need to keep moving forward.”
Sertick received the municipal court endorsement with 45 votes to 27 for Carla Baldwin, a county juvenile court magistrate.
Also, central and executive committee members made endorsements in the races for Struthers Municipal Court judge, council at large and 1st and 2nd Wards.
It took three votes, but James E. Lanzo, son of the current judge, beat city Law Director Dominic R. Leone III 17-16 for the municipal court endorsement. Jamie Dunn didn’t receive enough votes after the second round to remain in the running.
Four candidates are running for three at-large council seats. Newcomer Anne M. Wilson, a Struthers educator, captured the most votes with five. Also endorsed were incumbents Michael S. Patrick with four votes and Joseph Rudzik received a single vote. The only candidate not endorsed was Dallas A. Bigley, who received no votes.
In council’s 1st Ward, incumbent Tony Fire was, by chance, the only precinct committee member out of three in the ward to attend the meeting. He won the endorsement by voting for himself over Lori Billet Greenwood.
Carol A. Crytzer, the incumbent 2nd Ward councilwoman, won the endorsement 3-0 over Ron Carcelli, who sought the nomination but didn’t attend the meeting.
Struthers committee members also unanimously endorsed unopposed candidates in other city races.