A year ago, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras demanded the resignation of Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally after he pleaded guilty to four criminal charges.
But McNally, a lawyer who admitted in court that he lied under oath, not only ignored Betras and stayed in office, but is seeking re-election this year to a second four-year term.
Sadly, a majority of the Democratic Party officials in the city of Youngstown appear to share McNally’s view that having a criminal record is no big deal.
He was endorsed Saturday in his re-election bid.
McNally was convicted for his participation in the highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy while he was a Mahoning County commissioner.
The mastermind of the conspiracy was identified in court documents as Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Cafaro Co. and a major contributor to political campaigns locally.
Cafaro corralled McNally and other county officials to do his bidding as he sought to derail county government’s purchase of Oak- hill Renaissance, the former Southside Medical Center.
Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt were pushing for the purchase, while McNally attempted to stop them.
Cafaro didn’t want the deal to go through because Traficanti and Ludt had publicly stated that they intended to move the county’s Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance.
The county subsequently bought the former hospital complex, and JFS was re-located.
McNally pleaded guilty to four state misdemeanor charges for his role in the criminal conspiracy, which prompted Democratic Chairman Betras’ demand:
“As I have said from the beginning, I believed Mayor McNally had the right to remain in office pending the disposition of the charges filed against him. In light of the fact that he today pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors related directly to his official duties as an elected official, I believe he should resign. At the very least, I believe he should not seek re-election when his term expires. If he does not, the voters will have their say when it comes time for his re-election.”
The party chairman sought to soften his verbal blow against one of the leading Democratic officeholders in the Mahoning Valley.
“I would note for the record that it would not be unprecedented for an elected official to remain in office after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges. Gov. Robert Taft, who pleaded no contest to and was subsequently convicted of four misdemeanors related to his failure to disclose that he accepted 52 gifts from lobbyists, chose not to resign and remained in office for the remainder of his term. While that precedent does exist, it is my hope that Mayor McNally resign.
“But I know the decision is ultimately his because he is not obligated to resign.”
It must be noted that McNally’s sins go beyond the criminal convictions that are now part of his resume.
He is an admitted liar. Granted, for a politician that may not be so unusual, but for an officer of the court lying under oath, it’s a cardinal sin.
It was a sin of commission
because during a deposition in the Oakhill Renaissance Place investigation, McNally took an oath as a lawyer and as an elected official to tell the truth. And then he blatantly lied.
So, how did this prominent elected official explain his behavior? He told Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Janet Burnside, who presided over the Oakhill case, that he lied because he was “cavalier and arrogant.”
Those two words aptly describe McNally’s attitude since he walked out of court with a criminal record.
Why would the mayor have no qualms about exposing himself to press scrutiny and opening himself up to criticism from his detractors and law-abiding residents of the city?
Because he is well aware that government corruption is as much a part of the Mahoning Valley’s identity as organized crime and the rusting edifices to its steel-making past.
Indeed, McNally’s securing the endorsement of a majority of the members of the Democratic Party’s central and executive committee from Youngstown is confirmation of just how low the area has sunk politically.
The mayor is facing one in the May Democratic primary: Jamael “Tito” Brown, a former member of council who ran against him four years ago and lost by about 400 votes.
McNally’s endorsement Saturday speaks volumes – about the sordid state of politics in this area.
But before rendering harsh judgment on the Democratic Party insiders, it should be noted that prior to being sentenced, McNally received letters of support from community and spiritual leaders in the Valley.
Thomas Humphries, chief executive officer of the Regional Chamber, described the mayor as “an honorable man, public leader and father and husband,” in his letter sent to Judge Burnside.
“His efforts have always been for the right reasons, to serve his family and the community,” Humphries said of McNally.
Taking an oath to tell the truth in a court proceeding and then lying about his activities certain doesn’t define honor or service to the public.
There also was a letter of support from a well-known, well-respected Catholic priest.
“ ... I believe in all my heart in his character and capacity as a thoughtful person to overcome this episode in his otherwise stellar public career,” the Rev. Richard Murphy, president of Ursuline High School and pastor of St. Mary Church in Mineral Ridge, wrote.
While forgiveness and redemption are the business of the clergy, Father Murphy’s use of the word “episode” to describe McNally’s involvement in the Oak- hill Renaissance conspiracy diminishes the gravity of the whole sordid affair of government corruption.