During the Youngstown mayoral forum last month hosted by The Vindicator, Mayor John A. McNally contended that his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise would not affect his re-election bid.
McNally was wrong.
He lost the Democratic Party nomination by 461 votes to Jamael Tito Brown, a former member of city council and the Youngstown Board of Education.
Four years ago, McNally defeated Brown by 124 votes to be the party’s nominee.
The low voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary undoubtedly played a part in the outcome of the election. The precinct-by-precinct analysis shows two things: one, Brown was more successful in rallying his supporters than McNally; two, voting along racial lines continues to be a political reality in the city of Youngstown.
McNally is white; Brown is black.
Although the mayor insisted during the primary campaign that he had paid a steep price – personally, professionally and financially – for his role in the Oakhill Renaissance scandal, he was not able to get rid of the cloud hanging over him.
Indeed, Brown built his campaign on the following: vision, honesty, integrity.
The last two obviously were designed to turn the spotlight on McNally’s criminal conviction for his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy while he was a Mahoning County commissioner.
As we said in our editorial of April 23 when we endorsed Brown, the only record of McNally’s that should have been of concern to voters was his criminal record consisting of four misdemeanor charges.
We argued that his conviction met the definition of “public corruption” and, therefore, “is just too serious to shrug off, as his supporters are willing to do.”
While former councilman Brown secured the Democratic Party nomination Tuesday night, the anemic voter turnout suggests that the general election could be a very different story.
Although there is no Republican in the race, Brown will face three challengers running as independents: Sean McKinney, who resigned last month as the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner; Janet Tarpley, a former 6th Ward councilwoman; and, Cecil Monroe, who has sought public office before. All three are black.
It is unfortunate that McNally got wrapped up in the Oakhill criminal enterprise that was masterminded by Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the now retired president of the Cafaro Co.
Cafaro’s goal was to derail the county government’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center.
McNally, as a county commissioner, opposed the purchase, but he violated the public’s trust with his willingness to do Cafaro’s bidding.
His guilty pleas on the four criminal charges speak to the seriousness of the Oakhill Renaissance scandal.
We used the word unfortunate with regard to McNally’s involvement in the Cafaro scheme because by any measure his performance as mayor over the last three years and four months is noteworthy.
In fact, we would have endorsed McNally for re-election had he not had the criminal conviction hanging over his head.
As we said in last month’s editorial in which we backed Brown, the mayor has not shied away from tackling Youngstown’s systemic problems.
“From crime fighting, to job creation, to neighborhood stabilization through an aggressive housing demolition program, to redevelopment of the downtown area, Mayor McNally has been a tireless leader,” we said..
Now, with the incumbent out of the race, Brown, a former council president, and the other candidates in the general election must clearly articulate their reasons for wanting to lead the urban city that is confronting major financial challenges.
The city’s population is declining, while the percentage of residents who are senior citizens is increasing.
The next mayor will have to deal with the persistent problem of deteriorating neighborhoods because of the large number of dilapidated homes, and will also have to address the possible decrease in income tax revenue.
Whoever replaces McNally will have to hit the ground running because Youngstown cannot afford to have a chief executive in need of a learning curve.