This year’s mayoral election in the city of Youngs-town has clearly established that public corruption is no big deal in the eyes of a significant number of voters.
In the May Democratic primary, Mayor John A. McNally, sporting a criminal record from his involvement in the Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy, lost by a mere 472 votes to former Councilman Jamael Tito Brown.
McNally, with support from mostly white residents, received 3,913 votes. Brown, with predominantly black support, garnered 4,385 votes.
It is noteworthy that the foundation of Brown’s primary campaign was McNally’s guilty plea to four criminal misdemeanor charges stemming from his role in the Oakhill scandal when he was a county commissioner.
It is also telling that the mayor was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Mahoning County Democratic Party’s Youngstown contingent.
The argument will be made that McNally’s defeat in the primary was a victory for honest governance, but the fact remains that almost 4,000 residents chose to ignore his sins of commission as an officeholder.
Indeed, in last Tuesday’s general election, Democrat Brown’s razor-thin margin of victory over independent Sean McKinney must also be viewed within the context of McNally’s corruption.
Just as he had done in the primary, Brown, former president of council and 3rd Ward councilman, made honesty in government a centerpiece of his campaign.
He was unequivocally clear, when asked by The Vindicator, that McNally should have resigned as mayor after he was convicted of the criminal charges.
McKinney, who stepped down as commissioner of buildings and grounds to concentrate on his campaign for mayor, was unwilling to condemn McNally.
McKinney’s refusal to give The Vindicator a straight answer was an obvious attempt to appeal to the mayor’s base of support.
It almost worked – even though it cost him the newspaper’s endorsement.
The final, but unofficial, results last Tuesday showed Brown with 5,222 votes and McKinney with 5,056.
A ward-by-ward vote analysis by Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick published Saturday confirms this writer’s long-held belief that the mayor’s supporters would either stay home or vote against Brown.
In the three largely white wards, 4th, 5th and 7th, McKinney received 53.8 percent, 59 percent and 61.3 percent of the vote, respectively.
Brown carried the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th wards.
Given that Brown and McKinney are black, it is fair to conclude that political payback was a factor in how whites voted.
Is there any doubt how the 4th, 5th and 7th wards would have responded had the mayor won the Democratic primary and faced McKinney in last Tuesday’s general election?
The racial split in Youngs-town politics, which many believed had been mended with the election of the first black mayor, Jay Williams, is a reality.
Mayor-elect Brown insists he will work on behalf of all Youngstown residents and that race will not be a factor in how he conducts the affairs of the city.
He undoubtedly is sincere, but this writer is reminded of a comment made by the late Herman “Pete” Starks, one of the most prominent and popular black politicians in the area.
After Williams won the race for mayor, Starks remarked: “Now it’s our turn.”
Starks, long-time 2nd Ward councilman, was alluding to fact that the black community expected the mayor to appoint blacks to key positions in city government.
Last Tuesday’s sweep of black candidates in the four citywide races on the ballot – mayor, council president, municipal court judge and clerk of courts – will heighten the demand for blacks to be given preferential treatment in hiring.
There was another election shocker Tuesday that is worthy of comment.
It was a sure bet the city of Youngstown’s favorite sexual harasser would win the general election for city council president. However, by giving DeMaine Kitchen bragging rights as the top vote-getter, Youngstown residents delivered a disturbing message that character doesn’t matter when it comes to government service.
Kitchen, the Democratic nominee and former 2nd Ward councilman, received 8,220 votes, compared with 550 for write-in candidate Bruce Paulette.
The outcome of the race for council president was never in doubt because Kitchen won the May Democratic primary in a four-man race.
After the primary results were announced, Kitchen had this to say to The Vindicator:
“People appreciated my work on the field despite what happened off the field. I’m eager to return and get back to the business of the people. I am committed to the people of the city, and they’re convinced I’m the right man for the job.”
In his interview with The Vindicator’s Editorial Board prior to primary election day, he described the sexual harassment allegation as an “HR [human resources] issue” and noted that he did not sign off on the agreement the city reached with Lyndsey Hughes, who was downtown director of events, special projects and marketing. Hughes had the job from 2008 until May 21, 2014.
Kitchen was serving as then-Mayor Charles Sammarone’s chief of staff, but resigned in 2013 just before a report of an independent investigation revealed he had sexually harassed the city employee.
In the settlement, Hughes received $72,000, while her lawyer got $48,000. She also agreed to give up her $41,125-a-year position.
City council voted 7-0 to pay the city’s $50,000 deductible to its insurance company to resolve the complaint.
The investigator’s report also stated that Kitchen admitted to making inappropriate remarks to the employee.
During the meeting with The Vindicator, he described what had occurred as “verbal sexual harassment” and said he had apologized for his behavior.
He also insisted he never violated the public trust during his tenure with the city and that Democratic voters would judge him on his record of service.
They did – by rewarding him with the nomination.
All the information surrounding Kitchen’s sexual harassment case was widely publicized by The Vindicator.
The newspaper did not endorse him in the primary, and chose, instead, to support 4th Ward Councilman Mike Ray, whose impressive record in office has not been blemished by allegations of wrongdoing.
Kitchen’s 8,220 votes on Tuesday not only made him the leader of the pack, but he fared better than Carla Baldwin, municipal judge-elect, who had received the most votes in the May primary.
To be sure, Baldwin, Brown and Clerk of Courts-elect Sarah Brown Clark had formidable challengers, but how could so many Youngstown residents ignore Kitchen’s sexual harassment history?
By the same token, how could so many residents ignore the criminal conviction of Mayor McNally?
The straightforward answer is this: For many Mahoning Valley residents, public corruption is not a big deal.