By David Skolnick
The candidates for Youngstown mayor joined The Vindicator editorial board to discuss plans and qualifications as Election Day nears.
The four mayoral candidates say people lack confidence in city government, and all said they would be the best person to restore it.
Seeking to succeed John A. McNally as mayor are Jamael “Tito” Brown, who beat the incumbent in the Democratic primary; and three independent candidates – Janet Tarpley, Sean McKinney and Cecil Monroe.
On Vindicator candidate questionnaires and in endorsement interviews with the newspaper’s editorial board, the candidates said people don’t trust city government.
McNally was convicted in March 2016 of four misdemeanors – two counts of falsification and one count each of attempted unlawful use of a telecommunications device and attempted disclosure of confidential information – in connection with the Oakhill Renaissance Place corruption investigation.
McNally’s convictions are related to his improperly faxing Mahoning County’s confidential offer, when he was a county commissioner, to buy Oakhill Renaissance Place, a former hospital on the city’s South Side, on July 26, 2006, to attorneys at Ulmer & Berne, a Cleveland law firm that represented the Cafaro Co.
Meanwhile, longtime city Finance Director David Bozanich was mentioned in a 105-count indictment of downtown property developer Dominic Marchionda and his affiliated businesses.
While Bozanich hasn’t been charged with any crimes, a source with knowledge of the investigation said the finance director is the unnamed city official who purportedly helped Marchionda in exchange for a $25,000 bribe in spring 2009.
“We need transparency in government,” said Tarpley, a former councilwoman who served the 6th Ward for eight years. “There is a lack of trust. People want to believe in government. People want to have good government.”
McKinney, who resigned in April as the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner to run for mayor, said: “The word ‘Youngstown’ must cease to be a synonym for corruption, cronyism, federal probes, FBI stings, grand juries, hidden microphones, indictments, plea bargains, backroom deals, and slap-on-the-wrist sentences.”
Brown, a former council president and 3rd Ward councilman, said McNally’s convictions were “one of my reasons for running. I believe Youngstown residents deserve a mayor who would not cave to money, power or politics.” Brown added: “All the voters want is honesty.”
Monroe, a substitute teacher, said his outsider status makes him the best candidate because he isn’t “beholden to anyone.” He added: “My overarching reason for running for mayor is someone needs to save our city.”
Brown, Tarpley and Monroe said McNally should have resigned after he was convicted. McKinney said the local Democratic Party, area business leaders and other groups should “have pressured [McNally] to move forward,” but wouldn’t say the mayor should have resigned.
As for the candidates’ top priorities if elected, they vary.
Brown said he wants to develop a job recruiting and marketing team to focus on livable-wage jobs and invest in developing a job-ready workforce, establish a small business leadership team to improve small-business access to city resources, set a goal of reducing homicides by 50 percent by 2020, install cameras in high-crime areas, increase community police patrols, create a 311 call center to give residents a place to report and track complaints and create an urban development plan focused on investing in community centers and parks.
McKinney said he wants to establish a working partnership with the city school system because good schools are critical in promoting economic development and the image of the city, have the police forge a stronger relationship with residents, be proactive and meet with food retailers to bring them to the city, decrease the water and sewer bills for city residents even if it’s only by a minimal amount, launch the “Hire One Campaign” urging city businesses to hire at least one new employee, and continue to turn blighted properties into green spaces.
Tarpley said she wants to improve the city’s economic development department to recruit, retain and expand businesses; make infrastructure improvements and seek government funding for that work; expand the city-run sanitation department to offer those services to surrounding communities to generate revenue; consider using police speed-camera money to help balance the general fund; promote joint economic development districts to create more money, and better market the city to improve its image.
Monroe said he wants to update the city’s demolition process, work to improve the city’s education system and seek to have the state government allow the mayor to run the school district, attract more jobs to the city, make neighborhoods safer, reduce the use of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., and require his cabinet members to live in the city.