Newcomer seeks to oust veteran county official
YOUNGSTOWN — Democrat Anthony Traficanti, who is running for election to his fifth term as a Mahoning County commissioner, is opposed in the general election by Republican Grant Williams, a construction worker.
Traficanti said one of his proudest accomplishments during his 16 years in office is the improvement in the stability of finances in county government.
“I had a $14 million deficit, a sales tax that failed twice. The baptism of fire was, ‘Commissioner, how are you going to supplement $14 million and how are you going to keep your jail open?'” he said.
“We went out and campaigned vigorously, put a new face on county government. People believed in me. I’ve always won big in my elections. And a lot of people knew me when I worked 11 years for Jim Traficant,” he said of the former congressman. “We got the sales tax passed, a half penny in 2007, permanent,” he said.
The Mahoning County jail was in a financial crisis in 2008, so the commissioners put on a quarter percent criminal justice sales tax, combined with the earlier half-percent, and voters approved it.
“From that point until now, we have had a stabilized criminal justice system.”
He said he thinks the public appreciated the decision to put on a criminal justice tax that went only toward the jail, the prosecutor’s office, the coroner’s office and county 911 system.
“Those funds are set aside specifically for the criminal justice fund. We cannot touch them. We cannot give them to another department. It’s strictly dedicated to criminal justice,” he said. The criminal justice system uses up 70 percent of the county’s revenue.
Inmate income also increased by close to $4 million per year when county Sheriff Jerry Greene reduced the number of Mahoning County inmates to make room for federal inmates.
“That has been the trick, funding the criminal justice system,” Traficanti said.
In more recent months, the county has maintained its AA bond rating through Standard and Poors because of its strong cash reserves, Traficanti said. And Mahoning was the first county in the state to agree to post its spending on OhioCheckbook.com through the state treasurer’s office to improve transparency in the county’s finances, he noted.
Williams, a Republican, is a construction worker who said rebuilding the Mahoning Valley is his goal.
Among three prongs in his platform is rebuilding the county’s economy through business and jobs.
“What I hear the most often when I talk to people is that we lack opportunity, especially for young people,” Williams said.
“I know people who have moved away because they can’t find jobs,” he said. “And when I talk to middle-age or older people, they say their kids or grandchildren moved to California or Chicago or down south because they claim there is nothing here for them.”
He said in a message on his campaign Facebook page that the current county commissioners “offer few solutions” for issues such as companies closing or leaving the area and drug abuse.
“Our county leadership has failed us for too long. It’s time for that to change,” he said. “We will begin to bring jobs back to the area. We will improve our roads, and we will return accountability back to local government.”
When Traficanti was asked about Williams’ remarks about jobs and economic development, he said the Mahoning Valley “basically went from a rust belt to a tech belt. There are a lot of opportunities here.”
He mentioned the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and Youngstown Business Incubator as examples of the change to a tech belt. New facilities being built in Lordstown such as Lordstown Motors, and the battery plant will provide jobs and opportunity throughout the Mahoning Valley, including Mahoning County, he said.
Williams, 27, said he has been interested in government and serving others since about fourth grade. He said a trip to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York in middle school fueled his interest in history.
“My interest in early American government is where my interest in government stems from,” he said. “I have an interest in our founding documents and how our country was born.”
Anthony Traficanti (D)
EMPLOYMENT: Commissioner since Jan. 2, 2005; businessman in trucking, real estate and a car wash; former aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant 1991 to July 2002; instructor at Youngstown State University.
EDUCATION: Master’s and bachelor’s degrees from YSU; Poland Seminary High School graduate.
Grant Williams (R)
HOMETOWN: New Middletown
EMPLOYMENT: Self employed in construction
EDUCATION: Master’s degree, Franciscan University, Steubenville; bachelor’s degree, Youngstown State University; graduate of Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School.