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Three write-in candidates vie for Youngstown City Council president

YOUNGSTOWN — If incumbent Youngstown council President DeMaine Kitchen would have been successful in collecting 50 valid signatures on his nominating petitions, there wouldn’t be a contested Democratic primary for his seat.

But because of that failure, Kitchen, who’s in his first four-year term as president, is running in an unusual race against two other candidates — all as write-ins.

His two challengers in the May 4 Democratic primary are Tom Hetrick, a nutrition educator for Mercy Health-Youngstown and a former neighborhood planner for the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.; and Lee David Pupio, a retired city wastewater collections system maintenance operations employee.

Hetrick said Kitchen’s inability to get 50 valid signatures “opened up a wonderful opportunity” for him to run.

Pupio said: “Honestly, I had been asked about running against him, but had said no since I have a certain level of respect for him. But once he dropped the ball, I considered that perhaps he wasn’t completely invested in dedicating himself to the job at the level the people of Youngstown deserve.”

Pupio was disqualified in 2019 as an independent candidate for 5th Ward council because he failed to get the needed 25 valid signatures. He submitted petitions with 26 signatures and 22 were determined to be valid.

Kitchen turned in petitions for council president with 67 signatures, but the Mahoning County Board of Elections determined only 46 were valid. As a courtesy they give to candidates in those situation, board employees told Kitchen, the only candidate to file for the seat, he could withdraw before the board certified the ballot, which allowed him to file as a write-in candidate.

The position, which pays $28,117, is largely ceremonial.

The president runs council meetings, but doesn’t get a vote.

The person holding the position also becomes mayor and fills out the unexpired term. That’s happened once in the city’s history when Jay Williams left in August 2011 to work for the administration of then-President Barack Obama and Charles Sammarone, president, became mayor. Sammarone pleaded guilty in March 2020 to two felony counts of tampering with records for his time as mayor and got five years of probation.

Kitchen was Sammarone’s chief of staff, resigning Dec. 2, 2013, days before a different investigation determined he sexually harassed a city employee, and a few weeks after he lost an independent bid for mayor. Kitchen acknowledged he verbally harassed the employee and was sorry about it.

The city in June 2014 settled a complaint by the employee in which she received $72,000 and her attorneys were paid $48,000. The city had to pay $50,000 of that with the rest coming from its insurance company.

In 2017, Kitchen made a political comeback when he won a four-man Democratic primary for a council seat with 44.19 percent of the vote. He was elected that November with 96.06 percent of the vote, beating a write-in candidate.

The filing deadline for this year’s election for independent candidates is May 3, the day before the Democratic primary.

PRIORITIES

If re-elected, Kitchen said he plans “to continue to work with the Academy for Urban Scholars’ fatherhood initiative to provide outreach throughout the city during the summer months to help curb violent crimes.”

Kitchen also wants to “work with members of council to provide meaningful legislation to benefit the citizens of Youngstown. I hope to share my experience in administration to help whoever the next administration will be to best position the city to invest the” $88.6 million it’s receiving in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Before taking the Mercy Health position, Hetrick spent seven years as a neighborhood planner for YNDC.

“Through this work, I’ve engaged thousands of residents to better understand the issues in their neighborhoods and to prioritize strategies to improve conditions,” he said. “Four primary neighborhood-level issues emerged from years of door-to-door conversations, public meetings and survey responses: housing, infrastructure, safety and healthy food access.”

If elected, Hetrick said he “will work for policies and resources that assist low-income homeowners, address nuisance properties, regulate rental properties and encourage housing development. My goal is safe, quality, affordable housing for all city residents.”

He also wants to prioritize funding and maintenance of city parks, playgrounds, streets and sidewalks. To prevent crime, Hetrick said he’ll work for better lighting, blight removal, community policing and youth activities.

Regarding healthy food, Hetrick said he’ll form partnerships with grocery store owners, farmers markets, health care providers and other agencies to increase the number of places city residents can buy healthy and affordable food.

Pupio retired from the wastewater department in 2019 after nearly 28 years with the city.

“During that time, I saw what works and what doesn’t work in our government,” he said. “I saw firsthand how little respect our people have gotten from our city government.”

Pupio added: “My priority is to restore the dignity of those people who have been ignored or overlooked by our city officials.”

While acknowledging the position is ceremonial, Pupio said: “It is my intention to use its authority as a tool to influence all the various factions toward building a more unified community. I feel like I can use this office to become a strong force to build bridges.”

Candidate profiles

Youngstown City Council president

DeMAINE KITCHEN

AGE: 43

POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat

OCCUPATION: Youngstown council president and real estate agent

PREVIOUS ELECTED EXPERIENCE: Serving first term as council president and was 2nd Ward councilman from 2008 to 2011

GOALS: To share my experience to help whoever the next administration will be to best position the city to invest the $88 million federal funds.

TOM HETRICK

AGE: 36

POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat

OCCUPATION: Nutrition educator for Mercy Health-Youngstown

PREVIOUS ELECTED EXPERIENCE: None.

GOALS: Work for policies and resources to assist with improvements to housing, infrastructure, safety and health food access.

LEE DAVID PUPIO

AGE: 67

POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat

OCCUPATION: Retired city wastewater collections system maintenance operations employee

PREVIOUS ELECTED EXPERIENCE: None.

GOALS: To restore the dignity of those people who have been ignored or overlooked by our city officials.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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