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Brown earns renomination for Youngstown mayor

Youngstown voters are fortunate to have three thoughtful, committed and articulate candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May 4 primary election.

Unlike some years when residents have been forced to choose among the best of lackluster unqualified hopefuls, this year’s crop of candidates for the party’s nod all have attributes that would serve the city well. Each of the candidates — incumbent Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, 1st Ward Councilman Julius Oliver and Valley businessman Ryan Kelly — has a firm grasp of the problems confronting the city and has outlined realistic and potentially promising solutions to place the city on a path toward stronger fiscal health, more robust business growth and safer streets. This race should not be the last foray into politics for any of them.

Kelly, 31, has honed his leadership and management acumen over the past 12 years as owner and operator of several Belleria Pizza restaurants in the Mahoning Valley.

One major plank of his platform centers on creation of a “Smart City” by building a fiber-optic network around Youngstown. He argues the plan would create a strong new revenue source for the city with high-speed internet service becoming a municipally operated public utility. He also proposes the city use some of its $88 million from the most recent COVID-19 relief bill for the project and help from private and regional partnerships.

Kelly also brings to the table other viable plans. Among them are instituting quarterly business forums to strengthen ties between city government and private enterprise, reducing red tape for small businesses to grow, and better serving the city’s large senior-citizen population by creating a senior services counsel

Oliver, 40, who has served on Youngstown City Council as its 1st Ward representative since 2016, shares Kelly’s background as a business owner and his passion for adopting new programs and philosophies at City Hall.

Oliver places a priority on creating jobs and expanding economic development as a means to lower the city’s high poverty and unemployment rates. He calls for “smart engagement with regional, national and international businesses” and stronger support for small businesses to survive and thrive. More than his challengers, he emphasizes greater interaction with the failing Youngstown City School District to improve educational quality.

Oliver also vows to end what he calls “communication breakdowns” between City Hall and departments, council and residents. He also describes the current administration as leaning too heavily on status quo procedures with little “innovative thinking.”

After reviewing the record of Brown over the past four years and after completing an interview with The Vindicator Editorial Board, we would beg to differ. From our vantage point, Brown has demonstrated innovative thinking to help the city survive an avalanche of red ink, much of it brought on by the ongoing pandemic.

One clear example was his use of selective city layoffs during much of the health crisis to avoid busting the city budget. Brown, 49, who served as deputy treasurer of Mahoning County for more than a decade, was able to erase a multi-million-dollar deficit in the city’s budget through those layoffs and other cost-cutting practices.

Brown also chucked the status quo in hiring a new police chief this year who is expanding neighborhood policing, beefing up the ranks and pushing hard for the implementation of body cameras and better lighted streets.

Brown also worked to restore an essential ingredient to any public office that was absent through much of the term of his predecessor, John McNally. Restoration of trust in City Hall was one of Brown’s most-oft repeated pledges during his 2017 campaign against then-incumbent McNally, convicted of crimes tied to the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal. By all indications, Brown has fulfilled that pledge.

In addition, the mayor has amassed a first-term record of which he and residents can be proud. During Brown’s tenure, progress on economic development has jump-started, most visibly in the downtown area where an expansive new park and amphitheater have opened and tens of millions of dollars have been invested in ongoing street, sewer and other improvements.

It should be noted that during Brown’s 2017 campaign, he said he believed the amphitheater would be underutilized because of weather and objected to the city using $4 million in federal funds to pay for the project, instead wanting all funding to come from private sources. The city ended up receiving about $4 million from private donations, but borrowed $4 million from the federal government.

Many of the city’s successes depended heavily on the value of partnerships Brown has established with movers and shakers on the local, state and federal levels. Those partnerships will continue to be critical as Youngstown weaves its way slowly out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clearly then, this is no time to change course or reject experienced mayoral leadership.

The Vindicator Editorial Board therefore endorses Brown for the Democratic nomination for Youngstown mayor.

The winner will face Republican Tracey Winbush in the Nov. 2 general election.

editorial@vindy.com

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