YOUNGSTOWN — There are 27 years separating the candidates for one of the open Mahoning County commissioner seats in this general election.
Both four-term incumbent Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, 54, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, political newcomer Grant Williams, 27, have helped operate their families’ long-standing businesses. Both cited the economy as their chief concern heading into 2021.
Traficanti, of Poland, said he feels county voters want a commissioner “who actually cares.”
“I think over the years, you’ve seen different politicians getting in trouble. I think they want someone who’s downright honest and will put the time in to serve the community,” Traficanti said. “They don’t ask for much but when they want something or need something, you better have a person who’s going to call them back, and I have done that.”
Williams, of New Middletown, agreed he feels voters want an attentive ear and also promises to follow through, disrupting the “status quo” he sees on the current commissioners board.
He said he’s now running to “be a voice” for the county’s “forgotten” rural regions, which he says are underrepresented.
“Not to say, ‘We’re doing the best we can’ or that ‘This is just the way it is, there’s nothing we can do about it’,” he said. “Working in business, it’s just who I am — I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer. There’s always a way to achieve everything.”
Traficanti is seeking his fifth commissioner term and has spent the last 16 years as a “full-time” commissioner, as he credits himself.
The lifelong Poland resident graduated from Poland Seminary and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Science and a Master’s in education, both from Youngstown State University.
Traficanti continues to oversee the trucking and real estate business built by his father, Salvatore, an Italian immigrant.
In his 20s, he served as congressional liaison for the Mahoning Valley’s former U.S. Rep. James Traficant and worked locally and in Washington, D.C., on issues ranging from Social Security to unemployment, to environmental and tax oversight.
“We would try to intervene the best we could to help those folks. I did that my whole career in government and I still do that now,” Traficanti said.
While serving under Traficant, he had a hand in several recognizable community projects: acquisition of Youngstown’s two federal courthouses; the Youngstown Air Reserve Station; and the Covelli Centre.
Traficanti joined the commissioners board in his late thirties. In the last few years, Traficanti said he was proud to oversee centralization of county government in the Oakhill Renaissance Place and the restoration of the county courthouse — a project initially bid at $10 million but worked down to $6 million, he said.
Traficanti said he’s still looking to put a bow on Lake Milton-area sewer infrastructure projects long-stalled for funding — which actually began when the Rep. Traficant was still in office and have bloated over time along with the inflation rate.
“We’ve cleaned up a large portion of that lake” — areas fouled by nearby homes’ outdated septic systems, Traficanti said. “We need to finish the project.”
Traficanti, in a candidate survey submitted to Mahoning Matters, said he feels the most pressing issue facing younger voters is “fear of the unknown” — lingering questions about future employment opportunities.
His ideal vision of the county retains its mandated services while building off “tech belt” opportunities that have grown in the region, like additive manufacturing.
“[Youngstown Business Incubator] could be a mecca for growing high-tech businesses right in the city of Youngstown,” he said.
He cited Youngstown State University as “the key to a lot of things” the county has done to stem outward migration and pointed to the area’s low housing prices and location at a metropolitan crossroads as strengths to capitalize on.
“I think working together with everyone around us, we can keep young people here. There really is no ‘magic wand’ for that. It depends on what field they want to go into and what the market is like at the time.”
Traficanti said he sees the sizable age gap between himself and his opponent as an advantage.
“I’ve paid my dues. I earned those 54 years,” he said. “The advantage is the experience in the job and all the contacts that I had made and all the people I now know in the community — the community’s like family.
“I think they know who I am and they’re comfortable with me. … My record speaks for itself. I’m running for re-election on my record.”
Grant W. Williams
Williams is new to public service, but said he’s been enamored with history since he was young — specifically America’s nascent period — and listed Jesus Christ and George Washington as his heroes in a survey submitted to Mahoning Matters.
The Cardinal Mooney grad earned his bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Youngstown State University, followed by a Master’s in business administration from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Williams now helps run the construction company his father built over the last 40 years, working in everything from manual labor to marketing to accounting.
He and his wife are also active members at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New Middletown and teach Sunday school.
When Williams was growing up, the industrial might of the county had long since become a wistful tale of glory days gone by, he said.
“I always heard about how prosperous our area used to be — the steel mills and everything our area had to offer. And I heard about when all that closed,” he said. “I don’t believe we’re going to have the same kind of jobs but I do believe our area does have a lot to offer.
“I feel for too many years, that’s been underutilized.”
Williams said he hasn’t yet bought into the county’s rebranding as a hub for new technology businesses, as has his opponent — in fact, “that just kind of shows he’s out of touch with the working people of Mahoning County,” he said.
“Across our county, I see a lot of people that are suffering that want jobs but can’t find good, decent-paying ones in our area,” Williams said.
He recently heard from a New Middletown mother whose son left the county for California, due to lack of opportunity, he said. Many of his own schoolmates have done the same, he added.
“I have a different perspective than our current county commissioner,” Williams said. “I know the concerns of younger people in Mahoning County. I know the sort of thing they need, what has caused [them to leave].”
Others may see his age as a disadvantage — “He’s too young; he doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Williams said — but he said he looks past that dismissiveness.
“I guess the way for me to counter that is work as hard as I can, become as informed as I can about our county issues and to talk with as many people in our county to try to convince them that I’m qualified, I’m informed and that I do care about our county. And I know what our county needs to move forward.”
Williams said if elected he would work to make county assistance programs more readily available and visible. He’d also ensure the commissioners board tracks its business by making weekly meeting minutes available online.
He blames the lack of new jobs in the county on the commissioners’ board and points to a lack of serious development enjoyed in other areas, despite having plenty of empty space ready for manufacturing facilities or warehouses — “There has to be some reason … that people don’t want to do business in Mahoning County,” he said.
Williams said he would also work with the county engineer to publish a timetable for repaving projects, at least as a way to let residents know when their street could be slated for improvement.