Three vie for Canfield mayor — here are their visions for the city

From left to right: Don Dragish, Bruce Neff and Kathryn Young
From left to right: Don Dragish, Bruce Neff and Kathryn Young

CANFIELD — Canfield voters will select their next mayor in Tuesday’s general election, choosing from a list of three candidates, all of whom have been closely involved with city operations over the past several years.

Though the position is largely ceremonial under the city’s charter, Canfield mayors do wield a vote on city council.

Outgoing Mayor Richard Duffett announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election to a second term.

Those vying to replace him include Don Dragish, a self-employed businessperson; Bruce Neff, a current city councilperson and business owner; and Kathryn Young, a parks and recreation board member and former accountant.

Mahoning Matters interviewed each on their backgrounds and their plans for office, if elected.

For additional background on the mayoral candidates or other issues up to Canfield voters on Nov. 2 — including two safety service renewal levies and suggested changes to the city’s charter — check out our Sept. 23 report from Canfield.

For more information on other Mahoning County races and issues up for voter approval on Tuesday, see our Mahoning County voter guide.

Who are the candidates?

Dragish, 48, is a self-employed businessperson and owner of Dragish Marketing.

He graduated from Ursuline High School and earned a Bachelor’s in marketing and advertising from Youngstown State University. He later returned to the university for a business degree.

Dragish was elected to city council in 2014, but gave up the seat when he unsuccessfully challenged Duffett in the 2017 mayor race. During his term, he said he helped establish the city’s first Joint Economic Development District agreement, which paved the way for the Windsor House at Canfield skilled nursing facility at the corner of U.S. Route 62 and state Route 446.

Neff, 72, is a current city councilman, elected to his first term in 2017. He also owns and operates an LED lighting business, LED3.

Neff graduated from Canfield High School and earned his Bachelor’s in science and biochemistry from Ashland University. He later earned a teaching certification from Youngstown State University and taught briefly at the former Mahoning County Joint Vocational School, now the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.

Neff’s business experience took him all over the country, he said — experiencing life in about a dozen different cities.

“I bring that experience back to Canfield,” where he’s lived for the last 22 years, he said.

Young, 58, is a self-described homemaker and more than 30-year city resident. She’s been co-chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board for the last three years.

Young was raised in upstate New York and earned a Master’s degree in business and accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

In the 1980s, Young spent four years in the military, and was the only woman attached to a U.S. Army infantry battalion that participated in a multinational peacekeeping force in the Middle East. During her six-month tour, Young worked as an accountant, overseeing the unit’s procurement and bank.

This is Young’s first bid for elected office.

Why they’re in the race

Dragish said he decided to step away from the political arena after losing his 2017 run for mayor, “to see what the future held.” He said he felt the time was right to return.

“I have the knowledge, I have the experience. I think now might be a good time, since the present mayor is stepping down,” Dragish said. “I might as well put my hat in the ring and try to see if I can get it this time. Hopefully, this time, the people of Canfield will see I’m really dedicated to their city.”

Dragish’s campaign slogan is “Let’s Keep Canfield, Canfield.”

“It’s a nice community. You have new families that are moving in and obviously, people [who] are working hard,” he said. “Canfield’s just a great place. It’s safe. I think that’s what attracts people. … We don’t have a lot of crime.”

Neff said he wants to continue the work Duffett did to improve the city.

Canfield isn’t the vibrant city it was when he was growing up, he said. He said he’d work to bring back the city’s vitality.

“There was great shopping [downtown]. There was a hardware store. … You could shop and do everything on the [Village] Green. We could bring vitality back to the Green.”

Neff also said he wants the city to be more walkable, or bike-able.

Some of the city’s older, historical sections still don’t have sidewalks, like Callahan Road, and Neff and Skyline drives. Along other streets like High and Court, sidewalks are in need of repair, he said.

Neff said he’d look back to a feasibility study for establishing a bike loop connecting Hilltop Elementary along Neff Drive to Fair Park.

Young is currently the parks and recreation board chairperson assigned to Fair Park.

She commended outgoing Mayor Duffett for working to represent city residents and said she wants to continue to advocate for them in the city’s decision-making process.

“His heart has always been in the right place. It was always for the people,” she said. “I felt like if he is not there, who else is gonna’ be the voice of the people?”

Young has been a regular fixture at city council meetings for the last several years, raising “pertinent questions” about the city’s administrative choices. As mayor, she said she’d look to continue asking those questions and endeavor to bring residents into the discussion.

What do they hope to accomplish?

Dragish said he’d advocate for some new development to happen in Canfield in his first year as mayor. He proposed redevelopment of the former IGA grocery store along Broad Street, which closed in 2012 and has since deteriorated.

Dragish proposed a Canfield wellness center, offering athletic and exercise space for residents of all ages.

“I’ve had some talks with people previously. … This is something they want to do here,” he said.

By the end of his term, Dragish promised more jobs in the city, so that the city can boost its tax base instead of having to go “back to the pocketbooks of the people.”

Neff also pointed to the vacant grocery store as a top priority to address blight. By the end of his mayoral term, Neff said he’d hope to see the empty plaza completely renovated.

With the city’s new tax abatement offering for new business — up to 10 years — the site could be “a huge opportunity.”

Rather than more national chain “discount stores,” Neff said he’d prefer to see artisans and others making handcrafted goods find a new storefront in the city.

Young said though she’d likely spend her first year becoming accustomed to the office and the inner workings of city administration, she’ll look to continue planning the city’s new developments, such as Red Gate Farm. The city annexed the 280-acre property at the corner of South Palmyra Road and Leffingwell Road from the township in 2019, intending to develop it.

With the Village Green’s impending improvements — including a new gazebo and new sound and lighting systems — Young said she wants to see more activities for all ages on the Green.

In the city’s vacant spaces, such as the former Premier Bank building, she’d push for “mom and pop” shops over chain stores. Young proposed something like a family restaurant for the vacant IGA building.

She also envisions a bike loop moving through the city’s center that connects it all, allowing residents and visitors “a place to stop, a place to have lunch and shop.”

How would they attract new families and businesses to Canfield?

All three candidates spoke to the need to expand high-speed internet offerings in the city and the need for Wi-Fi in more public spaces, like the Village Green. Fiber-optic service is also becoming more relevant to new businesses operating largely online.

Dragish said Wi-Fi on the green could make the space more attractive to teens. He said he thinks young families would want more to utilize in the city, like his proposed athletics center.

Businesses will need some type of tax break, he said. Right now, it costs less to build in Canfield Township than in the city, he said.

“At least, as long as we can offer something to level the playing field, we’d have a better shot of gaining business in the city,” Dragish said.

Neff said he recently met with a 30-year-old who lives in the city while working remotely for a California-based company.

“He basically said, ‘There’s nothing to do [in Canfield]. I have to drive all the way to Youngstown and Boardman for any type of entertainment,’” Neff said. He proposed a music venue aimed at young adults.

For spaces like the city’s abandoned grocery store, Neff sees something like an entrepreneurial incubator for high school and middle school students — a place to brew “crazy ideas that might turn out to be legitimate business.” The goal is to make Canfield a place where children don’t have to leave to find a good job, he said.

“And with the new virtual marketplace, that might be true,” Neff said.

Young said younger consumers tend to focus more of their spending on experiences rather than goods.

“As a leader, bringing those activities to that age group would be my priority,” she said. “We have the schools, we have the protection … but also the opportunity to do creative things maybe down in the Green.”

Young said she thinks people raised in Canfield who are now returning to settle down are attracted to the city’s small-town charm. Though tax abatements can help businesses set up shop, she said it will be important to advocate for them and encourage residents to shop or eat local.

“Whatever the business is, the person has to know it’s going to survive, especially in these times,” Young said.

Why should you vote for them?

Dragish said he thinks he has a “level head” and a conservative business sense.

“I believe I’d be able to bring some business and start moving Canfield in the right direction — make Canfield better by keeping Canfield, Canfield,” he said.

Neff said he thinks voters know where his heart is.

“I’ve come up with some awfully good ideas for the community. I’m honest as the day is long,” he said. I’m at a very productive time with a lot of great connections. I don’t want to be a career politician.”

Young pledged to let residents’ voices be heard in city decision-making.

“What they say is the city manager is the ‘voice’ of the city. But he’s the voice of the city establishment. I would be the voice of the people,” she said. “It would be a balance. Right now … it’s not as balanced as it could be.”

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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