Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fulfilling Their Promise

Editorial, The Business Journal

With the surfeit of role models who have exhibited less than exemplary behavior, we are heartened by the promise shown by a new generation of politicians.

We cite initiatives launched over the past couple of weeks, one by Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, another by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles.

Williams, the youngest man elected mayor Youngstown, led a coalition of agencies in announcing an initiative aimed at helping young people stay on the straight and narrow this summer and have fun doing so.

“The idea is to fill the summer with opportunities for young people to engage in productive activities,” the mayor says. Young people must understand and appreciate that criminal activity has consequences, a point underscored by last month’s sweep of suspected gang members. “We also think it’s extremely important to offer them a productive alternative,” he adds.

When Ryan ran for Congress in 2002, his critics taunted him for his youth and inexperience. The state senator in his first term got the last laugh by defeating a veteran congressman in the primary and a well-funded Republican opponent in November. Since his election, Ryan has directed his energy to moving the community to action, championing efforts to encourage the development and implementation of new technology.

The two-term congressman recently introduced legislation that would help communities such as Youngstown rid themselves of blighted, vacant properties. He is co-sponsor of a measure that would enable the federal government to match, dollar for dollar up to $500,000, what qualifying cities spend to raze abandoned houses and reclaim the properties.

“If the local government is willing to use its general revenue funds to do that, the federal government should partner with them,” Ryan says, referring to Youngstown’s allocating $1.2 million this year to demolish blighted housing.

We’re also impressed with Ryan and Williams’ frequent joint visits to city schools (which Ryan acknowledges inspired his urban demolition legislation).

Many students in these schools may be used to seeing political positions filled by white men at least as old as their fathers and the often their grandfathers. While more blacks and women are being elected public office and Congress, they still stand out because of their relative novelty. Only rarely can black youths in inner-city schools identify with them or imagine following in their footsteps.

Maybe Ryan and Williams and other young leaders can spark the students’ imaginations and fuel their aspirations to one day become mayor or a member of the House o Representatives. The only barriers they should encounter should be the extent of their abilities, not race or economic class.

Young people in our community can only benefit form the examples Williams and Ryan are setting.

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