Commentary: The Kidd and Me

By Stacia Erdos Littleton
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – He’ll be back.

That’s what I took away from hearing Phil Kidd, who has moved to Cleveland, speak May 17 at the Youngstown Press Club annual dinner.

To be clear, he didn’t exactly say that. But that’s what my gut told me as I left Stambaugh Auditorium.

I became aware of Phil Kidd when I began to work at The Business Journal after a 10-year stint reporting and anchoring at WPXI in Pittsburgh. I had been living in Mahoning County and commuting all the while but hadn’t kept up with the goings-on in Youngstown.

In 2010, however, now back working in local news, I noticed a few unfamiliar names that kept popping up – John Slanina, Jacob Harver and Phil Kidd.  All three were young and tenacious – determined to work from the inside to change the reputation of Youngstown.

I would often see Phil Kidd walking downtown. Who was this guy? Did he live nearby? Where did he work? It was somewhat hard to get a real answer. He was an enigma.

I was told, “He’s the guy who holds the “Defend Youngstown” sign. He started a blog with the same name.”  Oh, I thought – so he’s a Youngstown advocate – born and bred.

“No, I think he’s from Pittsburgh,” someone said. Why is he so passionate about Youngstown, I wondered.

I then was introduced to The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and the important work it was doing in the community. Phil was working as an organizer. After the Army, he had come to Youngstown State University for his master’s in criminal justice and stayed.

Before I knew it, Defend Youngstown had a storefront – The Youngstown Nation – on Phelps Street. Phil later worked as director of events for the city of Youngstown before landing as associate director of CityScape. 

Then, in 2019, much to my surprise, this Youngstown Defender left to go to Cleveland.  Was Youngstown merely a stepping stone?

I suppose the same could be asked about me. In fact, Phil and I reconnected at the Press Club event and talked briefly about our journeys.

I was raised outside of Cleveland and ended up working in several cities before landing in Youngstown in 1990. In 1999, I left to work in Pittsburgh for 10 years before deciding, for sanity (and sleep) purposes, it was time to work where I had made my home for 20 years – the Mahoning Valley. So the fact that Phil didn’t grow up in Youngstown, but being inexplicably drawn to it, was not lost on me.

We also connected in another way. Phil grew up in Burgettstown, Pa., and spent a lot of time in the steel mill town of Weirton, W.Va. My husband is from Weirton and has a lot of family in Burgettstown.

For the past few years, Phil has been working as the special projects manager for Northwest Neighborhoods in Cleveland and studying for his doctorate in urban studies, all the while learning, listening, running through Cleveland’s neighborhoods (one of his passions) and absorbing. Which leads me to ponder – for what exactly?

At the event, Phil gave not just a speech but came with a fully thought out platform of sorts for what he thinks needs to happen for Youngstown to fully evolve. (Kind of sounds like a 2030 plan?)

He says a special improvement district, which property owners would have to vote for, should be implemented to help maintain and beautify the downtown and support the work of CityScape.

He aggressively supports the revitalization of the Mahoning River. He says the river built up the Mahoning Valley and can do it again. He pointed to an “incredible” study his friend Jacob Harver had conducted for his master’s thesis. It concluded that connecting the bike trail from Struthers along the river to Ravenna would result in a trail running all the way from the Mississippi River to the East Coast.

How the city uses the $80 million in American Rescue Funds will be key, Kidd said. He advocates focusing on Youngstown neighborhoods, continuing to erase blight, renovating and building more housing, fixing infrastructure along Glenwood Avenue, and planting thousands of trees.

Phil also believes strongly that it’s time for Youngstown to move to a city manager form of government, where council hires someone with a professional background to take the helm.

And, he says the way council is organized needs to change. Youngstown still has the same number of councilmen as when the charter was adopted in the 1920s and the population of Youngstown was nearly 170,000. It now has 60% fewer residents. 

When Phil Kidd announced in 2019 he was leaving for Cleveland, Todd Franko, in a column he wrote for The Vindicator, said Phil “might be one of the most pivotal figures in the city of Youngstown in the last decade” and added, “don’t for a second think he’s done Defending.”

I agree. Phil Kidd will back. But I submit this time he won’t just be playing “defense,” he’ll be charging in on the offense – ready to rock Youngstown’s world.