Ungaro’s Legacy: Rebuilding City, Restoring Integrity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Elected officials, community leaders and citizens remembered former Youngstown Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro’s vision and integrity this weekend as word of his death spread throughout the Mahoning Valley.

News broke early Saturday morning that Ungaro died Friday night. He was 78. Calling hours are from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, and Thursday 10 a.m. to noon at St. Edward Church with services to follow.

Ungaro, a former educator, represented the 3rd Ward on City Council before he was elected mayor in 1983, a post he held for 14 years. In 2002, he was appointed Liberty Township administrator, a position he held until stepping down a couple months ago.

Having also served his community as a teacher, coach, principal and administrator, Ungaro was remembered across the region, many offering their insights on him and his legacy as Youngstown mayor for his efforts redeveloping brownfield sites as industrial parks, laying the groundwork for the resurgence of the city’s downtown and fighting back against the influence of organized crime and pubic corruption.

Among those reflecting on Ungaro’s impact Saturday were two of his successors in City Hall, incumbent Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Jay Williams, who was elected in 2005 and served as mayor until August 2011, when he accepted a post in the administration of President Barack Obama.

Williams, who offered his condolences to Ungaro’s family, said he dealt with Ungaro “fairly frequently” on matters of regional interest and enjoyed talking with his predecessor.

He credited Ungaro with laying the foundation of much of the successes Youngstown has seen over the past 25 to 30 years, and for leading the region through one of its most challenging periods, when “the combination of economic collapse and organized crime” threatened to strangle the life out of the city.

“His unwavering determination to chart a new economic path and his refusal to be corrupted was exactly what the city needed most during that time,” Williams said. “The accomplishments of Pat Ungaro will stand for long as the city itself does.”

Echoing Williams’ comments, Brown said Ungaro’s fingerprints are on many of the jobs and industries that are in the city today. And Ungaro make sure employers knew they didn’t have to engage in corrupt activity to operate in the city. “That in itself was a plus for him to standup and say he wouldn’t have that in his city,” he said.

Brown recalled reaching out to Ungaro in 2008 when he began serving on City Council. “I would talk to him about some of his processes and how he moved the city during his tenure,” he said. After being elected Youngstown mayor in 2017, he asked Ungaro – who “was definitely a mayor who knew how to deal with some tough issues” if he could call when he had questions.

“In the short time that I’ve been mayor, we’ve had numerous talks about different issues,” he said. “He said some of the same issues that he faced when he was mayor are the same issues I face right now. He said it’s an ongoing battle with communities across the nation.”

As Liberty Township administrator, Ungaro was integral to putting together the Belmont Avenue corridor studies on which Youngstown and Warren are collaborating.

Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray said Ungaro, as an educator and as a public servant, devoted his professional life to the betterment of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. “His tireless economic development efforts were an example to us all, and we continue to see the benefits today,” he said.

Elected and appointed public officials and others who interacted with Ungaro during his time as mayor shared their thoughts as well.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who served as Ohio’s secretary of state when Ungaro was in office in Youngstown, said he and his wife, columnist Connie Schultz, were saddened to learn of Ungaro’s passing.
“His lifetime of public service, as both an elected official and an educator, will leave a lasting mark on the Valley,” he said. “Our hearts go out to Mayor Ungaro’s family and friends as we join the community in honoring his life and his legacy of service to others.” 

Tim Fitzpatrick, former city hall reporter for The Vindicator, said he, too, was sad to learn of his death. Fitzpatrick, who covered the early years of Ungaro’s tenure as mayor, said he was struck by his forthrightness in dealing with him and other members of the press, observing that the mayor “didn’t try to spin things” with journalists.

“He was straightforward. He was transparent. He let the facts speak for themselves,” he said. “Over time, it certainly swayed me to thinking this was a guy who was an honest guy and a guy of great integrity.”

Ungaro “was not a favorite” of the political machine run by the late former Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, Don Hanni, Fitzpatrick recalled. “He just did what he thought was best for the community and I was always impressed by that.”

Fitzpatrick also was impressed that, despite having to guide Youngstown through a “very challenging “ time, Ungaro always kept a sense of humor. “Honestly, I took a leadership lesson from that myself, that in some of the darkest times people respond pretty positively when they see that you can keep a sense of humor about yourself,” he remarked.

The former journalist noted that Ungaro had “a good team” that included Finance Director Gary Kubic and Law Director Ed Romero.

Romero, who now is in practice with Manchester Newman & Bennett, said he most remembered how open Ungaro wanted his own office to be. “I took that as a suggestion and did the same,” he said.

The mayor and his Board of Control “relished debating Council and other elected officials,” including the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, he said.

Romero particularly cited the rehabilitation of downtown Youngstown’s West End as representing Ungaro’s legacy. As mayor, he formed the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp., enlisting all four downtown bank presidents and the YSU presidents at the time, and turned over about $4 million in buildings and Housing and Urban Development grants to the CIC.

That resulted in several buildings being demolished, most notably the former Higbee department store building, Romero continued. Razing those properties created space for the George V. Voinovich Government Center and expansions of the Youngstown Business Incubator, the construction of which was all done by the CIC.  

Buildings for Turning Technologies, Mahoning County Children Services and the Seventh District Court of Appeals “all came from him,” Romero said.

“All of our buildings and land were CIC property,” Jim Cossler, YBI’s Huntington Bank entrepreneur-in-residence and its former CEO, affirmed.

While YBI’s origins were driven by Forrest Beckett, Bill Weimer and Charlie Cushwa, locating the incubator on the West End of downtown “was all Pat Ungaro,” he said.

“He saw it as an anchor that could spin off new businesses that could begin to fill that completely deserted, abandoned, and desolate section of our city,” Cossler continued. “And he was proven right.” YBI now encompasses five buildings on the West End.

Among those Ungaro tapped to serve on the CIC board was John Moliterno, who at the time was president of the Youngstown Area Chamber of Commerce, which in 1993 merged with the Warren and Niles chambers to become the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

“That quite honestly was the start of the renovation and the change that took place in downtown Youngstown,” he said. Today all of the properties the CIC acquired are either demolished or have been renovated and now are occupied. “I have to give Pat all the credit in the world for having the foresight to be able to make that purchase and take control of those properties so that we could actually as a community do something with them,” Moliterno said.

Moliterno, today the executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority, recalled that Ungaro enlisted him as part of the group charged with filling the former Strouss building after it corporate parent closed the downtown department store. Eventually, the group was successful in attracting the then-growing Phar-Mor Inc. deep discount chain, which located its headquarters there.

Moliterno and others cited Ungaro for his initiative – opposed by some members of City Council at the time – to acquire abandoned industrial property in the city, rehabilitate it as industrial parks and offer businesses land and tax abatements to establish operations in the city.

“He had the foresight to do it. But anytime you have to make those kind of decisions, everybody doesn’t agree with them because you’re rolling the dice a little bit.” he said. That doesn’t always translate to success, but Ungaro’s approach represented a “pretty good success for the city of Youngstown.”

Not only was Ungaro “a great mayor” for Youngstown, he was good for the Mahoning Valley in general, Moliterno observed. “He understood that the central cities, both Youngstown and Warren, were the hearts of our valley, and you need to keep those hearts strong. Pat worked hard to do that.”

Arnie Clebone, a local economic development specialist and Liberty Township trustee, dealt with Ungaro both when he was Youngstown’s mayor and, more recently, as township administrator.

Clebone recalled the role Ungaro and the city played in attracting Sovereign Circuits, a prototype circuit board manufacturer, to Youngstown Commerce Park in North Jackson. Although the park was outside the city, Ungaro loaned funds from the city’s Urban Development Action Grant allocation to the project, which was then repaid to the city.

Later he worked with the city to bring a couple of companies – Northern States Metals and Accuform Manufacturing — to Salt Springs Road Industrial Park, one of the former brownfield sites the city rehabilitated during the Ungaro administration.

“He did everything he could to bring people in,” Clebone said. “Now it’s a pretty thriving park and all filled up.” And he said Ungaro encouraged his staff to do everything they could to assist tenants.

Clebone also credited him Ungaro for supporting the application to get Economic Development Administration grants to establish YBI in the first place. The incubator launched in 1995

Liberty Township was fortunate to have Ungaro as township administrator, he added. Ungaro advised him “to do what is right, and if you do what is right, you can never go wrong,” he recalled. “I credit Pat for encouraging that.”

Clebone’s colleague on the township board, Jodi Stoyak, said Saturday was “a long and sad day” for her. She and Ungaro spoke daily when he was township administrator.

“Knowing that Pat has been ill for a while and knowing that he would pass soon, didn’t make it any easier to know that he is gone,” she said.

Stoyak said Ungaro was “a wonderful friend and supporter” when she became a trustee in 2004 He took her under his wing and taught her about politics, introducing her to several state, county and local officials so that she would be able to get things accomplished for the township, she said.

“He was a pleasure to work with and a true joy to be around due to his great sense of humor,” she added. “He loved his family and was proud of his kids and grandchildren. His integrity was bar none.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.