Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
By: Mark G. Mangie
Mark: Mr. Mayor…thanks for talking with us today. Many of the folks in Valley, including myself, know you and your good work, but don’t know much about you personally. We are here to fix that. So let’s start at the very beginning… were you born in Youngstown?
John: Actually, I was born in Alexandria, Virginia. My Dad grew up in Youngstown, but he was in law school at Georgetown University when I was born. We lived in nearby Alexandria until I was three then moved back here. We lived in Liberty.
Mark: Where did you go to school?
John: Well, I am a Catholic boy. I started in the Liberty system, but I attended St. Ed’s Jr. High School then on to Ursuline High School. If you went to St. Ed’s you just automatically went on to Ursuline. I followed in my Dad’s footsteps and went to Georgetown for my undergraduate degree, then to Cleveland State for my law degree.
Mark: Did you "like" Ursuline High School? I went to Boardman…but most of my friends today are either graduates of Mooney or Ursuline!! They let me know all the time how much they liked it!!
John: I think they prepared me quite well for college and for life in general. After Ursuline I went to Georgetown for 4 years and that was a great place to go to college and be exposed to Washington D.C. when you are young.
Mark: What year did you graduate from High School?
John: In 1987.
Mark: Where did you guys hang out?
John: When I was young it was the Golden Dawn especially after sporting events.
Mark: One of the characteristics of this area is the people identity you by where you went to high school. My wife isn’t from this area. When we moved here in 1975 she was asked two questions: “What are you?” and “Where did you go to high school?”
John: I know what you mean. Even today it seems like you are identified by where you went to high school. But it gives both individuals and family a sense of identity. Lets others know the neighborhood you grew up in. It intensifies a sense of family and belonging and that is extremely important in this area. I just met an interesting lady from a Dutch documentary production company. They are doing a story on several cities in the United States that were centers of immigration for those seeking the American Dream. They are looking to see how it turned out. Youngstown is one of the chosen cities. Those of us who live here understand why. The experiences of this area center around family. That is extremely important.
Mark: Do you have a memorable high school experience?
Mayor: Yes. I do…and a very important one!!! I met my wife in the school lunch line in 1986!! I can remember that pretty clearly to this day and to her amazement!
Mark: Well that gets you some points, John. Makes the rest of us look bad!!!Tell me a little about your wife.
John: My wife grew up on Youngstown’s Northside. She’s Italian with roots in Brier Hill. Her dad worked in the mills. She grew up a few blocks off 5th Ave. She went to YSU and works in Austintown now. She does a lot of accounting work and helps keep me and my 2 daughters on the right path.
Mark: How old are your daughters?
John: One is 13 and the other is 10.
Mark: Are they following dad through the Catholic system?
John: They both go to St. Christine’s and probably go to Ursuline as well!
Mark: Tell me a little about going to school at Georgetown. We visit Washington a lot, and when we go there we stay in Georgetown. It is beautiful there. What did you study?
Mayor: It’s a great area and great school. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service. Their Foreign Service program trains a lot of people who now work in government and the State Department. It was specifically created to train people for the Foreign Service. It’s like a class for diplomats! But I didn’t venture down that road.
Mark: Why not? That would have been a really interesting life.
John: To be honest I had to graduate with a certain level of proficiency in a foreign language. I managed to accomplish that in French but my ears don’t really tune to the foreign languages all that well so … I didn’t think a career in the diplomatic service was good, or be fruitful.
Mark: When I was picking careers and colleges I seriously looked at the Foreign Service School at Georgetown. But I have the same problem with languages. But you decided to stay in government?
John: I have always had an interest in government. I did an internship for 2 semesters in Senator Metzenbaum’s office. That was fun learning about what happens on Capitol Hill on a daily basis. All I did was open up mail…not exactly setting the world on fire. But I got to work with several other interns and a chance to see and learn how things work…especially from the letters that the Senator received.
The volume of mail back then was phenomenal. My job was to open the letters and put them in specific piles based on topics. That meant I had to read them. It turned out to be a tremendous experience because you would see on a daily basis the concerns of the people back home…real people who took the time to write their representatives. And not just from Ohio. Senator Metzenbaum was a liberal Jewish senator who developed a national constituency. His letters came from all over the country addressing some very tough issues. There were also security issues just like today. All packages had to be scanned. You had to be sure of what was in them.
Mark: Did you ever have a desire to work in Federal government since you worked in Washington?
John: I think I probably did. But I’ve got to be honest…every day I get more and more disappointed with the Federal government. That’s why I like being Mayor. The decisions that are made on a daily basis here affect more people directly. I hope the ones I make have a positive effect on their lives and hopefully make them better. That is what I like the most.
Mark: So what happened after you left DC?
John: Pretty straight forward. It progressed into law school and then I went to work for a small law firm in Cleveland. I did some labor and employment work and also worked in the Municipal Court in Cuyahoga County. Most of my interests stemmed towards Municipal government so I followed those interests…and that is how got here.
Mark: How much time did you spend at the Cleveland law firm?
John: When I was in school I worked for a couple firms but the one that got me on my career path was a small one that did labor and employment work.
Mark: Given the economic situation in Youngstown at that time, why did you decide to come back here?
John: I think I’ve always known I was going to come back to Youngstown. I feel like this is my home. I feel very comfortable here. It helped my wife was from here. I’m the oldest of 4 kids and I’m the only one in Youngstown. I have 2 sisters in Columbus. My brother is in Houston. My wife’s the youngest of 6 kids all of whom, with the exception on one who passed, away still live in Youngstown. So we were both pretty much committed to come back here to be with our families.
Mark: Those are big families. Do you have the big family reunions?
John: My wife’s family is bigger than my family. They have 2 major event every year. One is Christmas Eve dinner.
Mark: Does she do the seven fishes thing?
John: It’s all the mothers and the grandmothers for now. Five or six wonderful ladies upwards of 75 years old who cook all the fish. Their daughters are now helping out with that. We do that for about 80 people.
Mark: Those sound like pretty big events. Where do you go to accommodate all of the people?
John: We rent a hall. Then in the summer we have a big family reunion. For the past 60 years we have the reunion the Sunday after the 4th of July. It’s been held at a variety of places. Yes…my wife’s family is very strongly based! On my side my dad was an only child and my mom was not from Youngstown originally. She just had a brother so even with the four kids we’re not nearly as big as my wife’s family.
Mark: Your Dad was a lawyer?
John: Yes he is. He still practicing. He has his own firm and has been practicing since 1972. He will be seventy-one but I don’t think he has any plans to slow down.
Mark: Most lawyers don’t!!!
John: Well he doesn’t want to stop
Mark: McNally is obviously an Irish name. Have you done the ancestry thing?
John: When I was younger my dad did research both sides. We are mostly Irish, but there is English German and Scotch mixed in. It looks my family came over in the 1870’s. My dad made the family tree.
Mark: Have you been to Ireland?
John: Yes 3 times. Beautiful country. I would like to take my wife there.
Mark: When you came back to town here where did you go to work?
John: I worked for the City of Youngstown. I was working for the State of Ohio for the Office of Collective Bargaining negotiating labor contracts. I came back here to work with Mayor McKelvey in the HR department for personnel. I was Assistant Law Director for 4 or 5 years then became the Law Director. Then I decided to run for County Commissioner and won. I served as Commissioner from 2005 until 2012.
Mark: What made you run for office? In Mahoning County, that’s tough.
A CONVERSATION WITH
MAYOR JOHN McNALLY