2007 New Frontier Award recipient Jay Williams, November 7, 2007.

Background

Jay Williams made history in November, 2005 when he became the youngest and the first African-American Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio. A former banker who left the corporate world to serve as director of the city’s community development agency, Williams staked his mayoral candidacy on an unusual and politically bold plan to revitalize the city. Once home to 180,000 residents, the population of Youngstown is now half that number, with abandoned homes, storefronts and factories that have stood empty since the once-thriving city lost most of its manufacturing and steel jobs in the 1970’s. Williams won a six-way race with more than 50% of the vote, on a platform that called for the city to acknowledge its diminishing population and poor economic health, and to improve its circumstances not by growing, but by shrinking.

Prior to his election, Williams was a leader in developing and promoting the “Youngstown 2010” citywide planning initiative, which called for restricted development, refurbishment of dilapidated buildings, and demolition of certain neighborhoods to allow for green space. As mayor, Williams has continued to promote this unusual approach to development, which has led local and national observers to call him a visionary leader with an eye to the future. One of Williams’ first official acts as mayor was to funnel surplus funds toward demolition in the city. He has also increased city investment in economic development programs, and has worked to reduce crime by adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward offenders and developing close ties with law enforcement and community and religious leaders to increase education among Youngstown’s poor youth.

Williams was born and raised in Youngstown. He graduated from Youngstown State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.