Phil Kidd will always ‘Defend Youngstown’

Phil Kidd might be one of the most pivotal figures in the city of Youngstown in the last decade.

Scott Schulick offered that up. Think about that.

Jay Williams. Jim Tressel. Eric Ryan. A few more like that.


It’s pretty accurate – especially if you’re talking specifically Youngstown borders.

Besides most pivotal, Phil’s also one of the most intense.

And one of the most engaged.

And one of the most polarizing.

I write all the above and will write a bit more below with this preface:

I was always a Phil fan, but for a brief period. For about nine months or so, I would have welcomed time with a death row inmate before engaging Phil.

He, too, felt the same toward me. Thus, it made Thursday’s last official visit to The Vindicator all the more interesting to be able to talk that and more. Find the 45-minute chat on the podcast section.

“Defend Youngstown” has left the building. Phil starts a job in Cleveland on April 1. But “Defend” is not over.

“I love Youngstown. I consider this home,” said Kidd on Vindy Talk Radio Thursday with me and radio host Louie Free of Brainfood from the Heartland.

Phil is different, and it’s been special to take in.

He was an idealistic millennial when he came back here from the Army in 2004 to return to Youngstown State University for graduate school. On Friday and Saturday nights then, he stood at the Man on the Monument statue in Central Square with a sign – the John Cusack “Say Anything” of downtown. His sign had two words: Defend Youngstown.

Guys with signs standing on American corners turn away mostly people. Here, Phil and those words took off.

“I Heart Youngstown would not have worked,” he laughed – not salty enough for here.

T-shirts, blogs and Facebook pushed a Defend edge that became a movement. Phil and Phil Phans were everywhere, and a depressed city showed some change. Someone cared enough to not just say, but also do. And it was this young guy in jeans and a white shirt.

Phil floated through a few jobs – City of Youngstown downtown events boss, Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative and lastly, Youngstown CityScape. From those jobs came hundreds of actions and activities by Phil or with Phil: Twenty neighborhood associations organized, outdoor movies downtown, jazz fest, Wick Park $1 million-fund drive, 5K and wedding soup event, downtown walking tour, City Club of Mahoning Valley, neighborhood cleanups with Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, and on and on and on. They list over a page and a half – single-spaced. And that’s just the official work. He helped me launch a cleanup for Boys and Girls Club of Youngstown. That’s not on the list, but he was my hand-holder.

What’s interesting about all he did is that it was done without an epic job title that one would connect with what he accomplished. Nor the budget. Councilman? Mayor? Executive Director? President?

No. Whatever of his jobs, “Defend Youngstown” was his main job.

The right person, the right place and timed right with a new vehicle called Facebook. If Phil had to pull off what he did with mailings and yard signs, it doesn’t happen.

Phil got huge. H.U.G.E.

His Facebook posts had news, opinions and rants about all things he liked and did not like – including the local newspaper. More unique than the content were the crowds. Each post drew thousands of thumbs-ups, hundreds of comments and shares. Socially speaking, he was the Kardashian of gritty Youngstown renewal.

Foolish was the person who dipped into that feverish crowd and dared to question Phil or the facts. Some tried. I did. It was ugly. I would have fared better with the death row crowd.

He was the first person I knew who touched the Facebook rule of 5,000 maximum friends. That machine grew to whispers of a Phil mayoral run. Even that had a Facebook Page.

About that time, it all burst, as bubbles do. It’s weird to look at Phil’s Facebook page now and see just 254 friends, not 5,000.

Our second friendship, so to speak, started at that crash point. Sitting at a bar over a beer with YNDC’s Ian Beniston. Phil tended bar. He was no longer at MVOC and possibly leaving town, and that’s what the three of us discussed. Phil was clearly not ready to leave – at least as a bartender.

America loves a comeback, and so do I.

With a new job at Cityscape, Phil jumped back in the saddle – albeit more selective in how he progressed, as shown by his Facebook change. He intentionally whittled away 4,800 or so “friends” to get to his current number. I’m glad to be one.

His second act was just as accomplished as his first. But he poured into the city like a nice $7 bottle of red wine as opposed to a shot-gunned can of Pabst. (Phil’s a proud minimalist, said Schulick. Thus, anything more than $7 for wine would be splurging.)

In that transition, I found my deepest admiration for him: One who could change while doing the same.

He’s ready to leave now the way he envisioned. He’s earned it.

But don’t think for a second he’s done Defending.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.