WARREN - New City Council President James Graham said he wants to help take the city back to the days when people envied what it had, and wanted to work and live here.
"It seems like everything is going a little backwards," Graham said. "I want to be a part of a resurgence of the city."
Graham, who served as president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 for 15 years, watched from the rear of the City Council chambers for several months prior to winning last November's general elections. He continued to observe the council's operations after becoming its president-elect.
After his first meeting as the council president, Graham said his first goal is to bring a sense of unity among council members.
"It is no surprise that council had some issues with the prior president," Graham said. "They were not focused because of that. I've been working at bring council back in unison with the president's chair."
Although the council president's job is basically to run the meeting, appoint committees and to break ties, Graham said he views the post as being a resource to the administration and a resource to the community residents.
"(Mayor) Doug (Franklin) and I have a very good relationship," Graham said. "I'm sure we will be working closely on quite a few things. I believe this job can be very exciting. I, working with the administration and other members of council, plan to reach out and grab opportunities."
He lost a race against Franklin for the Democratic party nomination for the mayor's seat in 2011. Graham has since said he was not interested in running against Franklin for the seat.
Graham said he expects to use the lessons he learned while being president of Local 1112 in his new job.
"You have to show leadership, understanding and be willing the listen to the problems of others" Graham said. "You can't be arrogant or dismissive of others. Every person I talk to is just as important as the person before them."
One of Graham's first acts as council president was to appoint members of its standing committees.
He moved longtime Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, from his post as the chairman of council's finance committee to chairman of community development. He placed Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, as the council's finance chairman.
Novak, who served as the finance chairman during the last three terms, said the move was a complete surprise to him.
"I requested to remain as the finance chairman," Novak said. "I happen to be the first council committee chairman to have been removed from his seat without a request."
Later, Novak and Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, received permission to switch chairmanships, with Saffold being reappointed to her position as chair of community development committee and Novak becoming the head of the operations committee.
Although not speaking about particular committee assignments, Graham suggested there is not one committee on council that is better than other committees.
"They're all very, very important to the citizens of this community," Graham said. "Everyone on council is capable to chairing any of the committees."
Graham said he watched the operations of each of the committees to find out what they involved, asked questions of various council members, and then made his appointments.
"There are some council members who may disagree with my decisions, but we are all professionals," Graham said.
The council president said he is already reaching out to area business leaders to see how the city can help them and find out way they can help to move the city forward.
"We have to make Warren more pleasing to people who are outside of the area," Graham said. "Sometimes, we get too caught up with the city's negatives and do not focus on the positive things happening in this community.".
Graham says turning around the city will take time.
"We have to address one issue at a time," he said. "It will take tame to get our city back."