League's fussing over luncheons draws criticism
Those attending the luncheons say there is no reason to spy on them or question what goes on at the get-togethers.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Local public officials who attend the private Cafaro roundtable luncheons say they have no intention of skipping the monthly get-togethers just because the Citizens' League of Greater Youngstown is urging them to do so.
"This is sad because I generally had respect for the Citizens' League and I find this whole episode silly," said Judge Joseph Vukovich of the 7th District Court of Appeals, who attends Cafaro roundtable luncheons.
Here's the objection: The Citizens' League, which describes itself as a nonpartisan group that combats organized crime and political corruption in the Mahoning Valley, is calling for public officials to stop attending the Cafaro lunches.
The group has no qualms about the lunches' being held, but objects to public officials' attending them because it creates the appearance of impropriety and the potential of undue influence and conflicts of interest, said Lowell J. Satre, the league's president.
If that's the case, said state Rep. Sylvester Patton Jr. of Youngstown, who attends the luncheons, then he shouldn't meet with anyone.
"This is crazy," said Patton, D-64th. "There's nothing sinister going on at the lunches. They don't know anything about it and they're not invited so they think something underhanded is going on. The only thing that goes on is camaraderie. I hope they keep on having them and I plan on going to the next one."
What this is about: The monthly luncheons bring together prominent local leaders including politicians, businessmen, clergy, attorneys, physicians and longtime Cafaro family friends to discuss politics, current events, policy and the Mahoning Valley.
The luncheons were established by William Cafaro of the mall-developing family and are now organized by his son, Anthony, president of the Cafaro Co.
"I've been going to these things for 25 years and I will still go," said Trumbull County Commissioner James G. Tsagaris. "It's a nice meeting with a nice bunch of guys that meet once a month. There's no reason to spy on us."
Although a majority of those at the lunch are men, women also attend the event, according to participants.
Trumbull County Commissioner Joseph J. Angelo Jr., another frequent attendee of the luncheons, said Citizens' League members have no idea about what goes on at the get-togethers.
"We have a good meal and we talk about popular and hot issues," he said. "A lot of people look at [the league's claim] and laugh because it's comical. But it's also sad that it's come to this."
Recent happening: The Cafaro roundtable, which has been taking place for decades, recently became an issue after Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey called police at the Aug. 4 luncheon, contending there was a suspicious person, possibly a sniper, outside Anthony's On the River, where the event was held.
That person was Robert Fitzer, a league member and its former president as well as local talk-radio host. Fitzer, who was not charged by police, was on the ground with binoculars and a notebook.
Reached Tuesday, Fitzer declined to comment on the episode, but said he plans to talk about it in the near future.
Fitzer and Bill Binning, co-hosts of Commentary Cafe on WYSU, were called into a Tuesday meeting with station management.
Both said they were concerned that station management was going to cancel the show, entering its seventh season, because the radio station has received numerous telephone calls about the matter. But at the meeting, station management only talked about ways to improve the show, they said.
During a Monday press conference, the Citizens' League released what it called a "partial list of persons believed to have attended recent Cafaro roundtable meetings."
Responses: On the list were state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-57th, and state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard, D-67th.
Boccieri said he has never attended a Cafaro roundtable luncheon but is eager to go to one. Latell said the last one he attended was run by William Cafaro, who died more than three years ago.
Even though he has not attended a recent luncheon, Latell said it is offensive that the Citizens' League would tell public officials they cannot meet with certain people.
"Here we have a free country and you're going to tell me that I can't meet with someone," he said. "It's wrong for anyone to say it's out of line for me to talk to constituents. It's like saying no one should go to any meeting of any group or company."
McKelvey said he plans to continue going to the Cafaro luncheons and wants to invite Fitzer and James Callen, another former Citizens' League president, to the next one.
"If they accept, I'm going to make them eat spaghetti," he said, referring to a previous comment he made that some members of the Citizens' League think anyone eating pasta is in the Mafia.