MAHONING COUNTY Hanni reacts to Dem plan

Assessing Democratic officeholders is good in theory, but it will never work here, said the former party chairman.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Don L. Hanni Jr. let out a loud laugh when told that the Mahoning County Democratic Party, which he led for 16 years, is considering a plan requiring all elected and endorsed Democratic officeholders to give 5 percent of their annual salaries to the party.
He also gets a kick out of the party's considering the reinstatement of primary-election endorsements.
When Hanni was replaced in 1994 as chairman by Michael Morley, the party's precinct committee members chose to eliminate primary-election endorsements and assessments. Among Morley's core issues were the removal of those two policies.
Finances, unity: Seven years later, the party, described by loyalists as cash-strapped and splintered, is on the brink of a vote to bring both policies back in an attempt to improve its financial condition and unity.
Hanni says the party should reinstate endorsements and made a mistake when it eliminated the policy in 1994.
"Without endorsements, what do you have except a party label?" Hanni said. "The theory is great if they get the right people as committee members."
Morley, who was chairman from 1994 to 1999, could not be reached Wednesday to comment on the endorsement and assessment proposals. But in the past, Morley has declined to discuss the issues.
Current chairman David Ditzler supports both measures.
Hanni's policy: Assessing candidates is a good idea, Hanni said, but it will never work in Mahoning County.
As chairman, Hanni's assessment policy was that endorsed and elected Democratic officeholders were to turn over 10 percent of their salary to the party. But it rarely, if ever, happened, Hanni said.
"Collection was terrible," he said. "But we didn't stick to any hard and fast rule. We were very flexible and we'd grant reprieves. The assessments were alluded to as Hanni's blood money, but when it came right down to it, it was hardly collected."
One drawback, Hanni said, is officeholders simply refused to give a percentage of their salary to the party.
"Historically, most of these [officeholders] are so cheap they wouldn't spend a quarter to see the 12 apostles run a relay race," Hanni said. "I understand why the party wants to bring it back. Who should pay for the election other than the people who are running? But it won't work."
So instead of forcing the issue, Hanni allowed officeholders to sell tickets to the party's major summer fund-raiser -- usually $125 a ticket -- and use the proceeds as credit toward their assessments.
The party's constitution committee voted Tuesday to recommend the precinct committee people reinstate endorsements during primary elections and require a 5-percent assessment fee from all endorsed and elected Democrats. The party will meet in September to vote on the proposals.

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