Some Democratic officeholders question the wisdom of requiring elected officials to pay 5 percent of their salary to the party.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The head of the Mahoning County Democratic committee recommending the party require all elected and endorsed Democratic officials to give 5 percent of their annual salary to the organization says the proposal has little to no chance of being enacted.
"I truly believe if an assessment is approved, it would be much lower and probably be nothing for the first few years," said Kenneth Carano, chairman of the party's constitution committee recommending the 5-percent assessment fee.
Purpose of fee: The fee would be used to pay for party operations. Endorsed candidates also would be required to pay additional fees to cover the cost of campaign advertising done by the party on their behalf during the primary and general elections. The party currently requires Democratic candidates running in the general election to pay those advertising fees.
"In truth, the Democratic Party needs money to function, but we're going to have to prove we have enough backbone and know-how to do something with the money before people will give it to us," Carano said.
Precinct committeemen will consider the endorsement and assessment proposals at a September meeting.
Many oppose plan: Carano said he's already heard from a number of elected officials who strongly oppose the assessment proposal.
What will happen when well-known Democratic officeholders refuse to pay the assessment and win without the party's endorsement, what will that say about the local Democratic Party?
"It could destroy the party's credibility," said Mahoning County Recorder Ronald V. Gerberry, who has no intention of paying the party a 5-percent assessment fee. "It would place the party in a position where its future would be uncertain."
The proposal for officeholders to give the party part of their annual salary would leave people with the impression that the endorsement process is directly tied to money, said county Treasurer John Reardon.
"I agree in principle that officeholders should fund the party, but 5 percent of everyone's salary would generate $100,000 a year," he said. "The party doesn't need that type of money and I question why they would ask for that money."
The party's weak financial situation is a prime reason for the fee, Carano said.
Those refusing to pay the fee could not receive the party's endorsement for the subsequent eight years.
County Clerk of Courts Anthony Vivo said he would never pay the fee.
"I have no clue what it would be used for," Vivo said. "It could be used against me. I'd rather give the money to charity than put it in some unknown fund."
Showing support: While most local and county officeholders interviewed said they do not favor the assessment fee and believe it will fail, Valley state legislators support the plan.
"The party has to come up with a way to raise money and I think it's only fair for officeholders to contribute," said state Rep. Sylvester D. Patton Jr. of Youngstown, D-64th. "I wish there was another way, but we need to raise money to run campaigns."
The assessment of Democratic officeholders by their county parties is not unusual in Ohio, said Kena Hudson, the state Democratic Party's spokeswoman. Trumbull County requires its endorsed candidates to pay an assessment of about $1,500 to $3,300 per campaign. But Hudson could not cite an example of another county Democratic organization in Ohio requiring its officeholders to pay an annual fee based on their salary.
How it was: The Mahoning party used to endorse candidates during the primary election and charge a 10-percent assessment fee on officeholders during the 16-year reign of Don L. Hanni Jr. as party chairman. Hanni said most people didn't pay it and those who did either paid a reduced rate or used the proceeds of tickets they sold to party events to pay off the fee.
The elimination of endorsements and assessment fees were two of the issues Michael Morley used during his campaign to defeat Hanni in 1994. Morley was replaced as chairman in 1999 by David Ditzler, an ally who worked with him to unseat Hanni. Ditzler supports endorsements and assessments, saying it will make the party more unified and financially stable.