The candidates in two council races accused one another of weak leadership.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
STRUTHERS -- Members of the two leading political factions here will square off Tuesday, and the results could alter how Struthers government operates in the future.
At the forefront is the council presidency race. Michael G. Orenic, who has held the spot for 18 years, is being challenged in Tuesday's Democratic primary by Danny Thomas Jr., a two-term 1st Ward councilman.
"There is something lacking in that position now," Thomas said. "I feel I can do a lot more with the position. Now, he just sets committees and runs council meetings. I'm far and above what my opponent is."
Orenic responds in kind.
"If [voters] choose someone who's done nothing for his ward, it's their choice," Orenic said. "We never had a problem in Struthers until Mr. Thomas came on council.
"He dreamed up stuff to get his name in the newspaper. This Thomas is a joke. Take a ride through the 1st Ward."
Additional race: Orenic's main ally, Councilman Robert D. Carcelli, D-at large, also faces a primary challenge. Carcelli and the two other at-large incumbents -- Ronald M. Mathews and Dexter A. Hollen -- along with Jerry Shields, a former 1st Ward councilman, are running for three seats.
Shields has aligned himself with Thomas.
"The clash between Thomas and Orenic is because they have different ideas as to where the city is going," Shields said.
Thomas and Shields say they have excellent relationships with Mayor Daniel Mamula. Orenic acknowledges he and Mamula "don't see eye to eye, but there isn't any animosity between us."
Investigation: The ongoing FBI investigation into a $132,000 paving contract awarded in 1995 to Tone Crack Sealing and Supply Inc. is a campaign issue.
Carcelli was the secretary-treasurer of Laborers International Union of North America Local 125 at the time.
Renee Smith, head of Tone Crack, serves as the union's office manager.
Carcelli said he had nothing to do with the contract, but those questioned by FBI agents said they were asked about Carcelli and his brother, Ron, the city's street foreman.
Carcelli said he is willing to take a lie detector test to prove he had nothing to do with the contract. He contended that Shields and Thomas are two of the people most responsible for bringing in the FBI to investigate him.
"I think it's being done to stir stuff up because of the election," Carcelli said.
Orenic called the FBI investigation "a bunch of crap."
Thomas said if he is elected council president, he would better control Carcelli during meetings if Carcelli is re-elected.
"Right now, it's the Bobby Carcelli show," Thomas said. "Orenic lets Bobby do what Bobby wants to do. He's a puppet for Carcelli."
Orenic said he does not give Carcelli "the run of the show. I'm close to Mr. Carcelli, but I don't agree with him all the time. He's one of the most intelligent councilmen we have."
Other candidates' views: Despite the fighting between the two factions, city officials work well together for the betterment of Struthers, said Mathews and Hollen, who say they are not tied to either group.
"It's only been because of the election that these problems have come out," Mathews said. "A percentage of people are losing sight that they are there to represent the people."
"I can probably count on one or two hands the number of issues there's been some serious disagreements on," Hollen added. "It's a little more heated the last couple of months because of the election."