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Gains' bid for state AG made for TV



Published: Sun, September 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)




The silhouette of a man fills the television screen. He's standing in a dimly lit kitchen talking on a cell phone. He has his back to the screen door that leads to the outside. The man hears the door being opened. He turns. BANG! The flash from the gun lights up the screen and viewers see the man fall -- still clutching his cell phone.

"This is Paul Gains, the prosecutor-elect of Mahoning County," he says in a weak voice. "I've just been shot by an intruder. Send an ambulance to my house."

The last scene shows Paul Gains standing in front of the Mahoning County Court house naked from the waist up -- as little children walk up to him and rub the scar from the bullet wound.

"I'm Paul Gains, I took a bullet for my community, and I'll take a bullet for you, the people of Ohio."

The TV spot ends with the soupy voice of Vic Rubenstein, long-time political consultant and advertising pitchman: "Ohio needs an attorney general who isn't afraid to stand up to La Cosa Nostra."

The theme song from the "Godfather" can be heard in the background.

Far-fetched? Hardly.

Exploratory committee: Paul Gains, the prosecutor of Mahoning County, is seriously considering a bid for Ohio attorney general in 2002 and has formed an exploratory committee to determine whether such a statewide political endeavor is realistic. Gains, who was the targeted of a Mafia hit on Christmas Eve 1996 following his successful campaign for county prosecutor, has talked with state Democratic Party leaders, including Chairman David Leyland, and expects to make a decision within the month.

Given Rubenstein's penchant for drama, there's no doubt that a Gains campaign will be built on the theme "I took a bullet for my community." That message has resounded with the voters of Mahoning County, who re-elected him last year even though his first term in office was uninspiring.

But whether such a message would resonate in other parts of Ohio is the million-dollar question. After all, while the Mafia is a household word in the Mahoning Valley, elsewhere in the state it is as foreign as the "tarantella" or the gold chain with a pepper hanging on it.

Indeed, Gains' opponents could have a field day with his misfortune.

Imagine this political spot:

The silhouette of a man fills the television screen. He's standing in a dimly lit kitchen talking on a cell phone. He has his back to the screen door that leads to the outside. The man hears the door being opened. He turns. BANG! The flash from the gun lights up the screen and viewers see the man fall -- still clutching his cell phone.

The next scene shows the shooter standing over the body, pressing the trigger -- and nothing.

"This @#* & amp;%$-* & amp;%#@*^ gun don't work," the assassin says. "I shudda checked it out. I'm getting the * & amp;%# outta here."

The last frame of the TV spot shows a man running out the victim's house expecting to see the getaway car -- but instead finds the street empty. He starts running down the middle of the road.

With the sound of laughter in the background, a voice is heard: "Things are so bad in the Mahoning Valley that the Mafia uses hitmen who miss at point blank range. Ohio deserves an attorney general who comes from a part of the state that isn't dysfunctional."

Record: Perhaps Gains' opponents would be kinder and gentler in dealing with the attempt on his life, but there is no doubt that his record as prosecutor will be an issue. His will have to explain his refusal to pursue state charges against former Prosecutor James A. Philomena, who was convicted in federal court of accepting bribes to fix cases and is now serving time in the penitentiary; former Sheriff Phil Chance, who is in federal prison after being found guilty of racketeering, and others swept up in the federal government's crackdown on organized crime and government corruption.

His explanation that going after Philo mena would appear vindictive since he defeated the then prosecutor in the 1996 election, and that Chance is already behind bars will not play well in parts of the state that view the Mahoning Valley as a caldron of crime and corruption.

Indeed, if Gains is the Democratic nominee and Joseph Deters is the Republican candidate, the contrast would be great. Deters is currently Ohio's treasurer but he earned a statewide reputation as a show-no-mercy prosecutor in Hamilton County. He is already on record as saying that as attorney general he will pursue white-collar crime with the same vigor as violent crime.

Gains can expect to be hit with this question by the statewide media: Did the attempt on your life turn you into a softie?




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