The Democratic chairman and a former county commissioner candidate are poised to enter the race if David Ludt opts not to run for re-election.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Commissioner David Ludt wasn't looking to get a free pass for his re-election bid, and a number of challengers are making sure he gets exactly what he was expecting.
Former Youngstown Councilman Joseph Naples and M. Mike McNair, publisher of the Buckeye Review newspaper, are planning to run in the Democratic primary against Ludt. Also, Jeff Groat, a former Austintown Township trustee, has switched political parties and will run as a Republican for the commission seat.
McNair ran and lost in 2000 as an independent candidate for county commissioner. He wanted to run as an independent candidate for mayor last year, but he was thrown off the ballot because he did not have enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions.
McNair has considered leaving the Democratic Party in the past and becoming either a Republican or an independent, but has opted to stay a Democrat.
"My best chance of winning is remaining a Democrat," McNair said. "Statistically and realistically, I have a better chance of winning as a Democrat. My candidacy gives Democrats a choice; a viable choice and a better voice for the party."
Of Mahoning County's 177,347 registered voters, 63,455 are Democrats, and 16,473 are Republicans.
Last Republican: The last time a Republican served as county commissioner was 1964, the year Edward J. Gilronan, a three-term commissioner, lost a re-election bid.
Groat said that now is the time for a change and that he is the ideal choice for the position because of his experience working with Democrats and Republicans while an Austintown trustee for four years.
The filing deadline is Feb. 21.
Others might run: Two others have taken out nominating petitions, but plan to file only if Ludt pulls out of the race.
Mahoning Democratic Chairman David Ditzler, an Austintown trustee, and Deborah N. Taylor, a Ludt ally who unsuccessfully ran in 2000 for commissioner, say they heard rumors that Ludt might not seek re-election.
Ludt said he will run for re-election and typically doesn't file his petitions with the board of elections until the last day.
Ditzler and Taylor said they told Ludt that if he filed for re-election, they would not run against him. But if he did not file, they would run in the May 7 Democratic primary.
"I'm not taking any chances," Taylor said. "The minute he files, I'll rip up the petitions. Until then, the petitions are active. I want to have them ready if at the last minute he says no. It's our insurance policy."
Ditzler said he would never consider running against the incumbent Democrat.
"But if he doesn't run, then I'm going to get into the race," Ditzler said. "It was just an option that I was keeping open in case Dave made a last-minute decision not to run, and I've heard that may be a possibility. If Dave Ludt is out of the picture, I wanted the opportunity to be included in the picture."