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Battle looms for GOP posts



Published: Sat, February 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A candidate for chairman of the Mahoning County Democrats says she has commitments from nearly every precinct.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A group of Republicans led by Mark A. Hanni have filed petitions for central committee candidates in most of Mahoning County's 312 election precincts in an effort to unseat GOP Chairman Clarence Smith.

Hanni's group, the Republicans for Real Reform, filed nominating petitions in about 270 precincts. Smith and his supporters filed about 240 nominating petitions.

Both sides expect a battle during the May 7 GOP primary, when Republican voters will cast ballots for precinct committee members. The elected committee members will then elect the party chairman at a meeting sometime in June.

Hanni is a name closely affiliated with Democrats, primarily because Hanni's father, Don L. Hanni Jr., served 16 years as Mahoning County's Democratic chairman. Hanni's father and his brother, Don L. Hanni III, are running for Democratic precinct committee positions. His sister, Holly, is running as a Republican candidate for Ohio Senate, and she says she has nothing to do with her brother's campaign for chairman.

Long time coming: Mark A. Hanni said he has been contemplating a switch to the Republican Party for the past few years because of philosophical differences he has with the Democratic Party. But he did not have complimentary words for the current Mahoning Republican Party.

"You can't tell the Democrats from the Republicans around here; they are the same party," he said.

The current Republican leadership has failed this area by neglecting to run viable candidates against corrupt officials and by being silent during the recent redistricting effort that splits the Valley into three congressional districts, Hanni said.

It is too difficult to start a third party, Hanni said, so "what you need to do is take over an existing party."

Hanni's attempts to wrest control of the Republican Party is not being met with kindness from Smith's supporters.

"The Hannis have been thrown out of the Democratic Party, and now they're trying to take over the Republican Party, an effort which is doomed to fail," said Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections and a Republican executive committee member. "Hanni's motives are certainly suspect and are probably based on revenge and bitterness. I'm sure he won't find the welcome mat out for him."

Smith, who has been chairman for the past four years, could not be reached Friday to comment.

Hanni also filed to run as a state central committee member, a seat held by Smith, who is running for re-election.

Democratic commitments: On the Democratic side, Lisa Antonini, a candidate for her party's chairmanship, said she has commitments from about 290 precinct committee candidates, including about 190 who are unopposed for their seat. If those commitments are honored, Antonini would be elected to run the Democratic Party.

Mark Belinky, who is interested in the post, said he did not actively recruit committee member candidates. Belinky is president of the Democrats of the 17th District, a local political organization that did urge people to run for committee positions.

Mahoning Democratic Chairman David Ditzler is not seeking re-election.

skolnick@vindy.com




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