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YOUNGSTOWN Democrats predict re-election



Published: Tue, January 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Several chairmen from the larger counties in the state have talked of ousting the Ohio Democratic Party leader.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite his poor track record of getting Democrats elected to statewide office and a growing rift with leaders of the largest counties, Ohio Democratic Chairman David Leland should have no trouble getting re-elected, say local members of the party's State Central Committee.

Pat Vivo and state Rep. Sylvester Patton -- who represent the 33rd state Senate district on the State Central Committee, which includes Mahoning County -- say Leland has their support as well as the support of a majority of the committee's 66 members.

Dennis Lieberman, Montgomery County Democratic chairman, whom Leland defeated in 1995 to win the chairmanship, says he will run for the seat this year.

"There's no question I'll be talking to Dennis Lieberman, but I'm a Leland supporter," Patton said. "I don't necessarily blame all of the party's downfalls in winning state races on him. But I've heard that if you have a great baseball team and you don't win, people look to change the coach."

Expected to win: A number of Democratic chairmen from the largest counties in the state are expected to support Lieberman. Although the chairman can exert pressure and influence over members of the State Central Committee, Leland is expected to win, local Democrats say.

"The bottom line is it's the State Central Committee that elects the chairman and not the county chairs," Patton said.

David Ditzler of Mahoning County and Nick Melfi of Trumbull County, Democratic chairmen of the 12th and 14th largest counties in Ohio, respectively, say finding a replacement for Leland has been a discussion topic for months among the chairmen of the state's largest counties.

Leland is praised for his fund-raising skills, but during his seven years as chairman, the Democrats have never won a statewide nonjudicial race.

"The results speak for themselves," Ditzler said. "Leland's been around for a long time and we haven't had good results. We've come a long way toward strengthening the party, but not toward getting people elected. There's a lot to be desired there and we have to take a different approach."

Melfi said he is not necessarily in favor of dumping Leland, but he is keeping his options open even though he believes the chairman will be retained.

"If you assess the job on victories and losses, it hasn't been well," Melfi said. "If you do it on fund-raising and keeping in touch with chairs and communicating, I'd give him an A. But the bottom line is we put up a slate of candidates for statewide offices and we get our butts kicked."

No State Central Committee members live in Columbiana County.

Unhappy with performance: State Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, whose brother, Tim, is running for governor, said he has been unhappy with Leland's performance and, in particular, his lack of support for his brother's campaign. Hagan also said he believes Leland will be defeated.

"In politics, you're judged by your success and in this case, he should look at himself as the problem," Hagan said.

Central committee members are scheduled to be elected in May with the decision on a state chairman expected a short time later, said Lauren B. Worley, Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman. Leland is running for re-election, Worley said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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