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MAHONING GOP Petition challenges dropped

By David Skolnick

Friday, March 15, 2002

The board authorized an investigation into the candidacy of every Hanni candidate.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Attorneys representing the Mahoning County Republican Party and supporters of Mark A. Hanni's bid to become GOP chairman spent hours arguing, complaining and making sarcastic remarks about the validity of the signatures on precinct candidates' petitions.
After four hours of that and little progress, the two sides -- and dozens of impatient people at a board of elections hearing Thursday -- had enough.
The two sides agreed to drop challenges to each other's precinct committee candidate petitions, but the board voted to have the prosecutor's office and sheriff's department investigate every Hanni-supported precinct committee candidate.
That came after board Director Michael Sciortino said he received telephone calls from four pro-Hanni precinct candidates whose petitions were being challenged, telling him they do not support Hanni and were misinformed when they signed declarations of candidacy.
Three of them are registered Democrats, making them ineligible to run for GOP committee seats. Hanni acknowledged that three of the four candidates in question were recruited by him, but insisted they support him and was surprised to hear of Sciortino's conversations.
Response: Hanni said he welcomes the investigation and would like to see it expanded to include all Republican precinct committee candidates.
Getting precinct committee candidates on the ballot is vital to Smith and Hanni because the precinct winners in the May 7 primary will vote for party chairman.
Edwin Romero, an attorney representing the party, had failed to sway the boards, which includes GOP Chairman Clarence Smith as a member, that four petitions should have been disqualified because the signatures on those documents did not match the signatures on the candidates' voter registration cards.
There were about 40 more petitions to consider, most for questionable signatures, when the deal was made.
Romero worked out a deal with David Betras, Don L. Hanni Jr., Ed Sturgeon, and George A. Tzagournis, attorneys representing Mark A. Hanni candidates.
"It was a failed attempt by them to railroad people off the ballot," Hanni said. "It's a bunch of poppycock. All the questions regarding the signatures were totally bogus."
The only Republican precinct candidates removed were those who voted in the past two Democratic primaries, an automatic disqualification under state law, and one candidate who is 17 years old.
Investigations: There was much talk about investigations, and not just the one that will be conducted into Hanni-supported candidates.
The board called off an investigation into potential voter fraud on four Hanni candidates: Jason D. Lariccia of Boardman, Jeffrey A. Mudrinich of Struthers, Paul Guerrieri of Youngstown, and his son, Paul J. Guerrieri of Boardman.
The board previously said the signatures on those four petitions were the same handwriting and disqualified those petitions. As part of the agreement, all but Lariccia were reinstated as candidates. Hanni said Lariccia's signature is legitimate, but he decided not to run after being targeted by the board.
Also, Hanni said he would ask for an investigation of Republican election board employees, specifically Deputy Director Thomas McCabe, whom he accuses of recruiting Republican precinct committee candidates on county time. McCabe said he recruited many candidates, but never on county time.
Tension: Although the issues of questionable signatures ended amicably, there was much tension during Thursday's proceeding.
Romero and Betras got into several arguments.
Don L. Hanni Jr., Mark Hanni's father and former Democratic Party chairman, shouted comments from the audience and once exchanged words with Smith, who accused the older Hanni of engineering his son's candidacy for chairman.
After Don Hanni left, Smith commented, "We have a guy trying to take over the Republican Party and you saw Daddy helping him out...I'm all for young people getting into politics. You saw what old age does to politics."
Although his father missed Smith's comments, Mark A. Hanni heard them.
"The Hannis aren't the issue," he said. "It's [Smith's] incompetence that's the issue. The Republican Party has been dead under his leadership."