MAHONING COUNTY Bylaws changes bar Hanni from GOP post
Letters signed by the Republican chairman were sent to precinct committee candidates who support Mark A. Hanni.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Changes made to the bylaws of the Mahoning County Republican Party make Mark A. Hanni ineligible to run for chairman.
Chairman Clarence Smith said the changes were in the works for 31/2 years and it is only coincidental that they were approved at the same time Hanni is challenging him.
"I don't want it made into a thing that was done against Hanni," Smith said. "We're not concerned about Hanni in that sense because he could change it back in five minutes if he's got the votes. This had nothing to do with our decision."
Hanni's view: Hanni calls the change a desperate move by a desperate man.
"It's too bad he resorts to Nixon dirty tricks to keep me out," he said. "He's not winning so he's changing the rules."
The changes to the bylaws were made at a Republican central committee meeting Wednesday, which was kept quiet from the local media. About 60 precinct committee members attended the meeting, according to those who were there.
The bylaws change that restricts Hanni's ability to run for chairman states that only those who have voted in the two proceeding Republican primaries are eligible to be party office holders. Hanni recently switched parties and has not voted in the two most recent Republican primaries.
"If, in fact, Mark Hanni is ineligible to run then one of the other people in the movement will emerge," Hanni said. "This will not deter me. Mark Hanni doesn't have to be chairman. There are many who would be eligible to run who could come out on top."
No names: Hanni declined to mention potential candidates, saying he first wanted to discuss the possibility with them before releasing their names.
Until the change, the only requirement to hold office in the party was that a person has to be a precinct committee member. Hanni is not a precinct committee member, but is running for that post in the May 7 primary.
Smith and his supporters say that if Hanni's precinct committee candidates gain majority control over the party's central committee, they can vote to change the bylaws and permit Hanni to serve as chairman.
"He's not in charge right now and we are," Smith said. "If he was in charge, he could do what he pleases."
But both sides acknowledge that any changes to the bylaws would have to come after the party's reorganizational meeting, to be held about a month after the May primary. The reorganizational meeting is specifically designed to elect party officials.
Both sides have candidates running in most of the 312 Republican precinct committee races. Those elected will vote for party chairman. The elections board, which counts Smith as a member, recently launched an investigation into the candidacy of precinct committee candidates who support Hanni after questions were raised about four candidates.
Letter sent: The decision to change the bylaws comes on the heels of a letter Smith sent to dozens of Hanni's precinct committee candidates asking them to get out of the race. The letter came with a form to send to the board of elections to withdraw as a candidate.
The letter says Smith encourages candidates to remain in the race if they "disavow any association with Hanni."
As of Friday, two candidates withdrew, using the letter mailed to them by Smith and his supporters.