The chairmen of Franklin and Montgomery counties are expected to challenge for the leadership position.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
COLUMBUS -- David Leland, who failed to get a single Democrat elected to a statewide executive office in his seven years as Ohio Democratic Party chairman, will not seek re-election when his term expires next month.
"I'm surprised it's taken this long," said Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Ditzler about Leland's plans to step down. "I like David Leland as a person. I thought he was very helpful to us, and he worked hard. But his results were pretty dismal."
Leland will become national director of Project Vote, a national nonpartisan voter registration and voter mobilization organization.
"As a Boy Scout, I was taught to leave a place in a condition better than that in which I found it," Leland said. "I believe that has been accomplished at the Ohio Democratic Party."
The two leading contenders to replace Leland are Dennis Lieberman, Montgomery County Democratic chairman, whom Leland defeated in 1995 to win the state chairmanship, and Dennis L. White, Franklin County Democratic chairman.
State Rep. Sylvester D. Patton, who represents the 33rd state Senate district on the State Central Committee a Leland supporter, said he would vote for White.
Patton is among 66 members of the State Central Committee, which votes for party officers.
Patton said Leland had more than enough support to be re-elected to another term even though he has a number of detractors. Several chairmen from the state's largest counties wanted Leland out as party leader.
"There's probably a lot of people who aren't disappointed to see him leaving," Patton said. "He did the best with what he had. It might work out for the best this way. It's like a baseball team or a basketball team. It doesn't matter how good the coach is, if the team isn't winning, you can't fire the team. You fire the coach. This might be the jump-start we need."
Since Leland took over the party in 1995, there has been no Democrat elected to any of the state's executive positions -- governor, auditor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. Also, Democrats are in the minority in the state House and Senate.
There are two Democrats on the state Supreme Court, although both were first elected before Leland took over as chairman.
Leland said he has accomplished a lot in his seven years. He specifically pointed to every major city in the state's having a Democratic mayor as well as the state party's exceeding all fund-raising records, buying its first permanent headquarters, establishing the largest Democratic e-mail messaging system of any state and maintaining a 7-million-person Ohio voter file database.
Struggle for candidates
The Democratic Party struggled during the past two statewide election years -- this year and 1998 -- to find suitable candidates to run for statewide office.
"It was too much of an effort to fill every slot on the ticket," Ditzler said. "He should have concentrated on one or two positions that could be captured rather than worrying about filling every slot."
Like Ditzler, Trumbull Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Melfi had high praise for Leland as a person, but was critical of his seven years as state chairman.
"It was time for a change," Melfi said. "He didn't win, and so he had to go."
Ditzler and Melfi, whose terms as Mahoning and Trumbull Democratic chairmen, respectively, expire next month, said they do not think a new state party chairman will have much of an impact on the Mahoning Valley.