GOVERNOR'S RACE Project Vote director Leland to help Strickland
The former party chairman spent seven years leading Ohio Democrats.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
A former Ohio Democratic Party chairman is taking a leave of absence from a voter mobilization organization to take a top-level position in the gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.
In an e-mail sent Wednesday, David Leland said he is leaving his job as national director of Project Vote, a voter registration and mobilization organization, to become Strickland's senior campaign adviser and finance chairman.
Leland opted in 2002 not to seek re-election as state party chairman after seven years on the job. Several party officials at the time said Leland stood no chance of winning another term as chairman.
During his seven years as state chairman, not one Democrat was elected to a statewide executive office.
In a May 29, 2002, article in The Vindicator, then-Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Ditzler said he was "surprised it's taken this long" for Leland to resign. Ditzler also said at the time that Leland's "results were pretty dismal."
Leland's inability to attract good candidates for the 2002 election led to a Republican landslide in that year's general election.
The weak slate, with Tim Hagan as the party's gubernatorial candidate, was the final straw for Leland's critics. Dennis White, then-Franklin County Democratic chairman, succeeded Leland as state chairman.
Strickland, of Lisbon, D-6th, and Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman are the two announced 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Strickland had said in January that he wouldn't run for governor because his work in the U.S. House was too important. At the time, Strickland said he "never, ever felt comfortable with the thought of being governor."
However, Strickland changed his mind in May after being urged by several people, including a number of prominent politicians, saying he was "the best person to lead the state."
Republicans running next year for governor include Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, Attorney General Jim Petro, Auditor Betty Montgomery, and Pete Draganic, a political newcomer.
With Leland leaving Project Vote, the agency will be run by Zach Polett, its executive director, and Holli Holliday, its new national director. Holliday has served in senior management positions with the agency for the past two years.