Winning a party election is only half the battle
Michael Sciortino is Mahoning County's auditor by virtue of an overwhelming vote by the Democratic Party's precinct committee members, but it remains a hollow victory.
While Sciortino has established a record as a hard-working public servant in the county commissioners office and at the Mahoning County Board of Elections, it is difficult to see him as the best-qualified candidate for county auditor among those who sought the office last week.
It could be argued that the problem lies with Ohio law, which requires, for instance, that a judicial candidate be a lawyer with six years experience and that a sheriff be a certified law enforcement officer, but requires nothing of a county auditor beyond being an elector and having a willingness to take the job.
And, it is a state law that required the county's Democratic precinct committee members to select a replacement for former Auditor George Tablack, who won the job as a Democrat and resigned before his term was up.
But while the law is loose enough to permit a purely political appointment for a job as important as that of county auditor, nothing in the law says precinct committeemen and committeewomen should or must overlook qualifications in making a choice. The decision to do so was made by party officials and the committee members who chose to follow the party line or who allowed themselves to be wooed by Sciortino over coffee in the morning or dinner at night.
The vote wasn't even close, which only accentuates how purely political it was. The results bore out the impressions before the vote, that Sciortino was the wired-in candidate.
Although party executives do not make a formal endorsement in such elections, Democratic Chairwoman Lisa Antonini made her preference clear. "I support Mike," she said days before the vote, "and I'm not going to hide that fact. ... We've been best friends for many years."
Friendship aside, Sciortino's new job required him to resign as director of the Board of Elections, and that sets up a number of possible scenarios where in other party officials will be able to play musical chairs. One possibility is that Antonini could move into the position of deputy director at the board of elections.
The irony is that Sciortino must now depend on a number of holdovers from Tablack's office to help him run the department, including Anne Marie Vross, the acting auditor after Tablack's resignation and the closest runner-up to Sciortino in the vote .
Sciortino, who has a master's degree in public administration and a law degree but no hands-on experience in the kind of intricate public finance work that falls to the auditor's office, not only defeated Vross by more than 2-to-1, but swamped the other candidates, including one CPA.
The victory of politics over experience or education gave Sciortino the job, but could give other county officials headaches. His selection feeds the cynicism by voters that officeholders in the Valley care far more about taking care of each other than serving the public. It is a cynicism that has been fed by a number of blatantly political personnel moves made by county commissioners.
That will make it more difficult for all county officials to garner the kind of public support that is needed to renew the piggyback sales tax, which is vital to the county's ability to function.