The Democrat's judgment is questioned by his Republican opponent.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, wonders how low J. Kenneth Blackwell and supporters of the Republican candidate will sink.
Blackwell, who trails Strickland by double digits in most polls, questions the judgment of the Democrat for having a sex offender on his congressional staff when he cast a "present" vote in 1999 on a resolution to condemn a study that said adult-child sex might be positive for children. A "present" vote is neither for nor against an issue.
"I've won elections and I've lost elections," Strickland told The Vindicator Friday. "There's something worse than losing an election and that is losing your integrity in an effort to win. You keep hoping there is some line that people will not cross. These people are coming very close to that."
Strickland said he doesn't apologize for the vote because he objected to this language in the resolution: "The Supreme Court has recognized that 'sexually exploited children are unable to develop healthy affectionate relationships in later life, have sexual dysfunctions and have a tendency to become sexual abusers as adults.'"
Twelve other U.S. House members also voted present.
Strickland of Lisbon said he would have voted in favor of the legislation, but only if he could have first explained his concerns. When Strickland, a former prison psychologist, made it to the House floor to express his reservations, the debate was over.
"If I had the time, I would have voted 'yes,' spoke my peace about the parts I object to and there would be no discussion on this," he said.
Strickland also said the campaign and congressional staffer in question broke the law before he hired him. While Strickland received anonymous information about the staffer, the man denied the accusations. Strickland said there was no reason to further question the man because there was no proof of misconduct.
The staffer no longer works for the congressman.
"It's quite disingenuous of the congressman to say there is no problem with this staff member when Democrats are attacking Republicans over Mark Foley," said Carlo LoParo, Blackwell's campaign spokesman. "Does he apply the same standards to his party who attack Republicans who had nothing to do with Foley's conduct? No, he doesn't and it's hypocritical."
Foley is a Republican congressman who recently resigned when it was revealed he sent sexually oriented e-mails to underage House pages.
Strickland of Lisbon said Blackwell of Cincinnati, the secretary of state, and his supporters are desperately attempting to discredit him to help the failed Republican campaign for governor.
"I fluctuate between finding humor in this and being angry," he said. "The only possibility he has to win is to destroy me. How do you do that? You try to create a person who doesn't exist. It's not playing for them this time."
Bryan Flannery, who lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary in May, brought up the issues of the 1999 vote and the staffer earlier this year in the campaign. When asked why Blackwell's campaign has revived these issues in recent days and not earlier, LoParo said it is topical because of Foley.
"This goes to Mr. Strickland's judgment," he said. "There are a lot of questions about Ted Strickland. I doubt voters will embrace his irresponsible and troublesome record."
Strickland said the false allegations are pathetic attempts by Blackwell and his supporters to discredit him, and voters are seeing right through them.
"My opponent is a very, very desperate man," he said. "These are desperate things from a desperate man. He's won and remained in office for years by using negative tactics. People are tired of these negative, outrageous tactics and are rejecting him."
Strickland acknowledges that part of the reason for his lead in the polls is many of those surveyed have negative feelings about Blackwell.
"There's a huge desire for change," he said. "I think Blackwell is a very divisive polarizing figure."
If elected, Strickland said he wants to unify the state and would give serious consideration to including Republicans in his cabinet.