By Bertram de Souza
There he stood in all his Florida-tanned glory, waxing eloquent about the late Don L. Hanni Jr. In the background was Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church hall in Youngstown — the very place he had refused to enter so many years ago because Hanni, as chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, had had a fund-raiser attended by, among others, Mahoning Valley Mafia bosses and their underlings.
“This looks like a scene from ‘The Godfather,’” the young, idealistic Democratic member of Youngstown City Council had blurted out — within earshot of Democratic Party faithful — before he turned heel and left.
But here’s the real irony of George M. McKelvey’s television performance July 21 after the funeral mass for Hanni, who died July 16.
Three days following his on-air appearance, there was this entry in the “Years Ago” column on page A9 of The Vindicator:
“Sept. 24, 1983: In response to a statement by Don L. Hanni Jr. that he is sure ‘there are hundreds upon hundreds of politicians who have taken money from mob figures,’ George Mc-Kelvey, the maverick Youngstown city councilman, takes a lie detector test to show he isn’t one of them.”
The entry was based on a front page story by this writer when he was Youngstown City Hall reporter. The piece was headlined, “McKelvey Excels in ‘Lie Box’ Test.”
The then-3rd Ward councilman took the polygraph test to prove that Hanni, as party chairman, was wrong in what he told Morley Safer of the top-rated CBS "60 Minutes" show.
The test, conducted Rudy March, president of Central Security Inc. of Warren, featured questions that dealt with organized crime.
Here’s the explanation McKelvey gave for going under the needle:
“I was indicted, directly or indirectly, by [Hanni’s] statement. I was insulted by it. It was a blow to my integrity. The inference or innuendo was: ‘Show me a politician that doesn’t accept money from the mob.’”
But that was just the beginning of his battles with the party chairman.
When McKelvey became county treasurer, he found that his predecessor, Michael Pope, had allowed a great number of tax scofflaws to slide, including mob boss Joseph N. “Little Joey” Naples.
McKelvey sent a letter to Naples demanding that he contact the treasurer’s office to work out a payment plan for the back taxes.
Naples called Hanni to rail against McKelvey, and Hanni called this writer to rail against that “damn fool” treasurer.
There was no political love lost between the two — even after McKelvey left the treasurer’s office and became mayor of Youngstown.
Yet, there he was July 21, letting political bygones be bygones.
Anyone who has followed McKelvey’s political career knows that altruism isn’t his strong suit. There always is an ulterior motive.
Thus the question: What does he want?
One answer may be that he’s trying to make amends with area Democrats, whom he alienated when he publicly and vocally supported Republican President George Bush in his re-election bid in 2004.
Even though the lifelong Democrat insisted that he backed the Republican president to ensure that the Valley was on the White House’s radar, he became a political pariah in this predominantly Democratic region.
So, why the olive branch now?
A cynic might suggest that McKelvey, who is retired, wants to get back in the game and sees the possibility of a state office opening up.
Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray is on the general election ballot in November for the attorney general’s seat vacated by Marc Dann of Liberty Township. If Cordray wins, he will give up the treasurer’s post, which would then be filled by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
Indeed, McKelvey ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer in 1994.
Why would the governor even consider him for appointment? Because he is close to members of the Cafaro family who have long been major contributors to statewide politicians. Having the Cafaro name on your resume at least gets you a look-see.