Controversy flares over state Senate seat

By David Skolnick

Not pleased with the candidates recommended by the four county Democratic parties in the 33rd Ohio Senate District, the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus reopened the search to fill that soon-to-be-vacant seat.

“We want to encourage those interested in public service who haven’t been involved in politics” to apply, said incoming Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd. “There’s a lot of great talent in the Valley with various life experiences.”

Ask and you shall receive.

Today at 5 p.m. is the deadline.

As of Thursday, the Senate Democrats had received letters of interest and résumés from all walks of life.

They include Robert Crow of Youngstown, who got about 200 write-in votes in the 13th Congressional District race; a guy who works at Macy’s; Beloit Councilman Tim Gabrelcik; William Adams of Austintown, group leader for Mahoning Valley for Obama; and Richard Gozur, a high school principal and former long-time Campbell elected official.

Atty. Susan Maruca of Campbell also applied. She spent over $100,000 to finish in last place in the March Democratic primary for Mahoning County Probate Court judge.

Even so, she has some attributes the caucus wants. She’s an attorney, has shown she can raise a lot of money and is from Mahoning, the largest county in the district. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s worked with Cafaro.

There will be others who’ll seek the appointment from the caucus who were rejected by the county parties, including Boardman Trustee Robyn Gallitto and ex-Youngstown Councilman Rufus Hudson.

There will also be plenty of other fringe candidates.

The caucus reopened the process after the four county Democratic parties in the district submitted the names of six candidates.

The primary reason the caucus opened the process is many members don’t want to appoint ex-Mahoning County Commissioner David Engler and Poland Trustee Robert Lidle because of their past legal problems.

Engler was the top choice of Mahoning Democrats while Lidle was No. 3 in Mahoning and on Tuscarawas County’s list of recommended candidates.

Struthers Councilman at large Daniel Yemma, Mahoning’s No. 2 choice, isn’t exciting anyone in the caucus.

If this seat was not in the Mahoning Valley, Engler’s public reprimand from the Ohio Supreme Court for having consensual sex with a client and Lidle’s two driving under the influence convictions would be problems, but wouldn’t kill their chances.

Mahoning Democrats are sending letters to the caucus on behalf of Engler. Local organized labor officials are doing the same for Lidle. But nothing is going to help either of them.

Whether it still exists, the Valley has a reputation for political corruption. The Marc Dann fiasco in the attorney general’s office only made matters worse.

The decision to reopen the process bothers Mahoning Democratic Chairwoman Lisa Antonini. Antonini is upset this newspaper and the caucus “scrutinized” her party’s nominees — even though that’s what is supposed to happen.

Antonini is not a favorite among state Democratic leaders and has previously considered resigning as chairwoman. This isn’t going to help convince her to stay.

As for the other three candidates recommended by the county Democratic parties in the district:

Brian R. Thomas of Perrysville in Carroll County interests no one in the caucus.

Alliance Councilman at large Steve Okey has support. But there is concern because he doesn’t live in Mahoning County, and would likely face a challenge from a Mahoning candidate in 2010. The caucus doesn’t want that to happen.

Stacia Erdos Littleton of North Lima, a former WYTV TV news anchor and political newcomer, is drawing some interest. The political newcomer was a distant sixth on the Mahoning Democratic list, but was recommended by Tuscarawas Democrats.

The caucus’ four-person leadership team was to meet Monday to interview the candidates, and recommend one to the full caucus between Tuesday and Thursday. But it looks like the schedule will be pushed back a few days.

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