Antonini: Caucus tried to woo Vindy

By David Skolnick

The caucus reopened the state-Senate-seat search, in part, to placate The Vindicator, the Mahoning Democratic chairwoman contends.

Mahoning County Democratic Chairwoman Lisa Antonini warned the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus that if its members ignore the party executive committee’s recommendations for a state Senate position that they run “the serious risk of losing the seat.”

Antonini lashed out at the caucus’s decision to reopen the search after receiving recommendations from Mahoning and the three other counties in the 33rd Ohio Senate District as to who should replace outgoing state Sen. John Boccieri.

“Frankly, the decision to reopen the process has stirred up controversy,” she wrote in a letter to the caucus members. “In part, the decision seems to be an attempt at placating the local newspaper in an effort to win them over politically.”

In an interview Wednesday, Antonini confirmed the newspaper is The Vindicator.

The Mahoning Democratic executive committee recommended, in order: ex-Mahoning County Commissioner David Engler, Struthers Councilman-at large Daniel Yemma and Poland Trustee Robert Lidle.

But sources close to the caucus say members are concerned about Engler and Lidle because of their past legal problems, detailed in The Vindicator, and Yemma has failed to attract the support of the members. The sources say that’s what led to the caucus deciding to reopen the process.

“The Senate caucus decided to reopen the process at what appears to be the request of one senator who alone was not happy with the choices presented,” Antonini wrote.

She confirmed Wednesday that senator is incoming Minority Leader Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, who couldn’t be reached late Wednesday to comment.

A source close to the caucus said the letter wasn’t well-received by its members.

The caucus leadership on Tuesday and Wednesday interviewed the original six candidates nominated by the county parties and seven additional people selected by caucus leaders. A decision on Boccieri’s replacement could be made as early as today.

“I trust you will stand by our party’s recommendation and realize that failure to do so would not only be an insult to the good people that comprise our executive committee, but also runs the serious risk of losing the seat,” Antonini wrote.

Mahoning is by far the largest county in terms of population in the 33rd Ohio Senate District that also includes all of Carroll County and portions of Stark and Tuscarawas counties.

Antonini said late Wednesday that if someone besides Engler, Yemma or Lidle is appointed, there’s a “good chance” that person would face a serious challenge in the Democratic primary and/or general election for the seat in 2010.

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