By David Skolnick
To borrow a poker term, Mahoning County Democratic Chairwoman Lisa Antonini went “all in” with her letter to the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus.
The letter warned the caucus not to ignore the Mahoning Democratic Party executive committee’s three recommended candidates for a state Senate seat.
“I strongly believe the seat belongs to [Mahoning County] citizens and our party,” Antonini wrote. “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 is correct that there will probably be an opponent with name recognition running in the 2010 race for the seat.
Antonini also criticized the caucus’s decision to reopen the search.
That was done after the caucus asked the four counties in the 33rd Ohio Senate District — Mahoning is by far the largest in terms of population — for up to three recommended candidates to replace outgoing state Sen. John Boccieri.
“Frankly, the decision to reopen the process has stirred up controversy,” she wrote. “In part, the decision seems to be an attempt at placating [The Vindicator] in an effort to win them over politically.”
Antonini wrote the caucus reopened the process “at what appears to be the request of one senator who alone was not happy with the choices presented.”
Antonini confirmed that senator is incoming Minority Leader Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, who’s in charge of the selection process.
That’s not entirely accurate.
Cafaro wasn’t the only Democrat in the state Senate who expressed major concerns about two of the Mahoning candidates: former county Commissioner David Engler and Poland Trustee Robert Lidle.
Engler and Lidle have past legal problems. They both said they shouldn’t be judged on the mistakes they’ve made, but rather on their overall bodies of public service.
Struthers Councilman at large Daniel Yemma, chief deputy treasurer at the county treasurer’s office, failed to attract support of the caucus.
The caucus passed over Engler, Lidle, Yemma and nine other candidates to go with political newcomer, Joe Schiavoni of Canfield.
The 29-year-old has practiced law for three years and has never sought elected office or been involved in politics.
It would be the latest slight against Antonini, who has previously considered resigning as chairwoman, saying she was burned out.
This latest move further alienates her from Ohio Democratic officials.
The Senate caucus members were definitely not pleased by her letter.
Antonini’s never had a strong relationship with Gov. Ted Strickland even though the governor represented a portion of Mahoning County in the U.S. House for four years.
Her relationship with the Ohio Democratic Party is virtually nonexistent.
Out of loyalty to a friend, Antonini supported then-Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Dennis Lieberman in his failed bid to be elected Ohio Democratic Party chairman in December 2005.
The election went to Chris Redfern, a close ally of Strickland. Redfern hasn’t forgotten that vote.
Antonini was among a tiny group who publicly disagreed with a decision by state Democratic leaders in the executive and legislative branches earlier this year to demand the resignation of Marc Dann as attorney general.
Antonini was very involved in the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry.
She had no involvement with the campaign this year of Democrat Barack Obama.
She angered some local Democrats with her public support of Marty Yavorcik’s failed independent campaign for county prosecutor against Paul J. Gains, the Democratic incumbent.
It was essentially the only general election race in which she was involved, and she campaigned against the Democratic nominee.
Antonini still has the support of the majority of Mahoning Democratic precinct committee members. Her strong victory in the March Democratic primary over John Shultz, who was supported by Gains, also shows voters back her.
But this latest attempt to essentially threaten the Senate Democratic Caucus is one more example of her decreased influence.