By David Skolnick
Scandal, presidential candidate visits, an ethics investigation and Valley leadership in the state Senate top the 2008 list of political stories.
Scandal at the attorney general’s office that led to the resignation of Marc Dann, of Liberty, and area visits by the presidential candidates and their supporters were the top Mahoning Valley political stories of the year, as chosen by the staff of The Vindicator. Dann’s term as attorney general was short-lived.
He resigned May 14 under pressure as his world came crashing down.
It was reported April 6 that two female attorney general staffers had filed sexual harassment charges against Anthony Gutierrez, Dann’s longtime friend and director of general services.
An internal attorney general report, released May 2, showed that problems in the office started long before that.
The report detailed numerous problems including cronyism, poor management and lack of proper oversight under Dann’s watch.
Also, Dann admitted an extramarital affair with his former scheduler.
E-mails between Dann and scheduler Jessica Utovich released in April showed more than a professional relationship between the two.
“Please do not EVER tell me to stop acting emotional,” Utovich wrote Sept. 4, 2007. “... Your emotional crap is what makes everyone else so miserable.”
Around the same time, Dann wrote: “You are the bff” [text-speak for “best friend forever”].
Things only got worse when the inspector general released the results of an investigation Monday.
The report lists 25 acts of wrongdoing by Dann, some high-level staffers in the attorney general’s office and his wife, Alyssa Lenhoff. Dann strongly denies the accusations.
Another top political story for the Valley was the national and international media attention — both good and bad — it received because of frequent stops here by presidential and vice presidential candidates and prominent surrogates.
The Valley overwhelmingly supported Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary.
But Democrat Barack Obama easily defeated Republican John McCain in the area during the Nov. 4 presidential election.
Visits by the next president (Obama) and secretary of state (Clinton), among others, along with the attorney general scandal captured a great deal of attention.
But there were plenty of other interesting political stories this year.
Among them was the controversy surrounding Mahoning County’s purchase of Oak- hill Renaissance Place.
The Cafaro Co. unsuccessfully sued the county to rescind the purchase. The company is the former landlord for the county’s Department of Job and Family Services, which moved from Cafaro’s Garland Plaza to Oak- hill in 2007.
County Prosecutor Paul Gains called for and received approval for an investigation into potential ethics violations by three current county officeholders and a former one.
The four are Commissioner John A. McNally IV, Treasurer Lisa Antonini, Auditor Michael Sciortino, and ex-county Treasurer John Reardon, who now works for the state.
The Valley will also have more of a voice in the state Senate.
The Senate Democratic Caucus elected Capri Cafaro, of Liberty, as minority leader and Jason Wilson, of Columbiana, as assistant minority whip. They assume those jobs next week.
The caucus also selected political newcomer Joe Schiavoni, of Canfield, to a Senate seat replacing John Boccieri, who’s resigning after being elected to Congress.
The selection process was controversial with the caucus choosing Schiavoni over 12 other finalists, several with political experience.