Dann acknowledges errors; we suggest a second chance
When he was elected state attorney general, Marc Dann had an opportunity to make the Mahoning Valley proud. He failed — spectacularly and on multiple levels, in some ways even before he took office.
At the end of the most grueling day of his short tenure — and after a press conference that was almost as painful for those who watched as it was for Dann — he came home. In a meeting with Vindicator editors, he said he had already begun to put his private life back together and to rebuild his public office.
The question is whether Dann deserves a second chance to be the attorney general he promised to be during and after his 2006 campaign.
It would be easy to say no, made easier by Dann’s admission that even he didn’t expect to win the statewide race and, having won, realized he wasn’t prepared to manage the largest law firm in Ohio.
We endorsed Dann two years ago, not on his management skills, real or imagined, but primarily on the basis of his picking up the ball in the case of Toledo coin dealer Tom Noe’s corrupt management of $50 million in state money. We were unimpressed with the answers his opponent, Betty Montgomery, gave when she was asked about why it took a rookie state senator from northeastern Ohio (Dann) to keep the Noe probe moving.
When we endorsed Dann, we fully expected to spend four uncomfortable years dealing with Montgomery as attorney general. The second-last thing we expected was for Dann to win. The last thing was that he would win and after a little more than a year in office embarrass himself, his family and the Valley, disappoint his supporters and provide opponents who loathed him for his role in Coingate such an easy target. Republicans are having a field day referring to a “frat party” atmosphere in Dann’s office, and why wouldn’t they? It’s catchy, it’s demeaning and it’s true.
What might have been
Had Dann done the day after the election what he says he is doing now — putting people of unquestionable ability in every top spot and seeking outside experts to guide him — he wouldn’t be where he is today. Instead, he rewarded political supporters and old friends with jobs. His most notorious hire (which is saying something, given the rogues’ gallery he took to Columbus) turned out to be that of Liberty neighbor Anthony Gutierrez. Dann now says that he saw Gutierrez as a guy with great potential who hadn’t gotten a break, and he was going to give it to him. If it was that simple, Dann might want to put a sign on his desk reading, “no good deed goes unpunished.”
But whatever Gutierrez did while literally or figuratively chasing two young women around the office, Dann established a climate in which it was allowed to happen. And Dann now acknowledges that.
He has also acknowledged errors of professionalism and morality in what can only be described as a painfully candid manner. He says there are no more secrets and that further independent investigations — such as one proposed by Gov. Ted Strickland — are welcome because he is confident that nothing new will be found.
Until those investigations are complete, calls for Dann’s resignation should stop.
It is not minimizing what Dann did to suggest that it should be viewed in some perspective. A scandal involving millions of dollars in state money put in the hands of a politically connected wheeler dealer dragged on for years without a single elected official being removed from office. But this scandal threatens to bring down an attorney general in a little over a month.
Why? Because it involves a politician hiring unqualified or marginally qualified cronies? Because it was embarrassing? Because it involves sex?
It is time to take a breath.
Dann has acknowledged errors of judgment, of omission, of commission — even of stupidity.
He says he is “taking responsibility” for those errors, although like hundreds of politicians (and corporate leaders) who have failed before him, “taking responsibility” doesn’t involve falling on his sword.
He has said emphatically that he is not going to resign, and so we are not going to shout into the wind and call for his resignation at this time. In our meeting with him, we found him to be truly contrite and earnestly committed to doing not only a better job, but an exemplary job.
The brighter side
And there are areas of performance by Dann’s office that are worthy of praise. His office has been proactive on insurance, foreclosure and pharmaceutical issues. His crackdown on electronic gaming parlors brought him enemies. Close to home, his scrutiny of Forum Health’s reorganization may well have been key to heading off the premature sale of community assets.
An alternative lead paragraph had been written for this editorial. It read: “There are two reasons for Marc Dann to leave office now. He spent a year making horrible decisions (personal and public) and the state of Ohio doesn’t need to spend the next year with an attorney general who is little more than a political pi ±ata.”
We’ve been persuaded not to use that lead today. We take Dann on his word that his work will be top-notch and, most important, that he has provided full disclosure of what went on in his office.
He knows that the eyes of the state will be on him. He knows that millions of Ohioans are not inclined to give him a second chance. He knows that he has today a much smaller circle of supporters and a newly invigorated mob of detractors.
Knowing all that, if he is committed to doing the job that he was elected to do, he should be allowed the privilege of doing so.