By Bertram de Souza
To quote Chris Matthews, the insightful and aggressive talk show host of “Hardball” on MSNBC, “Ha!” (As an expression of disbelief.)
Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lisa Antonini says she has decided not to resign, as she had thought of doing before the Nov. 4 general election, because of the huge victories scored by Democratic candidates.
The chairwoman is being delusional if she believes she had anything to do with Barack Obama’s successful presidential election in Mahoning County. Truth be told, the senator from Illinois carried Mahoning and Trumbull counties despite the party organizations being AWOL. Indeed, Obama’s failure to garner votes in the high 60s in each of the counties, while carrying Ohio, must be borne by Antonini and her colleague in Trumbull, Chairman Christ Michelakis. Indeed, Obama was unable to crack 60 percent in Trumbull County — an almost unheard of occurrence for a Democratic presidential candidate.
But Antonini’s delusions don’t end with the “main event.” Consider her involvement in the hotly contested Mahoning County prosecutor’s contest. The Democratic nominee was incumbent Paul Gains, who was seeking a fourth four-year term. Gains had no Republican challenger, but faced Independent Marty Yavorcik, a criminal defense attorney who has represented the likes of disbarred malpractice lawyer Richard Goldberg and disgraced former sheriff’s chief deputy, Maj. Michael Budd.
Much to the chagrin, and even anger, of long-time Democrats such as David Betras, the party leader not only shied away from Gains, the Democratic nominee, but had her name listed on a fund-raising letter for Yavorcik.
To be sure, Antonini is not the first party chair in the political history of Mahoning County to personally oppose a nominee for office, but even the mercurial, take-no-prisoners late chairman, Don L. Hanni Jr., was never so brazen as to publicly oppose a candidate on the ticket.
Why did she take such a politically stupid step? One explanation may have to do with the controversial relocation of the Job and Family Services offices from the McGuffey Mall on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place (the former South Side Medical Hospital complex) in the vicinity of downtown.
McGuffey is owned by the Cafaro Co. and officials put on a full court legal and political press to block the relocation. During the very public battle between Anthony Cafaro, chief executive officer, and county commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, Administrator George Tablack and Prosecutor Gains, Antonini, who also is county treasurer, was in almost daily contact with Cafaro. She has insisted, however, that the exchanges via e-mail and telephone calls had nothing to do with the JFS situation. The discussions centered on party politics, she has said.
But given that the county prosecutor and his staff successfully beat back the Cafaro Co.’s various attempts to derail the JFS relocation, Antonini’s support of Yavorcik does raise eyebrows.
Indeed, the Ohio Ethics Commission is investigating the JFS case and could well recommend indictments if any county officials were found to have violated their official responsibilities.
The JFS controversy highlights the difficulty Antonini has in serving two masters, politicians and those who buy influence through their campaign contributions, and the taxpayers.
No political credibility
Her support of Yavorcik against one of the party’s leading officeholders, Gains, has destroyed any political credibility she might have had.
A week ago Saturday, this writer suggested in his blog, Stirfry, in Vindy.com that Antonini was getting ready to resign and that David Engler, an ally of hers from the Mahoning Democrats for Change days, and Betras were eyeing the position. By mid-week other names had surfaced, but then Antonini told Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick that she was not going to step down. The reason: The success of Democrats in the Nov. 4 general election.
She might want to rethink that decision. Indeed, even some of her friends are questioning whether she still has the credibility to be an effective party leader.
Antonini gambled and lost. She should resign.