By Bertram de Souza
A tip of the hat to Lisa Antonini for the comic relief she provided as chairwoman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party. True to form, when Antonini announced her resignation last week as party boss, she had a rib-tickler that turned the mundane into a front-page story.
Antonini claimed in her exit interview that she got no respect from the Ohio Democratic Party and was cut out of the loop by state Chairman Chris Redfern. Now that’s funny. Indeed, it’s as funny as Antonini’s announcing last November that she had 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. That explanation still elicits a hearty guffaw.
Why? Because then, as now, Antonini’s delusions — politically, at least — never cease to amaze.
Consider her swipe at the state Democratic Party and its chief, Redfern. For starters, it was her own political ineptitude that caused a rift between her and the state organization. In December 2006, Antonini, who had been chair for about three years, decided to support Dennis Lieberman, then chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, for the state position over Redfern, who was the House minority leader.
Backed a loser
Lieberman lost. And to hear Antonini tell it, that was the beginning of the end of her relationship with the state party. She was treated like a political pariah, she claims.
Not so, says Redfern. He contends the county chairwoman never participated in any meetings of the Ohio Democratic Party’s executive committee, and chose not to have regular, direct contact with the ODP.
Even so, the state chairman was conciliatory in his comments about her resignation, saying: “It does no one any constructive good to rehash the reasons why Lisa Antonini wouldn’t support the Ohio Democratic Party 31‚Ñ2 years.” But he’s wrong about the good that could come from her missteps.
They can serve as a lesson for the precinct committeemen and women of the Mahoning County Democratic Party who will be electing her successor on April 27: Make sure the next chairman is in touch with reality.
Last November, when she offered that laughable explanation for why she was not resigning, the following was written in this space:
“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 party organizations being AWOL.”
Antonini should have heeded the advice given to her (free, of course) in this space on Nov. 16, 2008. The column carried the following headline: “Dem chief Antonini should step down.”
Then on Dec. 14, the space was dedicated to the comic relief provided by her and prominent Youngstown shopping center developer, Anthony Cafaro Sr. The headline read: “Antonini, Cafaro good for a laugh.”
The ex-chairwoman’s delusions were exemplified in her involvement in the hotly contested Mahoning County prosecutor’s race last November. She supported an independent candidate, Marty Yavorcik, against the Democratic nominee, Paul Gains, who was seeking a fourth four-year term.
Much to the chagrin, and even anger, of long-time Democrats such as Atty. David Betras, who is a candidate for the party chairmanship, Antonini not only snubbed Gains, but had her name listed on a fund-raising letter for Yavorcik.
Gains won — with votes to spare.
And once again, the party chairwoman’s gamble failed to pay off. But that should surprise no one.
Antonini was a political wallflower when she was tapped several years ago by then county Chairman Michael Morley to manage the Democratic Party’s office. She parlayed that into a job in the county treasurer’s office, and by some adept political maneuvering ended up in the county treasurer’s seat. She had no background or experience in government financing when she got on the public payroll.
(Could it be that the joke is on us? She has won a full term as county treasurer, and barring some major scandal has a good chance of holding on to that position until her pension runneth over.)