For the first time in many years, the Mahoning County Democratic Party has attracted the attention of state and national Democratic leaders — in a positive way. The era of the dysfunctional, unproductive party is over, as evidenced by what has occurred over the past 12 months.
The period coincides with the election of Atty. David Betras as chairman. Betras has been filling the unexpired term of Chairwoman Lisa Antonini, the county treasurer, and he is now seeking a full term.
When the party’s precinct committeemen and women gather Wednesday night to elect the chairman and other officers, the question they must ask themselves is this: Are we better off today than we were prior to April 27, 2009? That was the date the party’s central committee assembled to name Antonini’s successor.
The answer, if they put aside the pettiness that undermined the county Democratic Party in the past, is an unequivocal yes.
Financial stability is essential for a political organization to be effective and to be taken seriously. In past years, the Democratic Party has struggled to make ends meet. But since Betras has been at the helm, more than $180,000 has been raised, there is no debt, and the goal for this year has been pegged at $210,000.
The formula he has adopted is obviously working: Invite statewide Democratic officeholders, including Gov. Ted Strickland, to a party fund-raising event and that will bring out the big donors. Money is the mother’s milk of politics and Betras has proved to be adept at squeezing every last drop from area contributors.
If he is elected to a full term as chairman — given the outcome of the precinct committee races in the May primary his loss would be a huge upset — Betras plans to have another major fund raiser featuring a nationally renowned Democratic officeholder.
But his record goes beyond his ability to raise money. For the first time in almost 20 years, the party endorsed candidates in the May primary, and the entire slate won.
While we disagreed with the endorsement of Youngstown Councilwoman Carol Rimedio-Righetti over county Commissioner David Ludt in the battle for the nomination in the commissioner’s race, we do acknowledge the party’s role in the success of the endorsed candidates.
The vibrancy and credibility of the county organization goes beyond partisan politics. Given the predominance of Democrats in the county, it has an important role to play in the revitalization of this region.
If state and national officeholders have faith in the party — the tainted history of local Democratic politicians is still a millstone around the Valley’s neck — they will be more inclined to work with local officials.
The area’s two congressmen, Tim Ryan, D-17th, and Charlie Wilson, D-6th, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have opened many doors in Washington, while Gov. Strickland and other Democratic officeholders in Columbus have proved to be loyal to this predominantly Democratic area. Some of the credit for that goes to Betras.
At Wednesday’s party reorganization meeting, the chairman will being challenged by Georgiann DeCenzo of Boardman, who was elected state central committeewoman in the May primary; other officers also have opponents. The incumbents have earned re-election.
That said, we would remind Betras of today’s political reality: The old philosophy of rewarding supporters with jobs in the public sector is no longer tenable or acceptable.
It is important that he go after the best and the brightest to fill elective and non-elective government positions. Indeed, Betras must reach out to college educated young people for public service because one of the challenges facing this region is the exodus of college graduates because of the lack of jobs.