Hanni sets his sights on Democratic Party’s top spot

On the side...

Endorsement meeting: The Mahoning County Democratic Party will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman to endorse a full slate of candidates for the first time in about 20 years. Well, a full slate for the May primary except for one — possibly.

Party leaders won’t propose an endorsement in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. But if there is enough support from the floor to endorse in that race, the party will have to take a vote.

Endorsement session: The North County Democrats Club, a local political organization, will also endorse candidates at its next meeting, 7:30 p.m. Monday at Lowellville village hall. Each candidate within the club’s jurisdiction — Mahoning County commissioner and auditor, 60th Ohio House District and 33rd Ohio Senate District — can speak for two minutes.

By David Skolnick

Mark Hanni enjoys being coy, but it’s easy to see right through him.

Hanni, and his supporters, have recruited a number of people to run for Mahoning County Democratic Party precinct committee seats.

There are 287 positions. To win the party’s chairmanship, a person needs the commitment of 144 committee members. The committee seats are up for grabs in the May 4 primary.

How many have Hanni and his supporters signed up?

“A substantial number” is all Hanni would say.

Those at the county board of elections say the number is about 155 candidates in about 130 precincts. [Hanni has more than one candidate in some races.] Of those precincts, about 30 Hanni candidates are uncontested. Hanni probably has the support of about 10 to 20 current precinct committee members who will be re-elected.

In comparison, Mahoning Democratic Chairman David Betras has candidates in about 280 precincts.

To say Hanni has a remote chance of getting a majority of precinct committee members is an overstatement.

But that’s not his goal.


Hanni won’t say so, but he wants to have some control on selecting replacements if county elected positions become vacant, be able to give out political patronage jobs, and to be a player in county politics.

“He doesn’t care about anything but getting political power for himself,” Betras said of Hanni. “I’ve united this party. He’s trying to rip it apart. I’m going to fight him tooth and nail for this position and to keep the party moving forward.”

Hanni told me he doesn’t plan to run for chairman even though Betras said Hanni has told others that he is seeking the spot.

“They shouldn’t view me as a threat,” Hanni said of the current party leaders.

For Hanni to say he’s not running for chairman is “dishonest,” Betras said.

Hanni tried in 2002 to take over the Mahoning County Republican Party, an effort that failed miserably. Hanni planned to run for chairman and recruited a number of Republican precinct committee candidates.

The problems were Hanni’s candidates didn’t fare well in their elections and the Republican establishment outsmarted him.

Just before the primary, the party changed its bylaws requiring a chairman candidate to be a registered Republican for at least two years right before running for the seat. Hanni failed to meet that requirement.

Hanni admitted he wanted to be Republican chairman to get back at that political party. Hanni said Republican leaders helped bankroll the Democrats for Change movement that took control of the Mahoning Democratic Party from his father, the late Don L. Hanni Jr., in the early 1990s.

“I was going to give them a taste of their own medicine,” Mark Hanni said.

Betras said Hanni “ran against the Republicans to stick it in their eye. I’m not playing this for sport. I’m doing this for the community.”

If Hanni wanted to drive Betras even crazier than he already is, he’s succeeded. But that’s not too difficult.

If Hanni is trying to do something else — or cut a deal to get his candidates out of the race — he faces yet another uphill battle.

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