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Commish race heating up

Published: Fri, December 9, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick (Contact)

On the side

Political buzz: What’s in a nickname? Apparently quite a bit.

Mahoning County commissioner candidates Walter “Buzz” Pishkur and James S. “Woody” Horvath want to use their nicknames on the Democratic primary ballot.

A derivative of a person’s name — such as Bob for Robert or Mike for Michael — is acceptable, but it’s unclear about nicknames that don’t fall into that category. The county board of elections will look into the matter and make a decision.

What about Richard Oz Ouzounian, another Democratic commissioner candidate? About three years ago, he legally changed his name so Oz is his middle name.

Candidacy certification: The Mahoning County Board of Elections will meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday to certify the candidacy of those who filed to run in the March 6 primary. The Trumbull County Board of Elections will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday to do the same.

Open political seats usually draw more interest than positions with incumbents.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the race to succeed Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally IV attracted the most candidates for the March 6 primary.

But the number of candidates seeking the post is among the largest in the Mahoning Valley in several years.

By Wednesday’s filing deadline for the March 6 primary, nine Democrats, a Republican and a Green Party candidate turned in nominating petitions to the board of elections for the position.

There are some candidates in the Democratic field who’ve unsuccessfully run for elected office before and others who are unknown. They are unlikely to do more than cut a few votes.

How will the primary play out?

With a large field, the county Democratic Party’s endorsement will be even more important than usual.

As with nearly every political race, it will likely come down to money and name recognition.

While none of the candidates are household names with voters, some have advantages.

Jerry McNally has a respectable base in Youngstown from his years on city council.

More importantly, he has the same last name as the current officeholder — they’re cousins.

There will be some who will think they’re voting for John when they’re voting for Jerry.

Austintown voters have elected David Ditzler as a township trustee five times.

He’s also a former Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, but lost a 2004 commissioner race by 17 percentage points to Anthony Traficanti. We’ll see what Ditzler learned from that race.

Struthers Mayor Terry Stocker was re-elected to his second four-year term last month. He also served 18 years on city council in Struthers.

The population in Struthers is less than Austintown and Youngstown. But turnout in Struthers is typically among the strongest in Mahoning County while Youngstown is among the lowest.

Walter Pishkur is among the more recognizable names seeking the Democratic nomination. (If he’s allowed to include his “Buzz” nickname on the ballot, it will help.)

Pishkur received a lot of publicity, good and bad, during his one-plus-year as president and chief executive officer of Forum Health. The same could be said, but to a lesser extent, about his time as president and CEO of Aqua Ohio.

Pishkur said it will take about $125,000 to win the race.

That’s a lot of money; a ridiculous amount, and probably a little more than needed.

But if Pishkur or other candidates can raise at least $100,000, they can run numerous television commercials, send out several mailers to potential voters, and hire the right people to run a strong and smart campaign.

A benefit is if this primary remains on March 6, there are only a few other races of interest in the Mahoning Valley on that ballot.

There is a June primary for U.S. House and presidential candidates. The state Legislature will make a last-ditch attempt next week to consider combining the two primaries into one.

The commissioner candidates should root for two primaries.

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