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And the winners were …

Published: Sun, May 8, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Warren Mayor Michael O’Brien wasn’t on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot, but he certainly sounded like he was the winner. In fact, O’Brien, who is stepping down when his term ends this year, was downright giddy over the results of the mayoral race. That’s because he and his mother, former long-time Trumbull County Clerk of Courts Margaret O’Brien, went all out for Doug Franklin, the city’s safety-service director who won the nomination.

Likewise, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras wasn’t on the primary ballot, but even before the final results were posted on Vindy.com, The Vindicator’s web site, and on television, he was on the phone sounding very much like the victor.

Betras ticked off the list of party endorsed candidates who won, including incumbent councilmen Mike Ray in Youngstown’s 4th Ward and Paul Drennen in the 5th Ward. Both had substantial opposition, which they dispatched with relative ease.

In the two years he has been party chairman, Betras has made success at the polls a top priority in predominantly Democratic Mahoning County. He also has lived up to his reputation as a publicity hound.

Thus the question: What’s his end game?

It appears that he’s building his political r sum with an eye to taking over the chairmanship of the Ohio Democratic Party if Chris Redfern decides to step aside or is persuaded to do so by the national party in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election. Ohio will be a must-win battleground state.

Based on last November’s statewide election in which Democrats lost every office they held, including governor, the value of Redfern’s political stock has nose dived. Even though the state party hierarchy — county chairmen and others — continue to support him, rank-and-file Democrats in areas such as the Valley would welcome a change.


In last Sunday’s column, it was argued that if Franklin lost the Democratic nomination for Warren mayor to Jim Graham, one of the Mahoning Valley’s most prominent labor leaders, the O’Briens and others who endorsed him would also go down in flames.

Former Mayor Dan Sferra, now a member of council, publicly supported Franklin, as did Councilman-at-large Bob Dean and the AFL-CIO Labor Council.

For Dean, there was the added bonus: He defeated council President Robert Marchese for the Democratic nomination. Marchese, a veteran member of council, had supported Graham, who succeeded in winning only one of the city’s seven wards.

In analyzing the results, Mayor O’Brien, whose knowledge of city politics is matched only by his mother’s, said Franklin put together a classic campaign that provided him with broad-based support. The safety-service director — he had previously served in council — garnered 57 percent of the 6,370 votes cast, which means his backing came from all parts and all segments of the community.

The contrast between Franklin, a long-time public servant, and Graham, who has never held public office, could not have been greater. In the end, the people of Warren decided that someone with first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of city government was needed at this stage in Warren’s history.

The contrast between the two candidates was also evident in the way they conducted their campaigns: Franklin focused on the positive; Graham on the negative.

A similar scenario was played out in the two contested races for Youngstown council. The challengers to Ray and Drennen tried to blame the incumbents for the myriad problems in the wards, but voters obviously had a different view of things.

Sweet victory

Ray’s victory was particularly sweet because he had been appointed to the council seat in December by the Democratic precinct committee members and, thus, did not have an elaborate record to run on. Nonetheless, he has impressed the residents of the ward with what he has done so far, as evidenced by the 61 percent of the vote he secured in the three-man race.

County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who vacated the council seat and supported Ray to succeed her, no doubt breathed a sigh of relief.

In the 5th Ward, where Drennen faced five challengers, the incumbent received an impressive 34 percent.

And Betras took a bow.

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