Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko should have quit while he was ahead — because he now faces the real possibility of being fired by Mayor Charles Sammarone.
In mid-February, after a log of text messages between Macejko and Assistant Prosecutor Bret Hartup was made public, the mayor reportedly gave the city prosecutor, then a candidate for the Democratic nomination for county prosecutor, the option of resigning. Had Macejko done so, he would not be the target of an internal investigation ordered by the mayor to determine the source of a racist text about President Obama. (The city prosecutor could have claimed that he was quitting to spend more time on his campaign, and the mayor would probably not have pursued the matter.)
The racist text was contained in the log of messages from Hartup’s cell phone that the assistant prosecutor handed over to a federal judge who was presiding over a religious discrimination case filed by another assistant prosecutor, Bassil Ally. The defendants in the Ally case were Macejko, former Mayor Jay Williams, former Law Director Iris Guglicello and the city of Youngstown, The lawsuit was settled with a judgment against the city for $110,000 paid to Ally and a $4,000 salary increase for him. In addition, Macejko wrote a letter of apology to his assistant prosecutor.
On March 4, two days before the Democratic primary, the column in this space carried the following headline: “What if Macejko is fired?” The premise of the piece was that if the city prosecutor won the primary and then was terminated, the Democratic Party would be forced to re-evaluate his fitness for public office.
“It’s probable that Macejko will either be fired or suspended without pay by Mayor Charles Sammarone,” this writer opined.
By not winning the primary — he fell 561 votes short of ousting county Prosecutor Paul Gains — Macejko let the Democratic Party off the hook. But, he forced the mayor’s hand with regard to the insulting text.
Sammarone, a veteran city politician who took over as mayor in August, has assigned city Law Director Anthony Farris, police Lt. Brian Butler of internal affairs and Jonathan Huff, executive director of the city’s Human Relations Commission, to investigate the texts.
Ever since they were made public, Macejko has denied sending the one aimed at the president and does not recall receiving it. He suggested during the campaign that it was spam. Hartup has remained silent.
Here’s what the text says: “I just received my Obama stimulus package. It was 3 pieces of chicken, a pack of kool-aid and a dime bag. Did u get yours?”
Even though Sammarone was not involved in the religious discrimination lawsuit filed by Ally, he undoubtedly has received briefings from the lawyers who represented the city’s insurance carrier in the case. He also must be aware that the city is now vulnerable to future discrimination lawsuits, especially given the outcome of Ally’s claim.
The mayor is obviously trying to protect the city, and his launching of the investigation suggests that he did not buy Macejko’s explanation about the Obama text.
Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, who backed the city prosecutor in the primary after he had secured the party’s endorsement over Gains, has finally conceded that the 561-vote loss can be attributed to the religious discrimination lawsuit and the racist text. Youngstown voters punished the city prosecutor.
But Betras knows that Macejko’s decision not to resign or accept an unpaid suspension after the texts became public was a mistake. His campaign message was overshadowed by the controversy. He tried to make Gains’ 15-year tenure as prosecutor the issue, but the incumbent was successful in putting his challenger on the defensive.
With last week’s release of all of the documents relating to the religious discrimination lawsuit, the mayor may find that the Obama text is just one issue that raises questions about Macejko’s credibility as the city prosecutor. He may have no choice but the fire his employee.
In retrospect, Macejko would have been better off resigning in February or at the very least agreeing to an unpaid suspension.
His future with the city isn’t bright.