Does Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains show up for work drunk — when he does show up, that is?
Is Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko a religious bigot with a particular aversion to the followers of Islam?
Those questions aren’t the creation of a tabloid reporter’s active imagination. Rather, they reflect key issues in the highly contentious race for the Democratic Party nomination for county prosecutor. Gains is seeking a fifth, four-year term, but Macejko has pulled out all the stops in his effort to win the March 6 primary. There is no Republican candidate, and while the deadline for an independent to file is March 5, the Democratic nominee is all but assured of winning the office. The November general election would be pro forma.
That’s why the sparks are flying — which will be evident on Wednesday when Gains and Macejko square off in an hour-long debate hosted by WFMJ-TV Channel 21 starting at 7 p.m.
The candidates will be questioned by a panel of journalists: TV 21 News Anchor Bob Black, who will serve as moderator; reporters Michelle Nicks and Glenn Stevens; and this writer.
Gains and Macejko will make opening and closing statements, which will give them the opportunity to take off the gloves. They will also have the chance to question each other.
The city prosecutor delivered the first blow in this battle during a recent candidates forum. In discussing the differences between them, he said that if elected county prosecutor he would be at work every day and would be “sober.”
When his use of the word “sober” was highlighted in a recent column in this space, Macejko claimed that he wasn’t referring to Gains’ drinking habits, but rather was talking about how he would approach the job. He does acknowledge, however, that the attendees at the candidates forum, including the incumbent and Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, took his statement to mean that he was accusing the county prosecutor of showing up for work drunk.
Indeed, the challenger used a portion of his comments in a posting on the Internet, but excluded the part that used the word “sober.”
Not to be outdone, Gains has accused his challenger of preventing an assistant city prosecutor from practicing his religion — in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
At issue is a civil rights lawsuit filed by Bassil Ally, who contended that Macejko interfered with his ability to practice his Islamic religion. The details of the suit have been widely publicized. The bottom line is that the city of Youngstown settled with a financial payment of more than $100,000 to Ally and also agreed to a significant increase in his salary.
Gains has latched on to the lawsuit as proof of his opponent’s religious intolerance. Not only is he airing commercials that focus on the constitutional aspect of the Ally lawsuit, but fliers have been distributed that provide details of the issue.
Both candidates have denied the charges made against them.
Gains says he has never shown up for work drunk and also challenges Macejko’s contention that he has missed work for days and even months on end.
It is noteworthy that Macejko worked as an assistant county prosecutor under Gains.
For his part, the city prosecutor vehemently denies that he is a religious bigot, or any type of bigot for that matter, and says he did not take action against Ally because of his attending services at his mosque on Friday afternoons. The arrangement for such attendance was one of Ally’s conditions of his employment during the administration of former Mayor Jay Williams. The prosecutor at that time was Dionne Almasy.
Macejko insists he had a problem with Ally’s job performance and his attitude, especially his insubordination.
Asked why the city settled the civil rights lawsuit, the prosecutor said it was the decision of the insurance carrier, which paid the $100,000 settlement. The city paid the deductible on the policy and is also responsible for the pay raise.
This week, the federal judge who was assigned to the Ally lawsuit will release the documents that had been sealed as part of the settlement.
Any references to Macejko’s behavior as city prosecutor that demonstrate religious or racial intolerance will fan the campaign flames.