Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras mocked a county commissioner candidate about his appearance and his chances of winning the March 6 primary and used a variety of insults, including expletives, in a series of text messages.
The candidate, Richard Oz Ouzounian, provided the text messages from Nov. 15 and Feb. 14 to the media Tuesday.
Betras apologized to Ouzounian “for the tone and tenor of the messages. The language I used is unacceptable, and I take full responsibility for drafting and sending them.”
When told of Betras’ apology, Ouzounian said he didn’t accept it, adding that the chairman is doing this to keep up a false public image.
Also Tuesday, Ouzounian sent a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted writing Betras sent him “threatening text messages” that “have attacked me personally, professionally and the latest threatens me and the fairness of the upcoming election.”
Husted appointed Betras last week to a four-year term on the county board of elections that starts March 1.
Ouzounian said a Feb. 14 text from Betras is a threat. The text reads: “Let me know who your lawyer is bc [because] lawsuits are forthcoming but only after primary. Make sure u print this now fatty and show everyone.”
Betras said he sent the text because of his “utter frustration” with Ouzounian, a former employee, for his “continued and unsubstantiated and egregious attacks on my actions and character, including the totally unfounded allegation that I threatened to retaliate against a business person who does business with the county who contributed to his campaign.”
Ouzounian has refused to disclose the name of the person, and Betras is calling him a “liar.”
Betras said Ouzounian’s “unwarranted and unsubstantiated attacks against me will not affect my ability to perform my duties as a member of the board of elections.”
Betras also said he will recuse himself from any decisions or deliberations that directly or indirectly affect Ouzounian or his candidacy in this or future elections and added he has notified the s ecretary of state of that intent.
Ouzounian is among six Democratic candidates running for the commissioner seat held by John McNally IV, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Betras described the text messages as “bantering” and “arguing back and forth.”
Ouzounian served as director of communications for Betras’ law firm for about 21/2 years, ending in August 2010. Betras said he fired Ouzounian.
Ouzounian said Betras laid him off because the firm had financial issues. Around the same time Ouzounian stopped working for Betras’ firm, he stopped being the county party’s political director, a job he held for a little more than a year.
On one text message, Betras called Ouzounian the “worst employee I ever had.” In another, Betras wrote, “Bring it b---- boy. Dead last in endorsement, dead last in race. U know y? Bc u r a LOSER.”
Ouzounian returned fire. “I’m going to enjoy teaching you what hardball politics is all about, so bring it on. I have nothing to lose, you have everything to lose, go for it!”
He also called Betras “Boss Hogg AKA Mr. Incompetent” in another text.