Gains is preferred in race for Mahoning County prosecutor

In his 15-plus years as Mahoning County prosecutor, Paul Gains has compiled a record that is both positive and negative. But there’s one aspect of Gains’ tenure as the county’s chief lawyer that not even his detractors can credibly challenge: His honesty.

Some readers may wonder why we think it so unusual that a member of the criminal justice system would be honest. The answer lies in the political history of the county. When judges, a prosecutor and a sheriff are convicted of taking bribes, residents are justified in putting a premium on trust when it comes to our elected officials.

In examining Gains’ service in office, we came across this simple but revealing admonition from him to his staff of assistant prosecutors: Follow the law.

There’s nothing in his record to indicate that he does not practice what he preaches.

We applied that principle in our evaluation of the race for the Democratic nomination in the March 6 primary. Gains is being challenged by Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko, who has been in the news lately not because of his campaign platform but because he was sued by an employee for violating the law.

Macejko has been city prosecutor since 2006, and before that was an assistant county prosecutor under Gains.

While he has attempted to make the incumbent’s record the issue in the race, there are too many questions surrounding Macejko’s management style that voters deserve to have answered.

Because the city prosecutor has never run for election before — he was appointed to the position by former Mayor Jay Williams — he has not been exposed to a public vetting.

However, the lawsuit filed by assistant city prosecutor Bassil Ally alleging religious discrimination has shed light on the operation of the office. Macejko, along with the city of Youngstown, former Mayor Williams and former Law Director Iris Guglicello, were sued in federal court. The documents pertaining to the case remain under seal, but the fact is that the case was settled with a judgment that resulted in Ally’s being paid $110,000 and given a $4,000 raise. In addition, Macejko wrote a letter of apology to his employee.

Nonetheless, the city prosecutor insists he did not discriminate against Ally and that the settlement was negotiated with the city’s insurance provider. He takes no responsibility for it.

Likewise, he has refused to take responsibility for a racist comment about President Barack Obama that was in a log of text messages retrieved from the cellphone of assistant prosecutor Bret Hartup. The messages were submitted to the court in response to a subpoena from Ally’s lawyers, who asked for a record of texts between the city prosecutor and the assistant prosecutor.

Macejko denies seeing the Obama entry, insisting that he did not send it. He has speculated that it could have been “spam.” His denial defies logic; he has authenticated the text log by acknowledging that he sent derogatory texts about Ally to Hartup contained in the log.

Independent investigation

In light of the information that has been made public, Gains has called on Mayor Charles Sammarone to fire the city prosecutor. We aren’t willing to go that far given that most of the documents that could fill in a lot of the blanks in this sordid tale remain under seal. However, the mayor’s decision to launch an independent investigation to determine if Macejko’s behavior was so egregious as to damage the city’s credibility means he has not bought the prosecutor’s explanation.

Last Sunday, The Vindicator published a front-page in-depth story about the county prosecutor’s race, detailing each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and their records as public officials.

Given the unanswered questions about Macejko’s clash with Ally and his text exchanges with Hartup, we cannot consider him for our endorsement for county prosecutor.

But even if we could overcome our misgivings about him, we still would find it difficult to select him over Gains when both their records and work experience are scrutinized.

We, therefore, endorse the incumbent with this reminder to him: You are responsible for everything that goes on in your office.

Gains has said that he has been distracted in recent years by civil lawsuits against the county, including the one relating to overcrowding in the county jail. Those issues have now been resolved, so we would expect him to be involved in the day-to-day management of the office.

We have also criticized him for the pay raises he gave some of his employees, even though he kept them within his budget. We would hope that he recognizes the reality of today’s economy and appreciates the anger that private-sector taxpayers feel towards public- sector employees because of their wages and benefits, including lucrative pension plans.

All things considered, The Vindicator endorses Paul Gains for the Democratic Party nomination. No Republican has filed in the race.

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