Gains’ re-election is not guaranteed

On the side

Political surprise: I was somewhat surprised that the Mahoning County Democratic Party strongly endorsed Patrick Ginnetti over 16-year incumbent county Engineer Richard A. Marsico.

In last week’s column I wrote that Marsico was likely to be endorsed, but it could be close. It wasn’t. Ginnetti soundly defeated Marsico 173-to-79.

More than enough members of the Democratic precinct and executive committees were concerned with Marsico’s age, overstaying his welcome in elected office and the $70,242 in salary increases he gave his staff last year.

Rejected by the local Democratic establishment — despite being one of the top financial contributors to the party among sitting officeholders — Marsico had no choice but to pull out of the March 6 primary.

Marsico hasn’t had a challenger since 2000. He would have struggled to run a successful campaign not only without the support of the party, but with the party opposing him.

Seeking his fifth four-year term as Mahoning County prosecutor, Paul J. Gains is in the political fight of his life.

A major blow to his campaign came Saturday when he lost the county Democratic Party’s central and executive committees endorsement to Youngstown Prosecutor Jay Macejko, 145 to 108.

Gains said, “I believe [the endorsement is] important,” but he’s not getting out of the race. He mentioned David Ludt, a three-term county commissioner, voted out of office two years ago. Then-Youngstown Councilwoman Carol Rimedio-Righetti, the party’s endorsed candidate, won the primary and general election.

It appears that the county’s Democratic clubs and local labor unions will follow the party’s lead and endorse Macejko. The Austintown Democratic Club did just that Wednesday, endorsing every party-endorsed candidate.

There are other benefits to being endorsed including access to the Ohio Democratic Party voter database, running a coordinated campaign with other endorsed candidates, and the ODP’s heavily discounted bulk-mail rate.

Typically, turnout in primaries during presidential-election years are much higher than other years, but it won’t be in March.

President Barack Obama is running unopposed and there are no contested Democratic statewide races.

That means the party faithful will make up a larger percentage of the electorate in the primary than usual for county officeholders running in presidential-election years.

Failing to get the party’s endorsement led county Engineer Richard Marsico, a 16-year incumbent, to not seek re-election. Also, Struthers Mayor Terry Stocker withdrew from the primary for a county commissioner seat after not getting the party’s endorsement.

Regarding Gains, Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Betras criticized the prosecutor for giving about $220,000 in raises to his staff last year. (Gains isn’t giving raises, except step increases, to his staff this year.)

“What’s happened to officeholders who’ve been in office for 16 to 20 years is they’ve become insensitive to what the people want,” he said. “They think they’re unbeatable. They confuse an election with a coronation.”

Gains disagreed with Betras’ assessment saying, “I’ve never thought I was unbeatable.” Gains said he isn’t upset by Betras’ comments because he “has to do that because he’s party chairman.”

Gains said the decision to grant raises “was a business decision, but a bad political decision. I remained within my budget and returned about $8,000 to the general fund.”

Without the raises, Gains said four attorneys in his office would have likely left. Even with the raises, Gains said his attorneys are paid less than their counterparts in Youngstown and Trumbull County.

Gains has faced criticism about mistakes made by his office, but said the errors were unintentional.

Macejko may also face criticism after Youngstown had to settle a lawsuit two months ago with an assistant city prosecutor, who filed a federal religious- and ethnic-discrimination civil suit.

Bassil Ally, a Muslim of Middle Eastern decent, received a lump sum of $110,000 from the city and a $4,000 annual pay raise. As part of the settlement, Macejko, Ally’s supervisor, had to write a letter of apology. No settlement money came from the city prosecutor.

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