During a recent candidate forum in Boardman hosted by the Fraternal Order of Police, Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko tossed out a comment about the man he hopes to unseat, county Prosecutor Paul Gains, which brought an audible gasp from the audience.
The comment was so inflammatory that it demands proof from Macejko. If the city prosecutor does not have the evidence, then he should publicly apologize to Gains.
It was while he was addressing the gathering at the FOP forum that Macejko apparently decided to go for broke. He was articulating the differences between him and Gains and detailing how he would operate the office differently when he said he would show up for work every day and that he would be “sober.”
Gains, who was in the audience, turned to Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras and asked, “Did he just call me a drunk?”
Betras replied, “It sounded like it.”
The reaction of the crowd must have felt like a blast of cold air to Macejko, because he quickly dropped that line of attack.
But for Gains, Betras and others at the forum, it certainly came across as the challenger accusing the incumbent of showing up for work drunk.
It’s a serious allegation that cannot be dismissed as simply the give-and-take of campaigning. Even in hotly contested races, there are certain lines that must not be crossed — unless the attacker is willing to back up his attack.
The suggestion that the county’s lawyer shows up for work wobbly carries with it the idea of an elected official guilty of malfeasance and worse, of putting the criminal justice system in jeopardy.
Any weakness on the part of the county prosecutor can be used by those who intend to finesse the system. The late Prosecutor James Philomena opened the office up to the highest bidder and as a result justice in Mahoning County was up for sale.
Gains successfully ran against Philomena by accusing him of wheeling and dealing on criminal charges and plea agreements. Philomena ultimately became the target of a federal government corruption investigation and ended up in the penitentiary.
Gains is well aware that in politics, perception is reality, which is why the suggestion that he isn’t at the office every day and that sometimes he shows up looped has him fighting back.
The prosecutor noted that Macejko has the video of his speech to the FOP gathering on his web site, but that it has been edited. A review of the video shows that the inflammatory remarks have been deleted.
Why? Is it because the city prosecutor knows that while voters have strong opinions about the candidates they also demand fairness? Or, is it because he has no proof that Gains is a “drunk” and that continuing to focus on the issue would put him in jeopardy?
Lawyers must adhere to strict rules of conduct established by the Ohio Supreme Court. Has Macejko filed a complaint with the disciplinary council of the Supreme Court and with the Mahoning County Bar Association against Gains?
The city prosecutor has a responsibility as an officer of the court to explain his comments — in public. He made them in a public setting. Simply deleting them from a videotape is not enough.
Indeed, Macejko still owes this writer answers to a list of questions that were contained in a column in this space published July 31.
The most significant one was this:
“Have you had any social or business dealings with Anthony, John J. and/or Flora Cafaro, or with any other executives of the Cafaro Co.? If so, what was the nature of the dealings?”
Four years ago, the Cafaro clan spent a ton of money trying to defeat Gains in his re-election bid because he had taken them on in court in the Oakhill Renaissance Place controversy.
The column also posed this question: “Given that the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland have 2,000 hours of tapes from the surveillance [of the Cafaros and others], can you say unequivocally that your name will not appear on any related list? If it turns out that you were recorded in conversations or appear on videotape with any of the Cafaros or company executives, will you withdraw from the race next year and resign your position as city prosecutor?”