Betras faces primary test

On the side

Presidential sweepstakes: Ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, one of Barack Obama’s 35 national chairpersons, says the presidential race in Ohio is going to be competitive, even though the Republican presidential candidates “are just terribly inadequate.”

Strickland, a Democrat, said he “almost felt sympathy” for Mitt Romney when the latter said in Michigan last week that “the trees are the right height” in that state.

After the tree comment, Romney added, “I love the lakes” and “I love cars,” in a rambling speech.

“I was waiting for him to say, ‘I love asphalt and concrete’ for God’s sake,” Strickland said.

As for Rick Santorum, Strickland questioned his thought-process and priorities. Strickland brought up Santorum’s 2008 statement, which is getting play now, that “Satan has his sights” on America, and his talk on contraception.

Strickland on Ron Paul: He “is so outside the mainstream of political thought.”

On Newt Gingrich: “He is erratic and impulsive and reckless.”

With the primary on Tuesday, Mahoning County Democratic Party candidates are pulling out all the stops to win — or at least complaining about Chairman David Betras.

With Betras in charge, the party brought back primary endorsements.

There are some who don’t like them — primarily those who don’t win the endorsements — and those who love them — primarily those who are endorsed.

They give the party power and make its precinct and executive committee members relevant; something that wasn’t the case for more than a dozen years.

It’s led to hurt feelings and harsh criticism, but Mahoning County politics isn’t for those with weak stomachs.

Most of the anger is aimed at Betras.

Some think he’s a tenacious, smart and strong chairman. Others think he’s an obnoxious, egotistical and power-hungry dictator.

Once the party voted Jan. 7 to endorse candidates, Betras went to work.

Betras convinced two commissioner candidates, a treasurer candidate, and longtime county Engineer Richard Marsico to get out of the primary after they weren’t endorsed.

He also worked to get unions and political clubs to back the party’s endorsed candidates.

Two of the clubs — the South County Democrats and the Mahoning Valley Democrat Club — broke rank with the party, endorsing incumbent county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains and Walter Pishkur for county commissioner.

The party had endorsed Youngstown Prosecutor Jay Macejko and Austintown Trustee David Ditzler for those positions.

The party endorsements “were treated like a popularity contest. The party is fractionalized now,” said John Shultz, South County president.

In response, Betras said, “Of course it’s fractionalized. No one gets 100 percent of the vote. I’ve tried to unite all these people and they don’t want to unite. Our process [of endorsing] is fair, but some don’t like the results.”

Then there’s former Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes, a sheriff candidate, who accused Betras of backing Jerry Greene for the position before the primary.

Hughes also accused Betras of trying to strong-arm him and others to either get out of the race or not support the former police chief.

But the two people Hughes mentioned by name as being pressured by Betras deny that happened and that Hughes’ statements aren’t accurate.

It was only a week ago that Richard Oz Ouzounian, a county commissioner candidate and former Betras employee, went public with a series of text messages sent to him by the chairman insulting his appearance and his chances to win using some colorful language.

As an aside, Ditzler, the party’s endorsed candidate, claims in a TV commercial that he brought “more than $300 million in development and jobs to Mahoning County.”

Ditzler explained that’s the amount of residential, commercial and industrial development in Austintown during his time as trustee.

If he’s taking credit for everything, Ditzler shouldn’t forget the strip clubs that opened on his watch.

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