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What if Macejko is fired?

Published: Sun, March 4, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

It’s possible that Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko could win the Democratic Party nomination for Mahoning County prosecutor in Tuesday’s primary over 15-year incumbent Paul Gains — given the intensity of the race.

It’s probable that Macejko will either be fired or suspended without pay by Mayor Charles Sammarone for mobile phone text messages exchanged with an assistant prosecutor, Bret Hartup. Among the messages was one that was blatantly racist pertaining to President Barack Obama: “I just received my Obama stimulus package. It was 3 pieces of chicken, a pack of kool-aid and a dime bag. Did u get yours?”

The text was contained in a log of messages from Hartup’s cell phone that the assistant prosecutor handed over to a federal judge who was presiding over a religious discrimination case filed by another assistant prosecutor, Bassil Ally. The defendants in the Ally case were Macejko, former Mayor Jay Williams, former Law Director Iris Guglicello and the city of Youngstown, The lawsuit was settled with a judgment against the city for $110,000 paid to Ally and a $4,000 salary increase for him. In addition, Macejko wrote a letter of apology to his assistant prosecutor.

Against that backdrop, Mayor Sammarone, who took office last August, is launching an investigation into the city prosecutor’s claim that he did not send the anti-Obama text to Hartup, and does not recall receiving it from the assistant prosecutor.

Legal advice

Although the records pertaining to Ally’s religious discrimination lawsuit remain under seal, the city of Youngstown’s lawyers (read that, Mayor Sammarone’s lawyers) are in possession of them and, presumably, have reviewed them with great care. It can also be presumed that the lawyers have briefed the mayor on all aspects of the case, including the city’s legal exposure to any discrimination cases that may be brought against Youngstown.

The investigation that Sammarone has launched is obviously designed to protect the city. It also indicates that he hasn’t bought Macejko’s explanation about the Obama text.

Thus the question: What happens if Macejko wins the Democratic nomination for county prosecutor on Tuesday and is subsequently fired or suspended by the mayor?

It’s a question that Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betas will have to answer, given that the nominee does not have Republican opposition in the general election. The deadline for write-in candidates is the day before the Nov. 6 election.

Macejko and his supporters will undoubtedly use the “Sciortino defense” to justify his not only remaining on the ballot, but taking the oath of office in January.

Prior to the May 2010 Democratic primary, Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and other county officeholders, were rumored to be targets of a state investigation of the county’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place. During an interview with The Vindicator before the primary, Sciortino was asked if he would step down if he were indicted after the election. He answered that he did not expect to be indicted because he had done nothing wrong, and that he would not resign if he were indicted.

He won the primary and two months later was charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, filing a false financial disclosure statement, soliciting or accepting improper compensation, and two counts each of conspiracy, perjury and conflict of interest.

Sciortino went on the win the general election.

Charges dropped

The charges against him and other defendants were subsequently dismissed because the state could not secure evidence from the FBI that was pertinent to the case.

However, there’s a major difference between the Sciortino and Macejko situations. If the city prosecutor is fired or suspended, it means that the mayor’s investigation found that he either sent the racially-tinged text message about the president, or received it and did nothing to punish the person who sent it.

If Macejko wins the primary and is then punished by the mayor, the Mahoning County Democratic Party will be forced to do something to distance itself from the nominee. The best Betras can hope for is that Macejko will quit, which would then allow the party precinct committeemen and women to select a replacement.

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