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Why candidate photo ops go wrong — for Ryan and others

Published: Wed, October 17, 2012 @ 12:10 a.m.
  St. Vincent de Paul Press Conference

Brian J. Antal, president of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society, discusses the society's position on political visits.

Brian J. Antal, president of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society, discusses the society's position on political visits.

By David Skolnick

and Ashley Luthern



Photo ops for politicians are as old as well ... cameras.

With the frantic sound of media photographers and journalists moving through tight spaces like a herd of cattle, a political candidate’s photo op is usually fleeting and either reinforces a message or provides fodder for pundits and the opposition.

Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan created a stir and national attention after he and his family dropped by the St. Vincent DePaul Society Dining Hall on Saturday.

The visit came after his town-hall meeting at Youngstown State University.

Brian J. Antal, president of Mahoning County’s St. Vincent DePaul Society, contacted The Vindicator and The Washington Post on Monday telling them he was “shocked” and “angry” that Ryan used the soup kitchen for a “publicity stunt.”

The society is nonpartisan, and Antal said that during election season, he wouldn’t permit any elected official inside the hall for a political “photo op.”

Antal is a registered Democrat, but said this issue has nothing to do with politics.

If he is elected vice president, Ryan would be welcomed to volunteer at the dining hall as long as it’s not during a campaign and without turning it into a media event, Antal said.

“I didn’t want to make this a negative on the guy,” Antal said of Ryan. “I’m not here to blast anybody. We have no [political] affiliation with anyone.”

Juanita Sherba, St. Vincent’s Saturday coordinator for the dining hall, gave the Ryan campaign permission to have the candidate and his family come to the downtown location.

She said it was a mistake.

The event was staged by the campaign, including having volunteers not clean a few pots and pans so Ryan and his family could be photographed doing that work, Sherba said.

“It was the phoniest piece of baloney I’ve ever been associated with,” said Sherba, a supporter of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, who said political affiliation had nothing to do with the issue.

The biggest political photo-op disasters are usually the fault of staff members, said David All, a Washington, D.C.-based communication strategist, who worked on the Ohio political campaigns of former President George W. Bush and retired U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich.

All has ties to the Mahoning Valley as he was the 2002 campaign manager for Ann Womer Benjamin, who lost the 17th Congressional District race that year to Tim Ryan.

“Staff members want control and to make an event perfect,” All said. “They are really tightly wound. They lose their head and it ends up being a disaster.”

A good photo op is “more about communicating rather than creating a fictitious event. If it doesn’t work, let the politicians roll with it,” he said. “Sometimes they’re great moments because they’re out of the ordinary.”

William Binning, professor emeritus of political science at Youngstown State University, said a successful photo op is one with a backdrop that supports a candidate’s message.

“What we found in the Valley over the years is candidates of both parties come in, and if they were criticizing the other side, they would try to find an empty steel mill,” he said. “If they were promoting high tech, the [Youngstown Business] incubator was probably the most well-known photo op.”

This wasn’t the first time the Valley has been the location of a breakdown in communication that caused some embarrassment and unwanted national media attention for high-profile politicians.

In July, The Vindicator reported that the Poland man who introduced Obama at a rally at Dobbins Elementary School was found by a judge to have improperly taken “trade secrets” from a previous employer and owes $515,218 to that company.

In 2004, Bush, a Republican, and Democrat John Kerry, who lost that year’s presidential election, each had embarrassing moments in the area.

Bush had an invitation-only event at YSU on May 25, 2004, to discuss the importance of community health care centers, and how “junk and frivolous” malpractice lawsuits were driving doctors out of business.

Sharing the stage with the president was Dr. Compton Girdharry of Alliance. Bush said malpractice insurance forced the doctor out of his private practice.

But The New York Times reported a few weeks later that Girdharry had settled lawsuits and agreed to the payment of damages in malpractice suits in which patients suffered terrible injuries.

Not to be outdone, Kerry attracted national attention when The Vindicator wrote about his Canada goose-hunting trip in Springfield Township on Oct. 21, 2004, to show he was a sportsman.

Kerry pointed his loaded shotgun in the direction of a person nearby, and didn’t wear safety glasses or ear plugs, standard items when hunting geese.

Kerry wouldn’t carry any of the four geese killed in the hunt, making an off-the-cuff remark that “it was too heavy and I was too lazy.”

Kerry’s staff gave incorrect information about the gun he used and the name of the hunting dog.

The event came across as a staged event, which it was.

Mahoning County chairmen of both political parties agree that photo ops are a staple of campaign culture, but drew drastically different conclusions about the impact of Ryan’s soup kitchen photo op.

“A photo op is an opportunity for the media, and by extension voters, to visualize what a candidate” is about, said David Betras, the Democratic chairman.

For a photo op to be successful, it has to be sincere, and Ryan’s was not, Betras said.

Republican Chairman Mark Munroe said photo ops have a long tradition because politicians have limited time and tight schedules.

Candidates “look for opportunities to interact with voters and present themselves in the best light. There’s nothing wrong or unusual about that, but what’s happened in Youngstown has been blown so far out of proportion,” Munroe said.

He added, “It’s fair to say that the lifetime of a photo-op story is typically pretty short.”


1bmanresident(607 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

Washing a pot and a pan is STILL more work than Obama has EVER done in his life. Many people working at McDonald's have a longer resume than comrade Obama. O wait, I digress, he was a community organizer... whatever that is. At least Ryan and Romney both know the meaning of work and accumolating their OWN wealth, not stealing it in the name of redistribution.

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2chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

Mr Antal failed to adequately let those in charge known of the photo-op policy.

This exemplies poor communication and management on his part; he should be replaced immediately.

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3republicanRick(1736 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

The story here is Brian Antal abusing his management position at a non-profit soup kitchen to score political points and massage his ego.

If the Board of Directors of St Vincent had any ethics they would relieve Mr Antal of his position. Brian, together with Dave Betras, could then play their juvenile political games.

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4Dagwood(505 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

The right thing to do would be for Mr. Antal to give the Republican party back their money that they donated, so that everyone knows he means business when it comes to politics and charity.

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5YSUPenguins(16 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

Mr. Antal everyone knows that you are lying when you say that you were not trying to make this a negative on this guy and that you were not trying to make it political. The democrats that support you still know you were lying they just support your political view. The Republicans know you are a liar, but they don't support your politics. I have already found new organizations to donate to that help the poor. I will no longer donate to St Vincent dePaul until you are gone. You really should resign for the good of the organization.

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6republicanRick(1736 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

I contacted 2 people that volunteer down there and they said the problem is definitely Mr. Antal. He does not interact with the volunteers and is extremely condescending. They say morale has been low since he took over. And these are all volunteers.

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7DwightK(1537 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

All this outrage and no one mentions Ryan's people asking for some dirty dishes to be lft for the congressman and his family.


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8jojuggie(1723 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

Brand new day - same old bull crap! Please send this on to any Dems you know and ask them, "How can you keep buying into this???"

CLICK ON: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=...

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9jojuggie(1723 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago


Once upon a time the government had a vast scrap yard in the middle of a desert.

Congress said, "Someone may steal from it at night."

So they created a night watchman position and hired a person for the job.

Then Congress said, "How does the watchman do his job without instruction?"

So they created a planning department and hired two people, one person to write the instructions, and one person to do time studies.

Then Congress said, "How will we know the night watchman is doing the tasks correctly?"

So they created a Quality Control department and hired two people. One was to do the studies and one was to write the reports.

Then Congress said, "How are these people going to get paid?"

So they created two positions: a time keeper and a payroll officer then hired two people.

Then Congress said, "Who will be accountable for all of these people?"

So they created an administrative section and hired three people, an Administrative Officer, Assistant Administrative Officer, and a Legal Secretary.

Then Congress said, "We have had this command in operation for one year and we are $918,000 over budget, we must cut back."

So they laid-off the night watchman.

NOW slowly, let it sink in.

Quietly, we go like sheep to slaughter. Does anybody remember the reason given for the establishment of the DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY during the Carter administration?




Didn't think so!

Bottom line is, we've spent several hundred billion dollars in support of an agency, the reason for which very few people who read this can remember!


It was very simple... and at the time, everybody thought it very

The Department of Energy was instituted on 8/04/1977, TO LESSEN OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL.

Hey, pretty efficient, huh???


34 years ago 30% of our oil consumption was foreign imports. Today 70% of our oil consumption is foreign imports.

Ah, yes -- good old Federal bureaucracy.


Hello!! Anybody Home?

Signed....The Night Watchman

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10CasLee(9 comments)posted 3 years, 9 months ago

October 16, 2012
Hello, my fellow American voters!
I watched the Oct. 3rd and Oct. 16th presidential and Oct. 11th vice-presidential debates.
1st Romney-Obama debate covered 7 topics: jobs; budget deficit/debt; social security/entitlements; federal regulation of economy; healthcare; federal government role in economy; partisan gridlock.
2nd Romney-Obama debate covered 11 topics: college graduate jobs; gas prices; taxes; equal pay; Bush policies; Obama’s record; illegal immigrants; Libya; assault weapons; jobs; candidate misperceptions.
Ryan-Biden debate covered 10 topics: Libya; Iran; economy; medicare/social security/entitlements; taxes/tax reform/spending/budget cuts; military policy; Afghanistan; Syria; abortion; negative campaign tactics.
As an INDEPENDENT female feminist (egalitarian) voter, I support the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Romney and Ryan won all three debates, although Obama improved some in the 2nd debate.
Ryan won despite Biden’s consistently rude/disrespectful behavior during the debate
(Biden interrupted Ryan often, laughed often while Ryan was talking, pointed his finger often).
Biden’s tactics to evade issues/truth were disrespectful to Americans interested in facts, figures, forecasts, and solutions for real people with real problems.
Romney and Ryan won with substance, directness, integrity, respect, clarity, facts, commitment, inspiration, and leadership.
These debates confirm that Romney and Ryan are the best persons in terms of qualifications and character to lead our country to solve problems and make life better for all Americans.
I am inspired by Romney/Ryan, and I hope that you are too!
Best regards,
Cas Lee

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