Charlie Wilson’s death was a shock

On the side

Endorsement meeting: The Mahoning Valley Democrat Club will endorse candidates for Youngstown mayor and Struthers council-at-large at its next meeting, 7:30 p.m. Monday at county Democratic Party headquarters at 4011 Hillman Way in Boardman. Members who’ve paid their $10 dues for this year can vote. Dues can be paid up until the start of the meeting. The doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Candidates forum: The Core Team Ministry of the Union Baptist Church is holding a candidates forum from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the church, 528 Lincoln Ave. in Youngstown. Candidates running for city office in the May 7 primary and those who support and oppose the anti-fracking charter amendment are invited to speak.

‘We the People’ forum: The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, along with several citizen groups, will have a candidates forum with the Democratic candidates for Youngstown mayor invited to attend. The event is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 29 at the Union Baptist Church — apparently a popular place for these events.

Despite former U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson suffering a serious stroke on Feb. 21, his death Sunday left me stunned.

His family, through a spokesman, kept me up-to-date on Wilson’s condition, and he had made great strides.

But sadly Wilson, who was recovering at a rehabilitation facility, took a turn for the worse Saturday and died a day later. He was 70.

I first met Wilson, of St. Clairsville in Belmont County, during his successful 2004 campaign for the state Senate in a district that included Columbiana County. Wilson had served four two-year terms in the Ohio House before being easily elected to the Senate.

A year later, then-U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2006 to the 6th Congressional District and would run for governor.

Wilson quickly got into the race. There were several viable candidates from Mahoning County interested in the seat.

The issue was they would have split the vote in the upper part of the 6th assuring Wilson would likely win the rest of the district, and the Democratic primary. While waiting for someone to make a move, none of them filed for the seat.

Huge mistake

Because Wilson’s campaign made such a huge mistake that it attracted national headlines, a viable Mahoning County candidate would have been guaranteed a victory in the Democratic primary.

Wilson failed to get the 50 valid signatures needed on his nominating petitions. But he and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee refocused, spending about $1.1 million to draw attention to his successful and historic write-in primary victory.

The DCCC campaign jingle still runs through the heads of some Republicans: “The second of May is Election Day. Charlie Wilson wants to be your congressman. But a technicality is keeping Charlie off the ballot. So now we’re going to have to write him in.”

It went from being one of the worst-run campaigns I’ve seen to one of the best thanks to a group of smart and hard-working political strategists. I still talk to some of them from time to time.

Wilson loved being a congressman more than anyone I’ve ever met. That’s why when he lost to Republican Bill Johnson in 2010, Wilson was devastated to the point he refused to talk to the media — or to many other people.

I wrote a very critical column about Wilson. To his credit, he called me a week later to apologize, saying losing was “much harder than I thought. It was very surreal. I never had anything like that happen. It was just shocking.”

Failed campaign

But Wilson tried it again, pouring $581,091 of his own money into last year’s failed campaign to beat Johnson. Wilson, a wealthy man, said he didn’t regret the investment, but was obviously “disappointed in the result.”

The day after the election, Wilson told me, “I am not saying, ‘I’ll never run again.’ But it’s not terribly likely I will.”

About three weeks before his stroke, in my last interview with him, Wilson said he was looking at a 2014 run for state treasurer, but it was too early to commit.

Wilson loved politics and holding office. He also loved helping people and was passionate about doing what he could to improve the state and the nation.

His funeral is Monday.

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