By David Skolnick
A write-in Youngstown mayoral candidate, who failed to persuade the Mahoning County Board of Elections to disqualify DeMaine Kitchen as an independent in the same race, is taking his case to a higher power.
Cecil Monroe, a write-in, filed a “writ of prohibition” with the Ohio Supreme Court contending that Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary, isn’t eligible to run as an independent because he’s actually a Democrat. Monroe is asking the court to instruct the elections board to remove Kitchen’s name from the Nov. 5 ballot.
“Because of Mr. Kitchen’s well-established, long-standing relationships with prominent members of the Democratic Party and the party as a whole, his current job as the top executive to the Democratic mayor of the city of Youngstown, his public statements made affirming his allegiance to the party and based on his long history of voting as a member of the Democratic Party, [he] is not an independent candidate,” Monroe wrote.
Monroe’s “key points” in the court filing is Kitchen works directly for Mayor Charles Sammarone, a Democrat; that he has close friendships with prominent Democrats; and that he voted in Democratic primaries in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The board of elections rejected Monroe’s request by a 3-1 vote July 18 to remove Kitchen from the ballot because he is really a Democrat.
The lone no vote came from county Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, the board’s vice chairman, who said Friday that he agrees with Monroe’s claim that Kitchen is a Democrat.
“Did [Kitchen] just say he’s no longer a Democrat or did he genuinely disassociate himself from the Democratic Party?” Betras asked. “I think the answer is he’s a Democrat and should run as such. This is a cute way to circumvent the [Democratic Party’s] endorsement process.”
In response, Kitchen said, “We’ll see if the courts agree with Betras.”
As for the court case, Kitchen said, “I have to go with what the court says, but, obviously, I think it has no merit.”
A 2007 advisory opinion from the secretary of state, based on a 2006 court decision, requires elections boards to disqualify independent candidates if they vote in a party primary after filing as independents, or if they are members of a party’s central or executive committee when filing as independents.
Kitchen didn’t vote in a party primary or serve on a party committee after filing as an independent.
Monroe based his failed case in front of the board and his Supreme Court filing on a provision in the advisory that states voting history “with other facts tending to indicate party affiliation may be sufficient grounds to disqualify an independent.”
Monroe withdrew as an independent candidate for Youngstown mayor in late May before the board could disqualify him. Monroe was to be removed because he voted in the Democratic primary May 7, the day after he filed petitions to run as an independent.
“The board acted properly at the hearing,” said Mark Munroe, board chairman and head of the county Republican Party. “We heard testimony from both sides. Based on the facts, the board made a good decision.”
A response from the county prosecutor’s office, which serves as the elections board’s legal counsel, to the court reads that Monroe’s “petition seeking relief in prohibition fails to demonstrate that [the board] acted [fraudulently], corruptly, abused its discretion or clearly disregarded applicable law.”
Meanwhile, Betras followed through Friday on what he told The Vindicator a day earlier that he would remove three Democratic Party executive committee members — Youngstown Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st; her husband, Artis, a former councilman; and Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd — because they “decided to oppose our endorsed candidate,” John McNally IV, and are supporting Kitchen. Betras also removed Artis Gillam as the city’s 1st Ward district leader.
“Those who denigrate the value of endorsement by openly campaigning against the candidates who have sought and earned our support are, in every sense of the word, traitors to our party and its principles,” Betras wrote in a letter to executive committee members.
“It’s a clear message of desperation,” Kitchen said of Betras’ decision. “You want to force people to violate their own beliefs. It’s unfortunate they have become objects of attack for supporting me, but I’m glad they’re supporting me.”