Mayoral race brings out the daggers

On the side

GOP needs you: The Mahoning County Republican Party is looking for people interested in running for precinct committee members.

Republicans will have the opportunity to elect committee members in each of the county’s 273 precincts in the May 2014 primary. They form the governing body of the party and are the core group of volunteers to help GOP candidates, said county Republican Chairman Mark Munroe. The newly-elected committee will meet in June 2014 to organize and elect party officers.

Leave your name, address, phone number and email address on the party headquarters’ voice mail at 330-629-7006 if interested.

MVDC picnic: The Mahoning Valley Democratic Club will have a picnic and meeting at the Knoll Run Golf Course, 1421 Struthers-Coitsville Road (State Route 616) from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 5. The club will vote on endorsements of Mahoning County Democrats running in nonpartisan races such as township trustee and school board seats.

The rhetoric used by Mahoning Valley black leaders to criticize Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras is pretty strong.

They said Betras thinks “we are still on the plantation,” and “the days of Kunta Kinte is over. The master doesn’t tell me what to do.”

The reason for the hostility — and not-so-subtle racist accusations — is Betras’ decision to remove three African-Americans — Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd; Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st; and her husband, former Councilman Artis Gillam Sr. — from the party’s executive committee.

What caused their removal was their support of DeMaine Kitchen, an independent Youngstown mayoral candidate who is black, over John McNally IV, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, who is white.

Betras also wants Artis, who uttered the Kunta Kinte-master comment, out as the party’s Youngstown 1st Ward district leader, and has called for Jaladah Aslam, the party’s vice chairwoman of labor relations, who is black, to resign because she won’t publicly support McNally.

Delores T. Womack, the party’s Youngstown 6th Ward district leader, who is black, sent me an email Thursday writing she was “appalled at the behavior of my fellow African-American so-called leaders! All of us have to abide by rules. None of this is about racism!!!!”

In addition to removing the three is the complaint by the black leaders that Betras never told the Gillams and Rodgers that they were off the committee.

Instead, he told me late Thursday when I called to inquire as I saw Betras get angry at the two sitting council members at a mayoral forum. I included it at the end of an article in Friday’s edition on the mayoral debate.

Democratic Party officials not supporting Democrats has been a problem for years.

Past chairmen have tolerated it. Ex-Chairwoman Lisa Antonini went so far as to support the failed campaign of an independent candidate against county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains, a Democrat, in 2008.

Betras has tried to stop this. He asked precinct committee members in February to pass party bylaws to remove precinct committee members if they publicly endorse or work for opponents of Democratic candidates. Since some of them do that, the motion was soundly defeated 108-36.

Betras has ousted whites from the executive committee for supporting nonendorsed candidates or independents.

In 2011, Betras removed Dan Yemma as an executive committee member for supporting a nonendorsed candidate for Struthers council. The tension between the two escalated to a public outburst by Betras, who screamed at Yemma, who was eventually chosen by precinct committee members as county treasurer. Betras eventually returned Yemma to the committee.

The executive committee members are selected by Betras, who says he’s appointed more blacks to the group than any other chairman.

While black leaders said Betras should have spoken to the Gillams and Rodgers privately, the chairman said the point was to make it public so people would know that if you serve on the executive committee you must support the party’s endorsed candidates.

To do otherwise defeats the purpose of being on the committee, Betras said.

To Betras, it’s about party loyalty.

To some blacks, it’s about race.

That this has played out in public does nothing but hurt race relations in the area.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.