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Rhetoric in Mahoning probate judge race escalates

Published: Thu, April 10, 2014 @ 12:04 a.m.






By David Skolnick



The war of words is escalating between Christopher Sammarone, a Democrat running for Mahoning County Probate Court judge, and the county Democratic Party Chairman David Betras.

And the war is based on two words — “a leader” — who said it and when.

Sammarone’s campaign literature prominently uses the words attributed to Jim Tressel, who was the candidate’s football coach at Youngstown State University in the early 1990s.

The two words are part of a longer quote from Tressel in the Aug. 21, 1994, edition of The Vindicator in which the coach praises the leadership qualities of Sammarone on the team.

Betras said he thinks it’s deceptive to use a 20-year-old-plus comment in a political ad about a candidate’s college football days.

“It’s clear to me it’s meant to imply Tressel is endorsing him,” Betras said. “Put it in context.”

The county party is backing Susan Maruca, Betras’ former law partner, for probate court.

Sammarone, who had a press conference Wednesday on this, said he’s “disappointed in Betras and Mrs. Maruca that they would attempt to discredit my campaign by attacking a time in my life that is precious to me” and Tressel, whom he called a “mentor, friend and coach.”

Sammarone added that this is an “attempt by Betras and Maruca to cloud the real issues in this race,” which are “the qualifications and experience” of the two candidates who are squaring off in the Democratic primary on May 6.

The dispute, first reported Tuesday on vindy.com, has Sammarone and Betras exchanging heated words and accusations.

After seeing Sammarone’s campaign materials with the Tressel quote, Maruca had her campaign attorney, Donald McTigue, send Sammarone a letter asking him to remove the quote because it “misleads the voters.”

Maruca said she spoke to Tressel on Sunday when she saw him at a Boardman High School event, and he told her he’s not endorsing any candidate in the probate-court race.

Sammarone said Tressel agreed to be one of his references as the county Republican Party decides who it will recommend to Gov. John Kasich to replace Mark Belinky as probate court judge. Belinky, under criminal investigation by the state, resigned March 14.

“Having someone as a reference is not an endorsement,” Betras said.

Sammarone said he didn’t ask Tressel to endorse him, and “my literature doesn’t state that he does. He does not get involved in political campaigns. Now I see why.”

Betras and Maruca said all Sammarone had to do was include “YSU, 1994” after Tressel’s name and quote, and there wouldn’t be an issue.

In response, Sammarone said, “You could clarify it, but I didn’t think it was necessary” as everyone but Betras and Maruca could tell it was an old quote about his football days at YSU.

Sammarone said, “Tressel believed in uniting this community and everybody being on the same page. Betras would rather divide the community.”

Betras responded: “The real issue is integrity with the voters. If you’ll say anything to win, we don’t need that type of candidate.”

The quote on Sammarone’s campaign materials prompted a response Tuesday by Tressel, the University of Akron’s executive vice president for student success, through Eileen Korey, the school’s chief communications officer.

That statement said Tressel heard about the quote, that it came from a Vindicator article when Sammarone played for him, and declined to discuss it further.

Sammarone said he spoke to Tressel late Tuesday, and his former coach offered to discuss the issue with the media.

On Wednesday, Tressel again relayed comments through Korey.

“He did in fact tell Chris that he would stand by statements he made about him back when he was coach Tressel and Chris was on his team,” Korey said. “Jim also said that if he’s out in the community, and a reporter asks him about these previous statements, he would reaffirm them.” But Tressel again wouldn’t comment further on the issue, she said.

Also, Sammarone and Bryan Ridder, the candidate and the campaign’s co-counsel, called a text message sent by Betras to John Shultz, an attorney backing Sammarone, a “threat.”

The Betras text, forwarded to Ridder by Shultz, reads: “Y is ur candidate doing this. We have another surprise coming. LOL.”

“It’s another attempt to muddy up the issues,” Sammarone said. “It’s a threat. I don’t know how else you could perceive it as anything but a threat.”

Betras said it wasn’t a threat, and he was responding to numerous text messages from Shultz, who was trying to bait him.

“There’s nothing nefarious about it,” Betras said

The “surprise” was a response by Kathy DiChristofaro, head of the Ohio Democratic Women’s Caucus, and Tina Morell, president of the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio to comments in Wednesday’s Vindicator from Sammarone that with Belinky out of the Democratic primary would help his campaign as Belinky was splitting “male voters.”

DiChristofaro said that “it’s unfortunate” that Sammarone’s comment “reduced our democratic process to imply all the males line up to vote for male candidates.”

Morell added that Democrats “vote for candidates based on whether they’re fit for office, not on factors like gender, age, or race.”

Sammarone said, “I would hope people wouldn’t vote along the lines of male and female, but some people do.”


1eyemhip(9 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Hey folks, do you smell that? Smells like desperation to me. There is nothing wrong with his ad. It is not a lie nor is it out of context. I believe that the wheels are beginning to fall off the chairman's train. DB, start with the facts, stop with the innuendo. If she is the better candidate, FOCUS ON THAT! PROVE IT! Your desperation is going to betray you.

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2YtownSports(306 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Betras and Sammarone need to stop back-biting. It makes Betras look petty and Sammarone's responses aren't helping his candidacy (Betras's hope/plan?).

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3Nurse_Midlo(34 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Sammarone - a crook like his father!

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4uptowngirl(139 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

All I can say is fun to watch!

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5harleydog(243 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Dave Betras is a moron. He tries to bully people. No one likes to hear your big mouth. Go away you idiot. I am a republican and I will vote for Sammarone. Maruca is not qualified and because she is endorsed by the Dumbocrats gives me further reason not to vote for her, that and fat mouth Betras

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6Roger_Thornhill(1051 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Hopefully Betras and Maruca and Sammarone family just move away and go ruin somebody else's town.

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7nojimbo(286 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Actually, neither of these two are qualified to be Probate Judge. There are a couple attorneys trying for the appointment that are qualified but not these two.

Hopefully, the Governor's office will select someone with actual significant probate law experience and that person will be able to defeat these two who simply represent competing corrupt machines.

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8charmed(9 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

The ppl that dont like sammarones father: are they mad they have to punch a time clock?cant play angry birds on city cell phone? Cant treat tacpayer money like they won lottery? Susan msruca is like her father, she just hasnt gone to jail for racketeering yet, like him.she. has had good teachers ...marc dann,jak campbell,lynn bruno.the apple doesnt fall far from the tree in y twn we always learn this to late like w belinkey.in susans case maybe her political opponents will be found in the mahoning river

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9republicanRick(1697 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Maruca does not adhere to the good-old-boy network, that suuposedly is why she was not endorsed. Pigs in the mud will only endorse other pigs in the mud.

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10bmanresident(607 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

I've had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Sammarone and I can tell you, he is a feminine cleaning product.

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11Atowncomm(14 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Reviewing these candidates' campaign comments made of each other about each other only forces the voters to chose the lesser of the evils.

It would be nice to hear just the facts, experience, credentials, and what you are offering to the position. As you are trying to get these points across, your campaigns are muddying the waters. And the voters cannot see clearly.

What is being seen is that none of you deserve to be probate judge! Same Mahoning County politics are, once again, being featured.

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122muchtax(892 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Whomever wins Mauruca or Samarone will have to go up against a independent who has the guts to run as an independent! His name will be out soon, vote Independent! These two do not deserve to judge others!

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