Fur is flying in probate race

On the side

War of words: U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, got called out on the Senate floor by U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, for referring to Obamacare website issues as maybe “the most stunning example of overpromising and under-delivering in recent U.S. history. Based on my review, the problems with Healthcare.gov are catastrophic.”

It was part of a written op-ed by Johnson on Oct. 30, 2013, on The Hill’s website, and dug up April 1 by The Huffington Post website in an article titled, “Here Are Some Really Bad Obamacare Predictions.”

Murphy said Johnson’s comments were “a bit of hyperbole” and that the problems were fixed.

In response, Johnson sent emails to campaign supporters, ending with: “Liberals don’t like what I have to say about Obamacare (because it’s the truth), so they are coming after me with personal attacks. I need your support to help fend off the liberal spin machine, and you can help today by donating $5. It’s going to take action from Americans like you to tell them enough is enough — we have had it with Obamacare.”

Based on the past few days, the Democratic race for Mahoning County Probate Court judge has pushed the open 7th District Court of Appeals primary into the background — at least for now.

The rhetoric got turned up several notches this week with Christopher Sammarone, a Democrat running for probate judge, including on his campaign literature: “A Leader...” with the quote attributed to Jim Tressel.

County Democratic Chairman David Betras sharply criticized Sammarone for using the quote taken from an Aug. 21, 1994, article in The Vindicator and making it seem new.

“When I see someone misleading voters I feel the need to point it out,” Betras said.

The county party has endorsed Susan Maruca, Betras’ former law partner, for probate court judge.

With Mark Belinky, the former judge under criminal investigation by the state, officially withdrawing from the May 6 Democratic primary, Sammarone and Maruca are the only two left in that partisan race.

Two other candidates plan to run as independents.

Sammarone said Betras and Maruca are the only two people who can’t figure out that the Tressel quote is old and about him when he played at YSU for the former football coach.

Sammarone also questioned why Betras has been so vocal about his father, former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, giving an improper cash contribution to DeMaine Kitchen, who lost the November 2013 city mayoral race.

The older Sammarone, also a Democrat, gave $4,000 in cash to Kitchen, a failed independent candidate. State law doesn’t permit cash contributions of more than $100.

After The Vindicator wrote last week about the county board of elections sending a formal complaint about the contribution to the Ohio Elections Commission, Kitchen loaned $1,500 to his campaign and used $1,000 left over from the general election to cut a $2,500 check to Sammarone, now city council president.

The remaining $1,400 is listed by Kitchen’s campaign as an outstanding debt that he said will be paid “as soon as [I] can afford it.”

Betras said there are a lot of unanswered questions that Sammarone and Kitchen should be required to answer, and that improper cash contributions taints this area.

The younger Sammarone said, “There’s some motivation to disparage my last name. The purpose is to gain some advantage in this [probate] race.”

Betras has said he’s not pleased the former mayor gave a cash contribution to an independent candidates while contending he supported the Democat in the race.

As for using it against the son, Betras said he’s “never tied the two together. Because it’s a Sammarone, I should give him a free pass? [Christopher] wants special treatment. Is he saying, ‘You can’t talk about my dad because it might affect my race?’”

The younger Sammarone said he agrees with his father that the cash contribution was inappropriate.

“But why the continued discussion about it?” he said. Betras “is mudding what this race is about.”

Bryan Ridder, an attorney representing both father and son and the son’s campaign, said, “It’s another nefarious attack to sully the Sammarone name.”

Betras said, “There is nothing nefarious about it.”

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