Trumbull County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Polivka is on a losing streak. First, his candidate for county commissioner failed to garner the support of a majority of the party’s precinct committeemen and -women.
Then, his very public fight with Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern turned out to be a fool’s errand because he could find himself ousted as the county party’s chief.
Finally, Polivka’s refusal to adhere to the Ohio Democratic Party’s bylaws pertaining to how vacancies in elected offices are to be filled resulted in the party being punished financially.
(And, to add insult to injury, Polivka must live with the indignity of being schooled by the O’Brien political machine.)
Yet, the chairman remained intransigent as last week came to a close.
“To Mr. Redfern, take your best shot,” Polivka roared. (O.K., maybe not roared; he does speak softly.) “I’m going nowhere.”
He added that the “tyrannical and inflexible” state chairman will not bully him into quitting. Redfern has warned that if Polivka doesn’t get off his high horse, acknowledge the error of his ways and march in lock-step with the state party, he will be unceremoniously dumped.
So, what’s this all about? Simply put, it’s the classic Big Brother-Little Brother syndrome. Specifically, it’s about the state and national Democratic parties refusing to let local organizations go rogue. It’s about party unity.
But for Polivka, local trumps state and national. Thus, when the Trumbull County Democratic precinct committeemen and -women opted for the secret ballot to fill elected office vacancies, it was an unambiguous statement.
Redfern’s staff issued several warnings to Polivka before the July 26 meeting that there would be serious consequences if the precinct committeemen and -women cast secret ballots in selecting a successor to the late county Commissioner Paul Heltzel, a Democrat.
Polivka, who also is a commissioner, ignored the warnings and, thus, set the stage for a battle royale with Redfern and the state party.
Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, the county chairman must be bemoaning the fact that this fight with the state party continues to be headline news. Why? Because so long as the story is alive, Polivka’s failure to get his candidate nominated also garners attention.
The chairman went all out for Ken Kubala, a county-engineer employee, while the O’Brien political machine, led by former county Clerk of Courts Margaret O’Brien and her son, Michael, former county commissioner and mayor of Warren, strongly supported Mauro Cantalamessa. Michael O’Brien is on the ballot in November as the Democratic nominee for 64th District state representative.
Cantalamessa blew Kubala out of the water in the second round of balloting.
The runoff between the two top votegetters from the first round of voting was actually a clash of the kingmakers — O’Brien and Polivka.
The ultimate result was an embarrassment for the chairman: Cantalamessa, 83 votes; Kubala, 59.
Polivka would have been better off calling for a public vote (stand up and be counted) because the intimidation factor inherent in such a procedure may have resulted in a closer outcome.
If you’re a precinct committeeman or -woman and are on the public payroll — or you have a relative slopping at the public trough — you want to remain in the chairman’s good graces.
But with a secret ballot, such “loyalty” goes out the window.
It should be pointed out that Polivka is not wrong in arguing that a secret ballot is democracy at its best.
Indeed, this writer was a staunch supporter of secret voting by the faithful because of what had long occurred in the Mahoning County Democratic Party.
It was not unusual to see the chairman’s bootlickers trolling the meeting room jotting down names of precinct committemen and -women who refused to kowtow to the boss.
In that regard, therefore, Polivka is right in arguing for the secret ballot. However, the method of voting used by the county party is not determined at the local level. The national and state organizations have the final say.
Polivka believes he’s standing on principle, but state Chairman Redfern is ready to cut him off at the knees.