By ROBERT CONNELLY
Valley and state Democrats gathered at a banquet Friday night to discuss their political party and the importance of campaigns across Ohio.
“What happens in Ohio, everyone in the country pays attention to,” keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told the crowd. “How your party does in this state, in this county, can determine the destiny of this country.”
Booker headlined the 2014 Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman’s Dinner at Tippecanoe Country Club. About 120 people attended the $500-a-plate event, which generated $50,000, officials said.
Booker is the junior U.S. senator from New Jersey, the first black U.S. senator from that state, and was the mayor of Newark. As mayor, his priorities were reducing crime and encouraging economic development. He gained a national reputation for his personal involvement in public service.
State Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland, D-25th, candidate for Ohio secretary of state, got the crowd going by talking about what the state did for President Barack Obama’s two election wins. She said, “2014 is our time to deliver. We must stand and deliver. ... The Blue Wave is coming to Ohio.”
Also speaking were David Pepper, running for Ohio attorney general; state Rep. John Patrick Carney of Columbus, D-22nd, candidate for Ohio auditor; and Judge John O’Donnell of Cuyahoga County, seeking a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Jamael Tito Brown, president of Youngstown City Council, emceed the evening.
While the night was full of campaign speeches and promises, problematic state party issues were not discussed.
State party Chairman Chris Redfern in an interview touched on the ongoing dispute with the Trumbull County Democrats, specifically local Chairman Daniel Polivka and the Trumbull party’s use of a secret ballot to appoint a county commissioner.
“There are 88 county chairs and most of them are very strong personalities. Nothing surprises me in this business and I know this: Chairman Polivka violated the rules of the Democratic National Committee and that can’t stand, and we’ll take that up on Wednesday at a public meeting,” Redfern said.
That meeting will be in Columbus and is open to the public.
On the party as a whole in Ohio and the downturn of Ed Fitzgerald’s campaign for governor, Redfern said there is a “great deal of confidence [in the party]. We have great candidates up and down the ticket.” He added: “It’s our job to get out the vote — it’s not a new strategy. It’s what we do best.”
According to The Columbus Dispatch, FitzGerald’s campaign is diverting money back to the state party’s “field and voter turnout program” in an apparent nod to what party leaders have been saying for a week. The focus in the 2014 election is moving away from FitzGerald’s race against Republican Gov. John Kasich and being redirected to the Democrats’ down-ticket races.
It’s FitzGerald’s lack of financial resources — compounded by a month of negativity swirling around his campaign — that forced the shift. Campaign insiders say he has less than $1.5 million on hand, which is not enough to wage a statewide TV ad campaign and field operation against Kasich, the Dispatch reported.
“We’re the party that believes we need everybody on the field contributing,” Booker told the crowd.
Pepper, asked about the Fitzgerald campaign, instead discussed issues facing Ohio.
“The truth is there’s just a lot of important issues regardless of who’s running,” said Pepper. “Ohio is not doing that well economically. People have a lot of concerns, workers have a lot of concerns, and local government has a lot of concerns. We also, by the way, have this horrible heroin crisis that the state is not dealing with. So there are a lot of big issues.”
Booker entertained with stories of his parents and had the crowd enthusiastic and cheering when he spoke about voting and prison reforms. He touched on many issues affecting the state and country, including the recent rioting in Ferguson, Mo. “I don’t need Ferguson to tell me that the criminal justice system is broken,” he said.