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7 incumbents face primary challenges

mahoning valley

By David Skolnick

Thursday, February 6, 2014

RELATED: No primary challenges for state GOP officeholders

By David Skolnick


Seven incumbents, including two U.S. House members, in the Mahoning Valley will face challenges in their political party’s May 6 primary.

Wednesday was the filing deadline for candidates seeking to run in the primary.

The Democratic primary for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals, currently held by Judge Joseph J. Vukovich, who isn’t seeking re-election, already appears to be one of the most-contentious races.

It pits former Mahoning County Commissioner David L. Engler, a longtime member of the county’s education service center board, against Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio.

Engler is calling for Donofrio to withdraw because the latter’s brother, Judge Gene Donofrio, already serves on the court.

Anthony Donofrio said the request is “ridiculous.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Engler said.

“The public could be confused by the last name. Before he does more damage to the last name, he should withdraw. You should have more than your birth certificate as a qualification to be a judge. What he has is the last name of his brother.”

There are four judges on the court of appeals and three are chosen to listen to cases.

If Donofrio wins, Engler said there will be several cases in which the two brothers will make a majority of judges, which he said is improper.

Anthony Donofrio said there is no prohibition in state law for a court to have immediate family members serve at the same time, and he doesn’t always agree with his brother.

Engler “is creating an issue where there isn’t one,” Donofrio said.

“I’m not going to apologize for my family’s good reputation. It doesn’t surprise me coming from [Engler]. I don’t want to be negative. That’s the first thing Engler does. He should be more worried about his character.”

Character issues, Donofrio said, include a 2006 “public reprimand” Engler received for having a consensual sexual relationship with a client in 2004.

Engler said, “It was wrong. I cooperated. I learned from my mistake. I had to pay an $18 court fee and then moved on. It’s been 10 years. I can change my mistake. He can’t change being the brother of a judge on the court.”

The winner of the Democratic primary faces Judge Carol Ann Robb of Columbiana County Municipal Court, a Republican, in the general election.

Judge Cheryl L. Waite of the 7th District Court of Appeals is seeking her fourth six-year term this year.

Challenging her in the Democratic primary are Mark A. Hanni, who unsuccessfully ran for an appeals seat in 2012, and Maureen A. Walsh, a former Stark County assistant prosecutor, running for elected office for the first time.

Hanni said Judge Waite has “never worked outside of government” and he has a greater range of legal work.

Walsh said she won’t take any political contributions, and that her 25 years of experience in government and private practice makes her the best candidate.

This is the first time Judge Waite has faced opposition in a re-election bid.

Also facing two challengers in the Democratic primary is Judge Mark Belinky of Mahoning County Probate Court.

He will face Susan Maruca, who finished last in a three-way Democratic primary won by Judge Belinky in 2008, and Christopher Sammarone, who lost a 2006 primary for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Judge Belinky, appointed to the seat in December 2007 by then-Gov. Ted Strickland, has experienced numerous financial problems since serving on the bench.

They include five judgments against him for unpaid taxes and a $20,000 loan.

Two incumbent congressmen will face challengers in the May 6 primary.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13th, is being challenged by John Stephen Luchansky, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District.

A more serious challenge faces freshman U.S. Rep. David Joyce, R-14th. Conservative state Rep. Matt Lynch submitted nominating petitions to challenge Joyce in the Republican primary.

Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti faces Pete Ceci, a political newcomer, in the Democratic primary.

“I’m a citizen, not a politician,” Ceci said.

“I’m a successful business person, and I’m doing my duty to do something to help the county.”

In Trumbull County, Commissioner Frank Fuda is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Lisha Pompili-Baumiller, a 14-year Hubbard City Council member.

State Rep. Sean J. O’Brien of Brookfield, D-63rd, is the only state legislator in the Valley with a primary opponent — Marianne James.

Four open seats in the Valley drew interest from candidates.

In the 58th Ohio House District Democratic primary there are four candidates: Michele Lepore-Hagan, Youngstown Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, Cynthia L. McWilson and Michael E. O’Hara. No Republicans filed in this race.

In the 64th Ohio House District, former Warren Mayor Michael O’Brien is running against Ken MacPherson and Eugene Mach II. Former state Rep. Randy Law filed as the lone Republican candidate for the seat and Elaine Mastromatteo is the only Green Party candidate for this seat.

Trumbull County Probate Court judicial seat drew interest from three Democrats: William M. Flevares, James A. Fredericka and Patricia Leopardi Knepp. No one from any other political party filed petitions for this seat.