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A tale of two party chairmen

Published: Sun, February 9, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Shame on the chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, Mark Munroe, for not fielding a candidate in this year’s county probate judge race, and for not coming up with a candidate with countywide political credentials for the office of auditor.

The sentence above was written at 6:05 p.m. Thursday — 26 hours after the deadline for filing candidacy petitions for this year’s election, and about 24 hours before it became public that Probate Judge Mark Belinky is the target of a state investigation.

One of the main responsibilities of a party chairman is to offer a full slate of candidates. In that regard, Munroe has failed miserably, He should consider resigning.

Why? Because Belinky could well be indicted this year, which means it’s a whole new political ballgame. He does have two primary challengers, Atty. Susan Maruca, who lost to him six years ago, and Atty. Christopher Sammarone, son of former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone.

By failing to field a challenger, the GOP chairman has guaranteed that a Democrat will continue to hold the seat until the end of 2020.

That’s unconscionable.

Auditor’s race

As for the county auditor’s race, incumbent Michael Sciortino, a Democrat, has such a huge black cloud hanging over his head that he has little political credibility left.

And yet, the only challenger to the former chairman of the county Board of Elections — he was appointed to the position of auditor in 2005 with no qualifications for the job — is Republican Bill Reese, who served as Canfield Township trustee for eight years.

Again, the GOP chairman is guilty of incompetence — at best. Not to take anything away from Reese, but could the party not have found a Republican who is tried and tested countywide?

A recent incident involving the auditor is a doozie. He was stopped by sheriff’s deputies on U.S. Route 224 on suspicion of drunken driving, but in the midst of his arrest, a high-ranking guardian angel from the department arrived on the scene, stopped the investigation and drove Sciortino home.

Talk about a political gift for the Republicans that could have kept on giving.

Contrast Chairman Munroe’s incompetence with the steely determination of his Democratic counterpart, David Betras, who has remained steadfast in the face of intense pressure.

In this year’s election, Betras has already earned high points for refusing to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with Atty. Mark Hanni, son of the late, long-time Democratic Party chairman, Don L. Hanni Jr., and Atty. David Engler, one-time Mahoning Democrats For Change adherent and now a Hanni disciple.

Engler has filed nominating petitions in the race for the vacant seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals. Judge Joseph J. Vukovich III is not seeking re-election. Also pursuing the Democratic nomination in the May 6 primary is Atty. Anthony Donofrio, Youngstown’s deputy law director and the brother of appeals court Judge Gene Donofrio.

Hanni has filed petitions to challenge appellate Judge Cheryl Waite.

Prior to Wednesday’s filing deadline, Hanni and Engler, who practice law in the same building in Boardman, met with Betras to discuss their political aspirations and their possible roles in the party’s hierarchy.

Betras made it clear from the outset that he wasn’t looking for political partners, and there would be no bartering.

The chairman’s refusal to kowtow may stem from the fact that neither Engler nor Hanni is operating from a position of strength.


Each one has obstacles to overcome. For Engler, a former county commissioner, it’s his admitted professional misbehavior, which resulted in a public reprimand from the Ohio Supreme Court.

“We generally impose a public reprimand when a sexual relationship develops during an attorney-client relationship if the affair is legal and consensual and has not compromised client interests,” the unanimous decision read.

“Therefore, we find the recommended sanction appropriate. [Engler] is therefore publicly reprimanded.”

He did not challenge the reprimand and considers the matter closed.

For Hanni, it’s the fact that he made a bid for the 7th District Court of Appeals in 2012 and lost — to a Republican, Judge Mary DeGenaro.

The first test of their political standing will come at the party’s endorsement meeting.

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