Belinky’s obsession was his undoing

On the side

A grand parade: My family and I had a wonderful time, as we always do, at last week’s annual Austintown Fourth of July Parade.

The candy flew, but not with the frequency of previous years. Except for a Dum Dum Pop, which is near the bottom of the candy food chain, nothing hit any of us. I quickly moved the pop with my foot away from my family.

The Austintown trustees had some sort of communications/candy breakdown. While they spotted me, they didn’t shower me this year in hundreds of mini-Tootsie Rolls.

The best hauls came from the candidates running for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals. Anthony Donofrio handed me a brown paper bag with two plastic flags and “Skolnick” written with a black marker. It contained a lot of quality candy.

Carol Ann Robb, his opponent, missed me at the parade as she made the fatal mistake of walking on the wrong side of the street as she passed my location. However, she redeemed herself later by delivering to my office an amazing basket filled with chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows — a smores kit.

I first met Mark Belinky in early 2001, a few months after I became The Vindicator’s politics writer.

He was personable, funny and obsessed with politics.

His efforts in 1998 to become Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman and his bid two years later for county recorder were both unsuccessful.

But by 2001 Belinky was making political waves with a group he helped create — the Democrats of the 17th District (later renamed the Democrats of the 17th and 6th Districts when the latter was redistricted into Mahoning County).

The group, with Belinky as its president, brought to light a lot of questionable decisions made by county elected officials and was willing to share the information with me.

Also, the group’s infamous message board was a must-read for anyone interested in politics. It was a combination of outrageous gossip, genuine great tips and opinions.

The county Democratic Party during that time was weak and ineffective, particularly with David Ditzler as chairman, and only slightly better when Lisa Antonini was elected to run the party in June 2002.

Because of that void, the Dems of the 17th attracted more attention than the established party.

As president, Belinky was at the forefront of what some called a good-government effort. Others viewed it as a smear campaign by a politically-ambitious group of outsiders looking to become insiders. It turned out to be both.

A key moment in the group’s history is when it embraced U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the incumbent in the 6th Congressional District, during the 2002 redistricting that drastically changed its lines.

Meanwhile, leading Mahoning County Democrats fought among themselves as to who would challenge Strickland in the primary. None of the big names ran, leaving Lou D’Apolito, considered at the time a second-tier candidate, as Strickland’s lone primary opponent. The underfunded D’Apolito won Mahoning County, but lost the 11 others.

But rather than be content with being the leader of the vocal minority, Belinky repeatedly tried to join the establishment.

His 2002 bid to beat Antonini for leadership of the county Democrats was ill-advised. His 2004 Democratic primary election for county commissioner, losing to John A. McNally, was foolish. The latter cost Belinky a lot of money he couldn’t afford to spend.

However, Strickland didn’t forget Belinky’s loyalty. In November 2007 Strickland, then the governor, appointed Belinky as county probate court judge.

Belinky was elected in 2008, but recently he admitted in court that he failed to record more than $7,500 but less than $150,000 in contributions, expenditures and loans to his campaign fund during the home-stretch of that general-election race.

On March 14, the day he resigned with his life unraveling, Belinky told me taking the probate appointment was a huge mistake. He said, in a roundabout way, that law enforcement likely had him on campaign-finance issues, and adamantly denied he did anything improper as judge.

An even bigger mistake than taking the appointment was violating the law and the public’s trust.

Political ambition and being in elected office came second to Belinky being an honest person with integrity.

Belinky is “ashamed,” and is singing like a bird to the FBI and state law enforcement agencies about public corruption in the county.

That brings up this question: If his lone crime was taking money for his 2008 campaign and not reporting it, what can he possibly do to help public corruption investigations?

The likely answer is he was involved in much more — or at least knows much more — corruption than his guilty plea to one felony count of tampering with records.

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