Probate judge race heats up

On the side

Great first-time visit: I was in Washington, D.C., for the first time earlier this week. Yeah, I’ve been the politics writer here for nearly 14 years and had never visited D.C.

Almost two months before my family’s visit, I asked U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, my congressman, about tours of the Capitol and White House. His staff worked out the details. We got a great personal tour of the Capitol from a new hire in Ryan’s office, and met most of his staff, who were very friendly and helpful.

After the Capitol tour, I texted Ryan: “Tour was great and so is your staff! Thanks.”

He responded: “Awesome. So glad it worked out. Are you still there?”

Ryan wasn’t in his office when we were there so my guess was he wanted me to walk there and see him. Not to offend Ryan, who I see regularly, but I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of walking back to his office when we had a lot of places to go.

I texted: “Yes. Finishing lunch in Capitol Visitors Center.”

Either that wasn’t the answer he was looking for or he was only interested in my location because he never responded to my text.

Mary Ann Fabrizi wasn’t going to be elected Mahoning County Probate Court judge.

But her departure from the race has tremendous ramifications on who will win the November general election for the seat.

When Gov. John Kasich selected Robert Rusu on June 17 to fill the vacant seat, starting July 8, Fabrizi’s fate was sealed — and she knew it.

Fabrizi, who officially withdrew as an independent candidate for the probate seat Wednesday, said she couldn’t win without the governor’s appointment.

“I didn’t get it, so it was better for me to withdraw,” she said.

When she called Rusu, who is running as an independent candidate for the seat, to congratulate him on the appointment last week, Fabrizi had already decided to quit the race.

This leaves Rusu, who will be the incumbent through appointment by a Republican governor, and Susan Maruca, who won the May 6 Democratic primary, as the only candidates for the probate job on the November ballot.

Rusu and Maruca deflected questions about the impact Fabrizi’s withdrawal will have on their chances of winning.

But it likely benefits Maruca more than Rusu.

Women have made tremendous strides in the past 20 years in judicial elections. With Mahoning County voters not having to choose between two women, it won’t split the vote of those who prefer female judges.

Yes, that’s sexist. But voter abstracts and polling data show women typically vote for female candidates, and men typically vote for male candidates. It’s the same with race.

As I mentioned, there are plenty of voters who prefer women judges. Women outnumber men on the Ohio Supreme Court, half of the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals judges are women, and there are plenty of female judges in Mahoning County.

Right now, this looks to be a very competitive race — and likely the most expensive one in the Mahoning Valley.

As Maruca showed in the primary, she’s going to raise a lot of money and a decent amount will come out of her pocket.

She raised $104,342 to win the Democratic primary by only 200 votes over Christopher Sammarone, who raised $82,850. Of those amounts, Maruca lent $39,650 to her campaign and put $12,195 on a credit card while Sammarone gave his campaign a $10,000 loan.

Maruca again will have to raise a considerable amount of money, including more of her own, to win the seat.

Rusu, who’s never run for political office, can’t be shy about seeking money for his campaign.

Being the sitting judge should help though it can be a touchy issue raising money while on the bench. But Rusu will have to work at it and likely spend his own money. He’s also in the market for political consultants and has already met with at least one of the best in the state.

The seat is vacant because of the March 14 resignation of Mark Belinky, a Democrat who was found guilty May 8 of a felony count of tampering with records. The unexpired term Rusu will fill, whether he is elected judge in the Nov. 4 election, ends Feb. 8, 2015.

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