By David Skolnick
Former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone said he should have known better than to give $4,000 in cash to DeMaine Kitchen, an independent candidate for mayor.
State law doesn’t permit cash contributions of more than $100.
The Oct. 27, 2013, contribution from Sammarone, then the outgoing Democratic mayor, to Kitchen, then his chief of staff/secretary, was listed on the latter’s post-general election campaign-finance report filed Tuesday, almost three months after it was due.
When asked why he gave $4,000 in cash to Kitchen, Sammarone said Friday, “I don’t know why. That’s the way it was.”
Sammarone, elected in November 2013 as city council president, said he “should have paid attention” to the state law on a cash-limit contribution, “but I didn’t. I should have known it, particularly with how long I’ve been in politics.”
He added: “Whatever I need to do to rectify it, I will do.”
Sammarone said Kitchen also should have been aware of the improper cash contribution. But he pointed out that Kitchen didn’t try to hide the cash contribution as he listed it on his campaign finance report.
Kitchen, who lost the mayoral election to Democrat John A. McNally, has not returned numerous phone calls and text messages from The Vindicator since Dec. 2, the day he resigned as chief of staff/secretary.
A report, released four days after Kitchen’s resignation, from a retired Summit County sheriff’s detective hired by the city, concluded Kitchen sexually harassed a city employee.
Despite the $4,000 cash contribution, Sammarone said, “I try not to get into other people’s elections.”
Sammarone declined to answer how he could say that while giving $4,000 to Kitchen, and referred further questions to Bryan Ridder, his attorney.
“These are legal issues and I’m not a lawyer,” Sammarone said. “These are legal questions I don’t know about.”
Ridder couldn’t be reached Friday by this newspaper to comment.
Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said Sammarone recently told him that he supported McNally in the November mayoral election.
“That’s contradictory to what he did” by giving $4,000 to Kitchen, Betras said. “He told me two weeks ago he believes in the Democratic Party, he’s a true Democrat, and he supported John. I didn’t see that donation going to John. It went to the independent candidate.”
Also, Betras said, “He shouldn’t be giving cash out. I don’t know how many times I’ve told people to not accept cash. All [Sammarone] had to do was go to the bank and get a cashier’s check.”
When told of Betras’ statement questioning his support of McNally, Sammarone said, “That’s his opinion.”
Betras said, “It is not my opinion. It’s what that man told me.”
McNally said, “Personally, I could care less about [Sammarone’s] contribution or who he supported in the campaign. I’m the mayor and I have more important issues than that stuff.”
But McNally added, “I was very surprised by the contribution amount.”
The Mahoning County Board of Elections sent a letter to Kitchen on Wednesday that his campaign had 21 days to refund $3,900 to Sammarone or the matter would be referred to the Ohio Elections Commission.
The commission could fine a candidate up to three times the amount that exceeds the maximum cash contribution limit, but that isn’t likely for a first-time offender, said Philip C. Richter, the commission’s executive director.
That would be $11,700 in this case.
However, the commission has no authority to compel the candidate to refund the money to the donor, Richter said.