Mahoning Republicans to likely recommend a Democrat for probate vacancy

On the side

Candidates forum: The Union Baptist Church at 528 Lincoln Ave. in Youngstown will be the location of a candidates forum from 6 to 8 p.m. March 31.

Those running for various Mahoning County offices as well as for seats in the state Legislature and the U.S. House that represent the county are invited to attend.

There’s no pause: David Engler, who told me last week he was “not campaigning, but I’m pausing” in his bid for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals, is apparently not pressing the pause button anymore. Engler will be the first person coming to The Vindicator for an endorsement interview.

The newspaper’s endorsement interviews, which start Monday, are lively and interesting — though Dennis Mangan, the newspaper’s retired editorial page editor, will be missed as will his probing questions. Video highlights, or lowlights in some cases, of many of the endorsement interviews will be posted on in the coming weeks.

With the resignation of Mark Belinky as Mahoning County Probate Court judge, the county Republican Party will create a committee to recommend three candidates to fill the vacancy.

The final decision rests with Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.

Those seeking to succeed Belinky have until 5 p.m. Thursday to submit required information to the county GOP to be considered.

Belinky, a Democrat, resigned late last Friday and is the subject of a criminal probe by the state.

County Republican Chairman Mark Munroe said the recommended candidates will likely be Democrats.

“It’s doubtful at this point it’s going to be a Republican” replacing Belinky “primarily because we spent so much time exploring possibilities before the” primary filing deadline.

Munroe went as far as to say, “Republicans don’t have a dog in this fight. We tried very hard to find a Republican to run” by the Feb. 5 deadline for primary candidates “and none of our Republican judges” or any other Republicans filed.

But with Belinky’s resignation, the dynamics have changed.

There is no longer an incumbent and the next probate court judge rests in the hands of a Republican governor who will select a replacement from a short list of recommended candidates from a county GOP screening committee.

“The screening committee has been liberated on the political aspect of” appointing a replacement, Munroe said.

Munroe points out that Belinky’s financial problems were well documented before the filing deadline and the party still couldn’t get any Republican to submit nominating petitions for probate court judge.

The independent filing deadline isn’t until May 5, the day before the primary.

George P. Millich Jr. of Austintown, a partner in the law firm of Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell whose areas of practice include probate administration and estate planning, told me at Monday’s Mahoning Valley McKinley Club dinner — a major area Republican event — that he is running as an independent.

Millich is a registered Democrat who resigned his party precinct committeeman post Monday.

While prominent Republicans have given money to independents running for office against Democrats, the party isn’t going to endorse or financially support the person selected by Kasich to succeed Belinky, Munroe said.

The two Democrats in the probate court primary — Susan Maruca and Christopher Sammarone — should consider seeking the governor’s appointment, Munroe said.

County Democratic Chairman David Betras said he’s “skeptical” about Munroe’s statements that the process won’t be political.

“It is designed by the Ohio Constitution to be a political process, and I’m fine with that, but don’t say it’s not political,” Betras said. “If Mark Munroe is serious then he should let the [Democratic primary] happen in May and whoever wins” should be recommended for the appointment.

“Let the voters decide,” Betras said.

Whoever is selected by Kasich will fill out the remainder of Belinky’s term, which expires Feb. 8, 2015, regardless of who wins the November general election.

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