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Mahoning GOP lacks credibility

Published: Sun, May 4, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

How’s this for political spin:

Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, says the inclusion of a Democrat on a list sent to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who will be filling the judgeship vacancy in the county probate court, reflects the GOP’s commitment to non-partisanship on such issues.

But it isn’t just any Democrat who was selected by the party’s screening committee, led by Munroe.

Does the name Christopher Sammarone ring a bell? It should. Sammarone is a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for probate judge in Tuesday’s primary. But more significantly, he’s the son of former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, a veteran of city politics.

The elder Sammarone is currently president of city council, a position he held prior to becoming mayor in August 2011. He also has served as water commissioner and ward councilman.

So, Munroe can spin the younger Sammarone’s inclusion on the list of potential appointees to the judgeship all he wants, but the real reason is that Republicans are hoping to win the support of a prominent Democrat in the November general election for governor.

Kasich is seeking a second four-year term and is expected to be challenged by Democrat Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive who has inconsequential opposition Tuesday.

No GOP candidate

There’s another reason not to buy Munroe’s political spin: As the chairman of the Republican Party, he was responsible to field a candidate for the probate court race. He failed to do so.

As was recently pointed out in this space, the Mahoning County Republican Party squandered a perfect opportunity to win the judgeship.

The February filing deadline for candidates was four months after probate Judge Mark Belinky’s financial problems, including nonpayment of taxes, became public.

Belinky’s troubles didn’t end there. In late February, it was revealed that he was the target of a state criminal investigation. He resigned from the bench in March, creating the vacancy to be filled by the governor. That term expires in February 2015.

With another Democratic officeholder in trouble with the law and giving the county one more political black eye, a legitimate Republican candidate would have had a definite advantage going into the general election for the next full term.

Instead, Munroe is hoping to score an upset in November by including in the list sent to the governor two individuals who are planning to run as independents for the probate judge position.

The filing deadline for independents is Monday.

In other words, if Christopher Sammarone defeats Susan Maruca, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, in Tuesday’s election, he could face Mary Ann Fabrizi and Robert N. Rusu Jr. in the fall.

Fabrizi and Rusu are political unknowns.

According to their voting records from the county Board of Elections, Fabrizi has voted in Republican primaries five times going back to 2004. She has voted in every general election during that time.

Rusu’s voting record shows he has not voted in either Republican or Democratic primaries. Instead, he has taken out issues-only primary ballots in the last 16 years.

It’s inconceivable that a Republican governor would appoint a Democratic nominee (if Sammarone wins Tuesday) to serve out former Judge Belinky’s unexpired term.

The new six-year term begins in February.

Political hooey

That’s why all that talk about nonpartisanship in the appointment process is a bunch of political hooey.

The bottom line is that the GOP chairman, Munroe, dropped the ball and is now attempting to make amends.

He would have been better off had the governor appointed Sammarone to the judgeship shortly after the list was submitted in mid-April, thus enabling him to run with the title “judge.”

Then, a win Tuesday would have had Democrats and Republicans laying claim to Sammarone. And that would have made Charles Sammarone, the former mayor of Youngstown, Gov. Kasich’s No. 1 fan.

So, why didn’t the governor appoint Chris Sammarone to the judgeship? Was it another miscalculation by Chairman Munroe?

Time will tell.

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