Mayoral race in Struthers features dicey candidates

Last May, after Democratic voters in the city of Struthers nominated a convicted drug dealer for mayor, we urged residents to seriously consider the independent candidates in the Nov. 3 general election as viable alternatives.

Today, however, we throw up our hands in frustration and say to the people of the heavily Democratic city: None of the above is your best choice.

Here’s why:

The Democratic nominee is Danny Thomas Jr., who was convicted in 1987 by a federal judge of illegal use of a communication facility (a telephone) to distribute cocaine. Thomas’ record was sealed in 1998 by a common pleas judge, and he then received a presidential pardon from Bill Clinton, who easily carried Mahoning County in his election and re-election bids.

One of the independent candidates in the race is Richard DeLuca, a retired city of Struthers employee, who acknowledged that he is being supported by Joseph P. Van Oudenhove, who was sentenced to a 12-year federal prison term after being convicted in the cocaine drug-distribution ring of which Thomas was a part. The FBI described Van Oudenhove as a local ringleader.

The other independent candidate is Richard Sheeler, who filed petitions to run just days after registering to vote.

Finally, there’s Mayor Terry Stocker, who had initially announced that he would not seek re-election, but changed his mind and is now running as a write-in candidate. Stocker has admitted he is facing an uphill battle. But that isn’t his only problem.

As we noted in a previous editorial, we do not interview write-in candidates, but we made an exception with the incumbent because we found the others in the field could not pass the sniff test.

After interviewing Thomas and DeLuca – and not being able to contact Sheeler – it became clear to us that even Stocker did not meet the standard we have set for serving in public office. Perhaps it’s a standard that’s unrealistic given the history of Mahoning Valley politics, but we aren’t willing to compromise.

In questioning Thomas about his criminal history, we learned that Ronald Carcelli, who had run for the Democratic nomination in May, is campaigning for the mayor.

Carcelli, who serves on the Struthers Board of Education, was convicted of a misdemeanor count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. The charges were related to his job with the city of Struthers. The street foreman was ordered to pay $5,000 restitution to the city and a $1,000 fine. He was indicted on felony charges of theft in office, bribery and theft related to his job with the city. A Mahoning County judge sealed Carcelli’s criminal record in 2012.

Mayor Stocker admitted that the school board member is campaigning for him, but insisted “he’s doing it on his own.”

“I told him if you want to support me you can, but I don’t want anything from you,” the mayor explained, when contacted after his interview with The Vindicator Editorial Board.

Stocker denied that he entered the race as a write-in because Carcelli lost the Democratic primary, and that he would not have run had there been a different outcome in May.

Our expectations

Considering that The Vindicator did not make an endorsement in the primary because we found both Thomas’s and Carcelli’s criminal records too serious to ignore, we expected the challengers in the general election to be above reproach.

Voters have a right to judge candidates by the company they keep. Otherwise the cycle of government corruption that has long defined the Mahoning Valley will never end.

Let us be clear about one thing: We aren’t insensitive to the argument that public officials who have paid the price for their misconduct should be given a second chance. However, we do not believe that chance should include a return to the public payroll.

The residents of Struthers will wake up Nov. 4 and realize that city government will be in the hands of an individual who does not deserve to be the chief executive. It will be difficult for them to live down the embarrassment.

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