Race for Warren mayor takes unexpected turn

If experience were the only standard by which a candidate for public office should be judged, Warren Mayor William “Doug” Franklin’s re-election would be a foregone conclusion. After four years as the city’s chief executive, and more than two decades in government as director of public service and safety and a member of city council, Franklin has amassed an impressive record.

However, there is another standard by which a candidate needs to be evaluated: judgment.

In that regard, Franklin’s association with an individual who has a criminal record makes it difficult for us to endorse his bid for a second four-year term.

We arrived at our decision after much discussion and analysis. After all, we endorsed Franklin when he ran in 2011.

But, the mayor’s hiring of Harry S. Strabala to handle his campaign advertising puts us in a bind. Strabala was convicted in 2002 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court of stealing $33,835 from a fund created by the 7th Ward Citizens’ Coalition for a playground project at Ipe Field. He blamed an addiction to gambling for his criminal behavior.

Judge R. Scott Krichbaum sentenced Strabala to 90 days in jail and five years’ probation. He had repaid the money by then.

Strabala’s involvement in politics spans at least a decade, during which time he burnished his reputation as a political consultant.

Paid the price

Asked about his ties to Strabala, Franklin acknowledged that he knew about the consultant’s criminal record, but noted that the crime occurred several years ago and that he had paid the price for his actions.

Even so, we are hard-pressed to ignore that history.

Thus, we are left with two choices: not to make an endorsement in this very important race; or give our nod to the incumbent’s challenger, Dennis Blank.

Blank, a former marketing executive who recently moved back to the area after retiring from divisions of Time Inc., is running as an independent.

Blank impressed us when he appeared before The Vindicator’s Editorial Board, but until we found out about Franklin’s connection to Strabala we had, nevertheless, decided to endorse the mayor. At the same time, we would have acknowledged the challenger’s impressive resume and the thoughtful, issue-oriented campaign he has conducted.

Now, however, with Franklin out of the running for our support, we turn to Blank – confident that he is capable of leading the city of Warren in the right direction.

Indeed, Blank’s founding of an organization dedicated to improving a 22-block area he branded the Garden District on Warren’s north side is a reflection of his commitment to serve the community in any way he can.

He is critical of the Franklin administration for not having a vision or a plan of action for the city.

“These guys do whatever lands on their desk and has to be done today,” Blank said. “They do not think ahead.”

Strategic planning

As a marketing specialist, Blank knows the value of strategic planning, and we believe he will put his private- sector knowledge and experience to work for Warren.

We have no doubt that Mayor Franklin’s supporters will disagree with our decision, but we would remind them of a statement we made when we chose not to endorse in the race for mayor of Struthers: Voters have a right to judge candidates by the company they keep.

That said, it would be unfair to associate Franklin in any way with the recent public admission by Strabala that he has been an informant for the FBI for 10 years and has secretly recorded conversations he has had with area politicians, including officeholders.

The details of Strabala’s involvement with the federal government remain under wraps, but it is common knowledge that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are committed to fighting public corruption in the Mahoning Valley.

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