Ohio Dem Party chair pens novel about Vindy reporter who uncovers national political scandal


By David Skolnick

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Jake Sharpe is a Vindicator politics writer, marking time at the newspaper, who uncovers a political scandal in which elections in about two dozen swing districts were rigged – giving Republicans control of the U.S. House.

Along the way, he learns the conspiracy caused a series of deaths – including an ousted Ohio 6th Congressional District representative – and a connection to a Russian businessman in the American fracking industry looking for a quick and easy way to sell his product without concern for the damage he does.

The novel, called “The People’s House,” comes from the fertile mind of Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.

“I’m a big fan of political intrigue and thrillers,” Pepper said. “There’s very few fiction books on the subject. There are books from the past, but nothing new. There’s a hole there, and it got me thinking, ‘Why don’t I write something?’”

The book is available Monday through Amazon.com, and at numerous other online locations – including the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble’s BN.com and Google Play – a day later.

Pepper started writing the book four years ago but much of the work was done during the past 18 months.

“Being in politics gave me a very good vantage point,” he said. “It’s a plot that people find exciting. People will get a better understanding of the day-to-day politics even though the plot is a work of fiction.”

So of all the newspapers in the world, why The Vindicator?

“Mid-sized newspapers are the first line of defense against political corruption,” he said. “The Vindicator and papers like it play a big role in holding government accountable. Also, I’ve always liked the name.”

In the book, Pepper describes the condition of Youngstown as well as The Vindicator, which he’s visited as party chairman and during two unsuccessful statewide election bids. Pepper was a law clerk for retired U.S. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, a Youngstown native, and his brother once lived in Boardman.

“I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Youngstown,” he said. “I’ve talked to people about the history and what’s happening now.”

Sharpe isn’t based on anyone in particular, Pepper said.

The plot discusses gerrymandering in which officials with a political party draw state legislative and congressional maps to benefit that party. In this case, the Russian businessman has his people open an electronic voting machine business and in most cases, sell them well below market cost in poor counties that could either go Republican or Democratic. The machines are rigged to not count all votes for Democratic candidates, causing Republicans to gain control of the House.

In the book’s forward, Pepper wrote: “The story tries to shine a light on serious weaknesses in our political infrastructure that are all too real today. Together, these weaknesses are undermining core principles of our democratic process. In particular, the gerrymandering of our congressional and state legislative districts renders deep damage: eliminating meaningful choice for so many critical offices, eroding accountability, incentivizing polarization and limiting opportunities for the next generation to enter public office.”

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, who read an advanced copy of the book, said, “It’s a good read. I enjoyed it. It’s about our area. It’s about a Vindicator reporter. It’s almost like [Pepper is] from here. It has all the things you enjoy about a political thriller book.”

Whydah Productions, a production company, is going to shop around to see if a movie studio is interested in turning the book into a film.

“I thought the novel was very timely,” said Ted Collins, Whydah’s co-founder. “There hasn’t been a film like this about politics from an insider’s perspective. With the current political campaign, there’s a hole in the marketplace for this. There’s a big untapped demand for political intrigue.”

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