Large number of candidates for president of Youngstown council is today’s political head-scratcher


On the side

Former state Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from Liberty, was recently appointed by Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to a seat on the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. The term expires June 30, 2018.

The commission oversees the construction, operation and maintenance of the state turnpike and enters into agreements with the Ohio Department of Transportation to pay the cost or a portion of the cost of infrastructure projects, according to the state law that created it.

Each member is appointed by the governor and receives an annual salary of $5,000 and is reimbursed for expenses incurred in the performance of the member’s duties.

Cafaro left the Senate at the end of last year because of the state’s term-limits law.

For a position that’s largely ceremonial, Youngstown council president garnered a lot of candidates.

Five people filed to run as Democrats in the May 2 primary by Wednesday’s filing deadline.

The primary duty of the job is the person holding it runs council meetings.

Charles Sammarone, the current president who is retiring, can get a meeting finished in about 15 to 30 minutes. If the council pro tempore can keep up with Sammarone – and over the years several of them haven’t been able to do so – a meeting can be finished in 10 minutes.

Council president doesn’t get a vote, but is the successor to the mayor should the city’s top elected official leave before his term expires.

That’s happened only once in the 94 years since the city charter was adopted with that provision. That was when Jay Williams resigned Aug. 1, 2011, to join the administration of then President Barack Obama, and Sammarone became mayor, serving for 29 months.

The part-time job has some nice perks, primarily the $28,117 annual salary and full medical benefits.

Had Sammarone run for another term, it’s highly doubtful more than two of the current candidates would have challenged him. It’s an almost certainty that if he sought re-election, Sammarone would have won.

Among the most curious candidates seeking to replace Sammarone is DeMaine Kitchen, a former 2nd Ward councilman who left that job in 2011 to serve as Sammarone’s chief of staff.

Kitchen ran in 2013 as an independent candidate for mayor against Democrat John A. McNally. Kitchen lost by more than 11 percentage points.

What followed wasn’t pretty for Kitchen.

In December 2013, a month after his defeat, a report was released from an investigator hired by the city who concluded Kitchen sexually harassed a city employee.

Kitchen obviously saw the writing on the wall as he resigned four days before the report was released. The report included an admission from Kitchen that he made inappropriate and flirtatious remarks to Lyndsey Hughes, the employee, both verbally and through text messages.

Hughes received $72,000 and her attorneys got $48,000 as part of a settlement agreement that also included her not keeping her job. The city paid $50,000 of the cost with the rest picked up by its insurance company.

The city also paid $9,990 for the investigation that started a month before the election and obviously played a factor in the mayoral race.

On top of that, the Ohio Elections Commission ruled in November 2014 that Kitchen committed a violation by filing a late campaign finance report based on the 2013 election.

What really attracted attention was when Kitchen finally filed his campaign report he listed a $4,000 cash contribution from Sammarone given about a week before the election.

State law doesn’t permit cash contributions of any amount more than $100.

Months after receiving the money and the cash contributions being disclosed, Kitchen returned it, and Sammarone gave his campaign checks for the $4,000.

We’ll see how much of a factor these issues play in the primary.

The other candidates running for council president are: Mike Ray, D-4th; John R. Swierz, a former council president and 7th Ward councilman; Cynthia L. McWilson, who’s run for office four previous times without a win; and Young Tensley, an associate pastor and political newcomer.

May 1 is the deadline for independent candidates to file for office. Don’t be surprised if people turn in petitions to run for this seat as independents.

It’s almost a certainty that independents will file in the Youngstown mayoral race.

McNally will face only two challengers in the Democratic primary.

Former Council President Jamael Tito Brown, who lost the Democratic primary four years ago to McNally by only 142 votes, is running, as is political newcomer Teresa A. Johnson.

McNally pleaded guilty in February 2016 to four misdemeanors related to him illegally faxing a confidential offer in 2007 from Mahoning County – he was a county commissioner at the time – to buy a former hospital to attorneys representing the head of a private company that opposed the deal.

That was because the company – a subsidiary of the Cafaro Co. – didn’t want the county to move its Job and Family Services Department from a building the company owned on the city’s East Side to the hospital, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

McNally’s ties to the county Democratic Party are strong, and he’ll probably get the party’s endorsement when its members meet Feb. 18 to make that decision.

But will McNally be able to overcome the convictions when Democratic voters go to the polls May 2?

And if he survives that primary – and he barely did four years ago – can he fend off likely independent challengers during the Nov. 7 general election?

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