Black Dems in Y’town upset over embrace of only white candidates

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted will be at the Mahoning County Republican Party headquarters, 8381 Market St. in Boardman, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Husted is a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate for 2018 though he hasn’t officially announced that he’s running. That’s expected to come sooner rather than later.

The other top Republican candidates for governor are Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

Taylor became the first candidate to formally file paperwork to run for governor, which she did Thursday.

A formal announcement and kickoff are expected later this year, her campaign wrote in an email.

Race has been a political issue in Mahoning County, particularly in Youngstown, for years.

It came up again when the county Democratic Party’s central and executive committee members from Youngstown recently met to endorse candidates for mayor, municipal court judge and council president.

In the first two races, there is a white candidate and a black candidate.

In the council president’s race, there are five candidates, three are black and two are white. Four candidates, two black and two white, sought the endorsement.

In each endorsement vote, the outcome wasn’t close.

The white candidate easily captured the endorsement.

For mayor, incumbent John A. McNally beat Jamael Tito Brown, a former council president and 3rd Ward councilman, 56-17.

Brown knew he was going to lose. He and his supporters voted in favor of a motion to not endorse in the mayoral primary. It was soundly rejected.

For judge, Anthony Sertick, a city court magistrate, beat Carla Baldwin, a county juvenile court magistrate, 45-27.

For council president, Councilman Mike Ray was the clear winner with 42 votes. DeMaine Kitchen, a former chief of staff to the mayor and 2nd Ward councilman, was second with 16 votes.

The outcome left some local black leaders visibly upset.

“This is Youngstown; race is always an issue,” said the Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, after the votes. “There’s two Youngstowns. That’s the problem.”

Jaladah Aslam, a retired labor leader and Baldwin’s campaign manager, didn’t want to say anything to me the day of the endorsement vote though she wasn’t keeping her feelings hidden in the hallway of the Newport library branch after the results came in.

She took to Facebook with a series of posts.

About 11 hours after the vote, she wrote: “I turned a major corner with my politics today. No more permanent party. Only permanent interest! Watch out!! #Sickandtired.”

About an hour later, she wrote: “Chairman [David] Betras says it is his hope that the party is inclusive. Given that it has never endorsed an African-American in a contested citywide or countywide primary, the proof would say otherwise.”

After the vote, Betras said he “understands the frustrations” about black candidates not getting endorsed and that “there’s room for the party to grow.”

When asked to expand on his previous statements, Betras said, “The Mahoning County Democratic Party endorses the candidate who receives the most votes regardless of race, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation or economic station. The only thing that matters is the vote count. Every candidate who seeks our endorsement has the opportunity to convince the central committee members that they deserve their support. The process is totally open and fair.”

So is racism involved in the endorsement process?

Obviously there’s racism everywhere so it would be ridiculous to say it didn’t play a factor in the decision of some people who voted on the endorsements.

But it’s also fair to say that the people who voted believe the candidates who won – who are white – are more qualified or at least more electable.

Sertick has been a magistrate for 16 years in Youngstown Municipal Court while Baldwin has been a magistrate for a little over a month.

This doesn’t mean Baldwin isn’t qualified for the job. Far from it. But she doesn’t have Sertick’s experience.

McNally has served as mayor for the past three-plus years and also has eight years as a county commissioner and before that was the city’s law director.

Brown is a former council president and 3rd Ward councilman who is the county treasurer’s director of operations. He’s also the county party’s vice chairman of minority affairs.

It’s important to point out that Brown raised the ire of some in the party by his refusal to vote in last year’s Democratic primary.

A bigger issue is the party’s committee members chose to endorse McNally despite his four misdemeanor convictions last year.

McNally received one year’s probation in March 2016 and was allowed to remain mayor.

He was convicted for being part of a criminal enterprise while serving as county commissioner. The convictions relate to McNally illegally faxing the county’s confidential offer in 2006 to purchase a former hospital building.

The party was more than willing to overlook the criminal convictions.

Brown lost the 2013 primary to McNally by only 142 votes – and that was before the mayor was indicted and subsequently convicted.

We’ll see May 2 if Democratic voters in the city are as forgiving of McNally as central and precinct committee members.

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