Just before he was to have his day in court, Sean McKinney withdrew his lawsuit against the Mahoning County Board of Elections and Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown.
McKinney, an independent candidate, filed the lawsuit Dec. 7 contending the Nov. 7 election he lost to Brown, a Democrat, by only 201 votes was “tainted with fraud and many irregularities.”
The case was to be heard Thursday.
But Wednesday afternoon McKinney had a press conference in the rotunda of the common pleas courthouse – where the case was to be heard – to announce he was canceling the complaint.
McKinney said he still contends the election he lost was “flawed and plagued with countless irregularities that we believe convincingly made it impossible to know the true will of the voters.”
He said he dropped the case because visiting Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove denied his request the day before the press conference – and two days before the trial was to start – to subpoena 13 current and former county officials for deposition before the trial. But he could have still called them as witnesses at the trial.
Among those McKinney wanted to subpoena were two former county officials with felony convictions – former county Democratic Party Chairwoman Lisa Antonini, who is also an ex-county treasurer, and former elections Director Michael V. Sciortino, an ex-county auditor. The two had nothing to do with the November election.
But McKinney said without those 13 depositions, he couldn’t mount a fair case to challenge the election outcome.
McKinney’s rhetoric at his Wednesday announcement greatly angered some county officials, particularly Prosecutor Paul J. Gains and David Betras, the board of elections’ vice chairman and also the county Democratic Party head.
Both came right out and said McKinney’s claims were false.
Betras said: “We are outraged to learn that Sean McKinney has continued his attacks on the board of elections. His refusal to accept the will of the voters is troubling. As we said from the moment he filed his lawsuit against the board of elections and Mayor Brown, his claims that ‘election irregularities and other improper activities’ rendered the outcome of the election ‘uncertain’ were baseless and ridiculous.”
He added that McKinney’s statements at his press conference were “baseless and filled with outright lies.”
Gains said he was “dismayed” to hear McKinney’s statements.
“My thought was don’t dismiss the lawsuit,” Gains added.
The prosecutor said he was convinced the election was a “fair and honest” one and that McKinney was going to lose the lawsuit.
Gains said he is “very familiar with corruption,” and there was nothing improper with the outcome of the November election.
Board of Elections Chairman Mark Munroe, who also heads the county Republican Party, said years ago he was convinced that Democrats were winning elections because they were fixing them. Munroe said he quietly investigated elections as a board member for two years before realizing that Democrats were fairly winning elections.
McKinney said he will provide documentation to the Ohio secretary of state for that office to conduct an investigation into what he contends was the improper handling of the November election.
Betras and Gains said they welcomed the investigation.
Gains said the secretary of state could give guidance if anything is wrong – quickly adding that he didn’t believe there was.
Betras said the same thing.
However, Secretary of State Jon Husted has already required the board to adopt policies, which they did last week, to address how it handles elections.
That came after a mistake was made during the November election in which Deputy Director Thomas McCabe double counted 6,179 early-vote ballots.
The mistake was detected about 10 to 15 minutes later. But the board failed to notify the media and the public. Instead, it put the corrected results on its website without telling anyone that the tallies it previously provided were incorrect.
While acknowledging that mistake, election officials said the widespread fraud that McKinney alleged in the lawsuit he’s since dismissed is completely false.
One other interesting aspect of this issue was Betras – and Gains to a lesser extent – going after Youngstown Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th.
Adamczak is a McKinney supporter who said she helped research the case. Betras said she pushed McKinney to file the lawsuit, which she denied.
Adamczak attended the board of elections’ press conference, and Betras yelled at her for her involvement in the lawsuit.
Betras vowed as party chairman to work to defeat the incumbent Democrat – who didn’t get the party’s endorsement when she successfully ran in 2015 – when she’s up for reelection next year.
Betras said former Councilman John R. Swierz was likely to challenge Adamczak.
“I can assure you’ll have an opponent, and I’m sure you won’t be elected,” Betras said to Adamczak.
Betras also said Richard Ouzounian, an old political enemy of his who worked with McKinney, was also responsible for pushing the candidate to file the lawsuit.