In June of last year, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said: “I think the time for endorsements by the party has come and gone. This election shows people don’t like it. I think we’ll get rid of them. At least my recommendation will be to get rid of them.”
The statement came shortly after every Youngstown candidate and most of the Struthers candidates endorsed by the Mahoning County Democratic Party lost in the primary.
It was a huge defeat for the party.
The 2017 primary was particularly divided in Youngstown with the party endorsing a slate of white candidates: then- incumbent Mayor John A. McNally for re-election, 4th Ward Councilman Mike Ray for council president and Anthony Sertick for municipal court judge.
They were beaten in the primary by Jamael Tito Brown, DeMaine Kitchen and Carla Baldwin, respectively. All are black.
The city’s Democratic voters’ decision to reject the party’s endorsed candidates was heard loud and clear at the time by Betras.
However, the chairman never called the party’s central committee together to vote on changing the bylaws to eliminate primary election endorsements. And he’s not going to.
On Wednesday, Betras said: “For the most part, we get endorsements right.” Last year was the “first time it happened that all of our endorsed candidates lost. Generally, our endorsed candidates win.”
The reason for not eliminating endorsements, Betras said, was several incumbent officeholders want to keep them.
The party will meet Feb. 27 at St. Luke Parish’s hall in Boardman to endorse in races on the 2018 primary ballot.
In the past, committee members have had votes to not endorse, but a majority of them have rejected those motions. It could be considered again Feb. 27, but I expect it would be rejected by committee members.
Part of Betras’ platform when he first was elected chairman in 2009 was the return of endorsements, which were eliminated when Michael Morley was elected party chairman in 1994.
Betras said endorsements would strengthen the party and make it relevant again.
It worked for a while, and, for the most part, the party has endorsed the winners in primaries.
But there have been a number of bitter primary fights that have divided the party, which didn’t help anyone.
“Our job is to elect and re-elect Democrats,” Betras said.
Brown, who lost the party’s endorsement to McNally last year as well as in 2013, said he agrees with Betras that primary election endorsements should continue.
“I’m OK with them,” he said Thursday. “I lived through them even though I didn’t like the results. It’s something we need to keep as a party.”
As for getting rid of them, Brown said, “We endorsed in the city last year. We should continue with them. We shouldn’t choose what races we should endorse.”
There are a few battles expected when Democratic committee members meet Feb. 27.
But it looks like Betras has managed to avoid a key one in which the party’s endorsement could have played a factor.
The party will have a dual endorsement in the primary for common pleas court judge between Magistrate Dan Dascenzo and Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio.
“The [party’s] constitution says we must endorse, but it doesn’t say we can’t do a dual endorsement,” Betras said.
The chairman said: “A primary like that race would rip the party to shreds. This way they can work with whomever they like.”
Of course, he conveniently forgot or ignored that there have been far more divisive primaries in which the party endorsed a candidate.
Betras said he’s received numerous calls from committee members saying they like Dascenzo and Donofrio, and the two candidates support the idea of a dual endorsement.
The party will endorse in other contested races on the ballot including the 13th and 6th Congressional Districts, the 59th Ohio House District, the 7th District Court of Appeals and county commissioner.
Regarding the 7th District race, I wrote last week that it seemed like Holly Hanni was in the race to make sure her brother, Mark, doesn’t win. Both are Democratic candidates and do not get along.
In an email response to the column, Holly wrote: “Mark just ran as an independent against Judge Carla Baldwin so I figured he would be too exhausted to run again so soon. I have more experience and legal knowledge than my brother, so to ASSUME I am running only to spoil Mark’s chances is overtly sexist and presumptuous. I want to inform you that I am running with the support of my siblings. I am in this campaign to win it and to serve the people of the 7th District Court of Appeals. In regards to Mark, in the words of my late father, ‘Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered – to the victors go the spoils.’”