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Mahoning Dems’ endorsements contain intriguing back stories

Friday, March 2, 2018

While the outcome of the Mahoning County Democratic Party’s endorsements weren’t surprising, there were interesting aspects to the process.

Richard Cordray, the presumed frontrunner in the Democratic primary for governor, and ex-U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who’s also running for the position, both showed up seeking the party’s endorsement.

They did this despite knowing that state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman was a shoo-in to get the nod.

Schiavoni received 75 percent of the vote.

During his speech, Cordray, a former state treasurer and attorney general, said he recognized the county had a local candidate in the race “and I respect that.” He also complimented Schiavoni while saying Kucinich is “well meaning,” but “too extreme for Ohio.”

Kucinich said being “too extreme” has gotten results during his time as Cleveland mayor and as a congressman.

Cordray, in particular, seemed as though he came to Mahoning County to take his lumps with the hope that should he win the Democratic primary, the local party will support him in the general election.

“We need candidates who can win” in the general election, Cordray said.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, didn’t seek the endorsement and asked county Democratic Chairman David Betras to have the local party not issue one for governor.

The 7th District Court of Appeals primary was initially a crowded field of four Democratic candidates. It’s now down to two and only one – Mahoning County Court Judge David A. D’Apolito – sought the endorsement.

Aaron Hively withdrew last week.

Mark A. Hanni quit the race Tuesday with his withdrawal letter read at the meeting before an endorsement was made in that race.

Hanni and his sister, Holly, the other remaining candidate in the 7th District Democratic primary, don’t get along.

Two weeks ago, I included an email response to a previous column about the strained relationship between the Hannis from Holly contending she was a better candidate than her brother and that she was in the race to win.

In his letter, Mark wrote: “After reading my sister’s heartfelt response to Mr. Skolnick’s column and in the spirit of family goodwill, I will step aside for my sister. I hope that her letter truly reflected her sincere desire to put in 110 percent in order to be successful. I wish her the best of luck.”

Holly said she “was utterly shocked to hear the news” that her brother withdrew from the race. Their brother, Don Hanni III, is experiencing serious medical problems and she said: “Those of us who normally don’t communicate have come together out of concern for Don and his family.”

Holly said she didn’t seek the endorsement because Chairman Betras had recruited her brother for the appeals seat.

Betras acknowledges that he did ask Mark to run after being rejected by a number of others, including Judge D’Apolito, who later changed his mind, and Anthony Donofrio, a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judicial candidate who lost a court of appeals race four years ago.

But Betras said he doesn’t whip votes for candidates to be endorsed and Holly would have had a fair chance to get the party’s support if she sought it.

“I recruited Mark because no one was running,” Betras said. “I couldn’t get anyone to run. Mark did well” when he last ran for the court of appeals six years ago.

Mark ran as an independent last November in the Youngstown Municipal Court race losing to Democrat Carla Baldwin. Betras said that race had completely different dynamics than the court of appeals race and that’s why he sought out Hanni.

Betras isn’t entirely correct when he said he doesn’t whip votes for candidates.

At the Mahoning Democratic meeting, he was actively working to get himself elected to another term as party chairman.

Numerous copies of letters urging Betras’ re-election when the party has its reorganizational meeting after the May 8 primary were on tables at the St. Luke Parish hall, where the endorsements were held. In case anyone missed the small copies, there was a giant one displayed inside the hall.

It’s signed by elected county Democratic officials as well as U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan backing Betras for reelection.

“We’re taking the unprecedented step of issuing this joint endorsement for two reasons. First, because David has, by any measure, served with distinction since first being elected chair in 2009 and therefore deserves our unwavering and enthusiastic backing, and, second, because we believe his skill, knowledge, commitment and energy are indispensable assets that will help Democratic candidates at all levels of government achieve victory in 2018 and beyond.”

Betras said there are 30 precinct committee member races – out of more than 200 – that are competitive and “money is no object in supporting them. I don’t turn my back on people who support me – ever.”