The power of incumbency charged key county races


Few forces in the political universe wield as much strength as the power of incumbency. Results from this week’s primary election in the Mahoning Valley once again validate that truism.

Nowhere was that power more vigorously unleashed than in the Democratic Party races for county commissioner in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Despite aggressive and highly visible campaigns by their challengers, both Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda each easily prevailed with about 70 percent of the total vote.

Clearly, voters sent this clear message: Experience counts. Indeed both Rimedio-Righetti and Fuda made their years in office centerpieces of their campaigns.

From our vantage point, we chose not to endorse Rimedio-Righettti (or her opponent Joe Paloski) due to her tone deafness to valid criticism of her on- going support last year for John A. McNally, former Youngstown mayor convicted on corruption charges in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy. Nonetheless we still recognized the legitimate value of her tenure in office.

As we stated in an April 27 editorial in this space, “In fairness to Rimedio-Righetti, we cannot ignore the good works she has done for the county as a member of the three-member board of commissioners. Among them that she points our are her work toward the restoration of the Mahoning County Courthouse, her involvement in working to fill the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place and her role in building a modern dog pound.

In endorsing Fuda on April 23, we counted the many ways his network of connections with residents and state and federal leaders over his 11 years in office have worked to pump tens of millions of dollars into the county for myriad quality-of-life improvements.

PERKS OF INCUMBENTS

To be sure, both Rimedio-Righetti and Futda benefited from the perks of incumbency. Among others, they include much greater name recognition than most challengers, a recognition that tends to stick with voters once entering the voting booth.

Another clear advantage is greater and easier access to campaign funding from a wider base of donors and supporters.

So is it any wonder then that since the 1960s, more than 80 percent of incumbent U.S. House of Representatives members have won re-election? In 2016, that retention rate was a whopping 97 percent.

To be sure, incumbents should never consider themselves shoo-ins or fixtures in the offices they hold. Nor should voters be blind to flaws in the character and performance of sitting officeholders.

In some cases, Valley voters have ousted longtime political bigwigs in local government. McNally, former Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante were all rejected in re-election bids, but only after having been charged with or convicted of crimes in office. (Even then, each lost by relatively paltry margins.)

But they are among the exceptions to the rule that incumbency has its rewards. Even so, it remains incumbent on the electorate to not overcharge the power of experience at the expense of responsible, rational and thorough evaluation and decision-making.

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