Published November 8, 2008
The political wires are burning with talk of Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lisa Antonini's impending resignation and Atty. David Engler's desire to replace her. Engler is one of the founders of Mahoning Democrats For Change and is a close ally of Michael Morley, who led Change movement's takeover of the party. Morley had served as the first chairman after the ouster of long-time head Don L. Hanni Jr..
But before Engler can grab the reins, he will have to overcome a challenge from well-known area lawyer David Betras, a political kingmaker of sorts. Betras was actively involved in Marc Dann's successful race for Ohio attorney general. He also has a lot of money — an important requirement in winning the support of precinct committeemen and women.
While Engler could expect the endorsement of Morley and the backing of committee members who were involved in the overthrow of the Hanni dynasty, Betras will undoubtedly argue that the Mahoning County Democatic Party has become inconsequential, as evidenced by its limited role in the presidential election and the outcome of some of the countywide races in Tuesday's general election.
An Engler/Betras battle — there could be other candidates — would be bloody. Engler can be expected to tie Betras to Dann's resignation as attorney general, while Betras will bring out Engler's being sanctioned by the Ohio Supreme Court over a case he handled.
In addition, if there are indictments stemming from the Ohio Ethics Commission's investigation of the Job and Family Services relocation controversy — the commission is looking into the role played by some county officials, including Antonini — there could be an even greater split within the party.
Mahoning County is in for a rough political ride.