Mahoning County voters will have the chance March 4 to elect people to hold the offices of county commissioner, prosecutor and treasurer.
There's not a Cafaro name anywhere on that ballot, but there might as well be. The county continues to have internal divide over the dispute with the Cafaros and the rental of Garland Plaza offices for Job and Family Services. It's making its way into the election.
The focus is specifically on commissioner John McNally, who came off pretty cozy with the Cafaros. His TV ads don't mention it specifically. But they coyly mention his willingness to take unpopular stands, challenge officials, etc.
On Sunday, Vindicator reporter Pete Milliken offers a glimpse at the county races through the filter of the Cafaro conflict. Here's a snapshot of Pete's story:
Challenger Mary Lyden complained that John McNally, who opposed the county’s acquisition of Oakhill, met behind the scenes with Anthony Cafaro, president of the Cafaro Co., to discuss the Oakhill project.
“He took all information that was supplied to him by a vested interest. He did not do due diligence on his own,” Lyden said of McNally. She was referring to adverse information Cafaro compiled about the costs of buying, renovating and operating Oakhill.
McNally: “My opposition to the [Oakhill] project, the questions I asked, are not because of my relationship with the landlord.”
Atty. John Shultz on incumbent Treasurer Lisa A. Antonini: “My opponent’s interjection into the Oakhill situation, I think, is totally intolerable,” Shultz said, adding that he couldn’t understand why a county treasurer would become involved in that issue unless it was to benefit a “special interest.’’
Antonini: I never did anything wrong. I didn’t have anything to hide. The Cafaros have a right to call the county treasurer. They’re taxpayers of Mahoning County, too.
The Vindicator took a look at going deeper into the mess than Pete's Sunday story. County officials provided us a thick binder of records that killed at least one tree; maybe a second one.
We also talked with McNally.
To be honest, the whole affair stunk on both sides.
McNally acknowledged talking plenty with Cafaro, but he pulled the "he's a taxpayer, too" card. He also said that at the time, that was the only place he was getting dialogue and info from, that his relationship with administrator George Tablack was not stellar then, and that county huddles were going on without him.
Tablack and Co. will convince you McNally was turning over records; McNally says the records were public documents and counters that even amid all of this, he was the commissioner who county officials still sent to negotiate with Cafaro.
We sniffed at a bigger story. But from my standpoint, we would have needed Ken Starr and a staff of 10 to filter through it, and in the end, it was unclear if the outcome would rise up to anything but typical politics.
I'm not comfy with McNally's "Well you guys won't talk to me, so I'll talk to the other team." I'm also suspicious of the fervor employed by county leaders to out McNally. I hope the same passion goes into street crime.
Check out Pete's story Sunday. It gives both sides a balanced shake.
It would have been ideal for us to be more definitive and say "there's your bad official." But as of now, it's unclear where there are bad people or bad politics.