Cutrona faces Stanley in 59th House District race
Before the December 2019 filing deadline, Democrats were struggling to find a candidate to challenge state Rep. Don Manning, a Republican, in the 2020 Ohio House 59th District race.
Several better-known Democrats — including former U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, Poland Trustee Eric Ungaro and Boardman Trustee Larry Moliterno — chose not to challenge Manning, who beat Ungaro by 375 votes in the 2018 election.
So Chris Stanley of Canfield, a Youngstown city school teacher and author who’s never run for elected office before, filed for the seat.
“Nobody was running and I was waiting for someone to step up and that ended up being me,” he said.
Then Manning died March 20, less than 15 months into his first term in the Ohio House.
Among the 15 candidates to apply to replace Manning was Al Cutrona of Canfield, chief operating officer for the Northeastern Ohio Infectious Disease Association and an attorney with the Amourgis and Associates law firm.
Cutrona emerged as the choice of the Ohio House Republican Caucus to succeed Manning and was seated May 28.
Before his appointment, Cutrona wrote in a letter to then-House Speaker Larry Householder and the selection committee members that “if selected, I will immediately deposit $50,000 into my campaign account in efforts to secure this seat in November.”
Cutrona said he’s done that.
“I’m a man of my word,” he said. “At the peak of the pandemic, I didn’t know if we would have fundraisers. I wanted to have some skin in the game. I felt it was the right thing to do with the pandemic.”
Now the race pits Cutrona, who’s held the House seat fewer than five months, against Stanley.
The 59th District includes all of Beaver, Beloit, Berlin, Boardman, Canfield, Craig Beach, Ellsworth, Goshen, Green, Jackson, Milton, New Middletown, Poland, Sebring, Smith, Springfield and Washingtonville, along with a portion of Austintown. The job pays $63,007 annually.
Cutrona and Stanley both support overturning House Bill 6, the controversial nuclear bailout law at the heart of a $60 million public bribery scandal that led to Householder’s indictment.
But Stanley wants it repealed immediately — what most Democratic legislators support — while Cutrona takes a more cautious approach like many of his Republican colleagues.
“You never make a split-second decision,” Cutrona said. “I look for a repeal. I’d hate to shoot from the hip and repeal and leave us in a worse situation.”
Stanley countered: “We have to repeal House Bill 6 immediately. It’s scamming all of us.”
The committee that selected Cutrona was put together by Householder before his arrest and the House Republican caucus also was led by him at the time.
Stanley said he has “a lot of concerns” about Cutrona’s ties to Householder.
“He’s now part of this culture of corruption,” Stanley said of Cutrona.
Cutrona countered that he had “very limited” interactions with Householder.
“I’m really shocked (Stanley) would say that about me,” he said.
Cutrona added: “I have the cleanest hands possible.”
As a Youngstown city teacher, Stanley said he’s seen the adverse impact House Bill 70, also known as the Youngstown Plan, has had on the district. The bill removed local control from three academically failed school districts: Youngstown, East Cleveland and Lorain.
“Repealing House Bill 70 has to be a top priority,” Stanley said.
Cutrona said operating school districts “should be a local decision,” and “ultimately, it should be up to the Valley.”
Cutrona has faced some criticism for his voting record. He’s been a registered voter since 2008, but voted Republican for the first time in the primary earlier this year while he was going through the process to be appointed to replace Manning. He also only chose to vote in even-year elections since 2008, skipping odd-year elections with local races every year except for 2019.
Cutrona said: “Many people who are Republican don’t vote in the primary,” but “looking back I could have voted in the primary.”
Cutrona said he was born and raised in Mahoning County, unlike Stanley who’s lived in the area for the past four years, moving here from Columbus as his wife is from Austintown.
Stanley said he voted in the 2016 Republican primary for John Kasich.
His Mahoning County voting record shows the only times he’s cast ballots here were in the 2018 general election and the primary earlier this year, where he voted in the Democratic primary for the first time.
“What I told the Democratic Party: If you’re looking for someone to pass an ideological party test, I’m not your guy,” he said. “I like to occupy the space left of center; I’m not afraid to vote my conscience.”
“I believe that our Valley has more potential now than ever before,” he said. “We need to ensure we maintain a strong voice in Columbus to secure the success of our community. Given that I am granted the opportunity to continue my role of representing you, I will focus on this area’s prosperity first and foremost.”
That includes, he said, the development of an incentive package for new businesses coming to the area and providing job training and sound wages.
Cutrona also supports legislation to provide state tax credits tied to wages and the number of new jobs to incentivize employers to increase wages and jobs in the area.
Small businesses also need help, particularly those hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as temporary tax credits or rate cuts.
Cutrona also supports tackling the opioid epidemic by reallocating government funding from short-term treatment centers to long-term ones to ensure sobriety. Also, he wants to increase funding for drug courts to encourage recovery over punishment.
Stanley said his top priority is education.
“I believe every child in Ohio should have the opportunity to receive a world-class public education whether he or she lives in the inner city, Appalachia, on a farm or in an affluent suburb,” he said. “No student should have their future determined by their ZIP code.”
If elected, Stanley said he’d fight for a new school funding formula to reduce the reliance on local property taxes and ban for-profit charter schools.
He also wants to create an environment to attract and retain businesses and good-paying jobs and work to transition the area from the Rust Belt to the emerging Tech Belt.
Stanley also wants the state’s budget and tax policies to create opportunities for everyone in the state to compete and succeed, he said.
Rather than cutting funding for public schools and universities, local governments and critical infrastructure projects to “pay for the huge tax cuts (politicians have) doled out to their wealthy campaign contributors,” the state should increase its investments to “drive growth and development” by devoting more state dollars to education, communities and building infrastructure, he said.
POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
OCCUPATION: Ohio House member, chief operating officer for the Northeastern Ohio Infectious Disease Association, and attorney for Amourgis and Associates law firm
PREVIOUS ELECTED EXPERIENCE: Ohio House member since May
GOALS: Create an incentive package for new businesses coming to the area, support small businesses and address the opioid epidemic
NOTABLE QUOTE: “My record and service to the Valley speaks for itself.”
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
OCCUPATION: Social studies teacher at Youngstown school district and author
PREVIOUS ELECTED EXPERIENCE: None
GOALS: Make sure every student has the opportunity to get a world-class public education, attract and retain business, and increase state funding for public schools and universities, local governments and infrastructure
NOTABLE QUOTE: “I like to occupy the space left of center. I’m not afraid to vote my conscience.”