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Get set for hot county commissioner races in 2022

Voters in Mahoning and Trumbull counties will see compelling races for commissioner next year.

They should be the most hotly contested local races in both counties.

For Mahoning County, it will be the first competitive commissioner’s race since Carol Rimedio-Righetti beat incumbent David Ludt in the 2010 Democratic primary. It is expected to be the first time in decades that a Republican has a shot at winning a commissioner’s seat in Mahoning.

In Trumbull, two 2020 commissioner races were close.

Niki Frenchko became the first Republican in several years elected commissioner when she beat incumbent Dan Polivka, Trumbull County Democratic Party chairman, by 4.66 percent. The other race saw incumbent Democrat Mauro Cantalamessa get re-elected by 7.8 percent over Denny Malloy, who ran as an independent.

Malloy is running again next year, but as a Republican for the seat held by Democrat Frank Fuda.

Fuda is seeking re-election next year to a fifth four-year term.

The big question is: Will Fuda run as a Democrat or an independent?

Fuda picked up nominating petitions Wednesday from the Trumbull County Board of Elections to run for commissioner as a Democrat and as an independent.

Feb. 2 is the filing deadline for the Democratic primary. The independent deadline isn’t until May 2, the day before the primary.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “I’ll have a decision sometime after the holidays. I need about 800 signatures for the independent petition and 50 for Democrat. Democrat is a lot easier.”

Michael J. O’Brien, a state representative who cannot run next year for re-election because of the term limits law, made it official Tuesday: he’s running for Fuda’s commissioner seat in the Democratic primary.

O’Brien, a former county commissioner and Warren mayor, should get the county Democratic Party’s endorsement regardless of how Fuda runs.

Fuda has had long-standing issues with Polivka and didn’t get the Democratic Party’s endorsement in 2018. That had no impact on Fuda’s success in the primary, as he won by 44.1 percent over then-Hubbard Councilwoman Lisha Pompili-Baumiller, who received the party’s endorsement by a 91-84 vote.

Fuda aligned himself with Frenchko in her campaign last year, further alienating him from the Democratic Party establishment. Since then, Fuda and Frenchko have frequently exchanged criticisms.

O’Brien said he doesn’t care if Fuda runs or how he runs, he’s confident he will win.

But if Fuda decides to be an independent, it will significantly change the race as voters would choose from among Fuda and O’Brien, two longtime Democrats with solid name recognition, and a Republican.

O’Brien against Fuda in the Democratic primary with the winner moving to the general election is very different than O’Brien and Fuda both having their names in front of voters in November 2022.

Malloy is running as a Republican and Christina Lee, a political newcomer, may also seek the GOP nomination.

Malloy had a respectable showing in last year’s commissioner election as an independent, getting 46.05 percent of the vote. Had he sought the position as a Republican, it’s possible he would have won with Donald Trump at the top of that political party’s 2020 ticket.

There were 96,512 voters in the Frenchko-Polivka race compared with 90,649 for Cantalamessa-Malloy. A number of people voted a straight Republican ticket and skipped the latter race with Cantalamessa a Democrat and Malloy with no party affiliation.

Trump won’t be on the 2022 ballot. We’ll see if Trumbull will vote for another Republican countywide next year.

Mahoning Republicans will focus next year with Geno DiFabio as their candidate for commissioner.

First-time candidate DiFabio is well-known among Republicans for sharing the stage July 26, 2017, at the Covelli Centre with Trump during a rally and for numerous nationally televised talk show appearances. DiFabio speaks at numerous county Republican fundraisers and around Ohio.

He faces Rimedio-Righetti, seeking her fourth four-year term and who has received strong support from voters.

She’ll be tough to beat.

Other elected positions on the 2022 ballot in Mahoning County are safe.

The seats held by Republicans will remain with that party and the ones with Democrats in office won’t change hands.

The only potential pickup for Mahoning Republicans next year is the commissioner’s seat.

Democrats would be wise to remember that.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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