LORAIN — The choice of a Democratic mayoral candidate for the November ballot is slated for tonight, but one contender is removing himself from consideration.
Retired UAW Local 2000 chairman Jerry Donovan announced Monday evening he was withdrawing his candidacy in hopes it would “alleviate what is currently a sad mess,” he said in a news release. Donovan had sought the appointment from the city’s Democratic Central Committee, with intent of resigning in January after winning the November election to allow for the appointment process to start again.
In his announcement, Donovan cited attorney Gerald Phillips’ opinion on the selection process. Phillips’ legal memorandum, released publicly Thursday, stated five candidates seeking the June 9 appointment to serve the unexpired term of former Mayor Chase Ritenauer should have been able to seek the committee’s vote to the November ballot candidacy under a different interpretation of Ohio Revised Code.
“I believe the Democratic leadership, if it fails to act on this conflicting opinion, will do not only a grave injustice to the Democratic party and to the precinct personnel that make up the city’s executive committee who must make the selection, but most importantly to the citizens of Lorain,” Donovan said.
Earlier in the month, five of the six candidates up for consideration for the appointment to fulfill Ritenauer’s term and, presumably, his slot on the November ballot were excluded from the ballot under a provision that precludes anyone who was a candidate in the primary election — whether they won or lost — from being appointed to fill a vacancy on the following November ballot.
Those disqualified were Council members Joel Arredondo, Mitch Fallis and Mary Springowski, City Auditor Karen Shawver and Board of Education vice president and unopposed Council candidate Tony Dimacchia. That left former state Rep. Dan Ramos as the only one able to seek the mayoral seat and November candidacy, but he later withdrew his candidacy.
Interim Mayor Joe Koziura, formerly councilman at-large, was appointed June 9 to fulfill Ritenauer’s unexpired term through Dec. 31, but he also is ineligible for the November ballot slot because he lost in the May primary.
Phillips’ opinion alleges the statute applied to those candidates only covers unsuccessful partisan primary candidates, and that applying it to those listed would be unconstitutional. The risk, he acknowledged when providing his opinion, is if a candidate gave up the seat he or she won in May to seek the mayoral appointment and lost, he or she could lose their current seat under the same section of Ohio Revised Code that his opinion challenges.
Phillips initially declined to identify the clients behind his opinion without their permission. On Monday, he said his clients were Councilman Dennis Flores, D-Ward 2, and the Ohio Citizens for Honesty, Integrity and Openness in Government.
Flores said he wanted the legal opinion because he doesn’t necessarily agree with Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams or Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes.
“There’s been several incidents where the Board of Elections has concluded or had a legal opinion from the prosecutor’s office, but I’m not all convinced that you’re going to take their word 100 percent for face value of what they tell you,” he said. “Just because it’s a legal opinion, does that make it legal?”
Flores is ineligible to run for the mayoral appointment after losing in the May primary, according to County Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Giardini.
The Ohio Citizens for Honesty, Integrity and Openness in Government has been party to several lawsuits, including one in Lorain County in early 2017. Phillips represented them then as well. That suit demanded the county commissioners put a 0.25 percent sales tax increase they approved December 2016 on the ballot. Commissioners argued the vote to increase the county’s sales tax was to prevent cuts caused by a $3 million budget hole.
In 2018 a judge ruled in favor of the commissioners.
With Donovan’s announcement Monday, Jack Bradley is the only person Giardini and Adams, who is also chairman of the Lorain City Democratic Party, are aware of being interested in the November ballot slot.
Giardini said Monday evening it is possible someone still could seek the appointment, but to be considered they would need a nomination from a committee member at today’s meeting and second from another member.
“Contrary to popular belief, or the belief of some people, our precinct committee people take this very seriously. They meet with these candidates one-on-one, they talk to them maybe in person or on the phone, they learn about them, and when they walk in they’ve got a pretty good idea what each of these candidates bring to the table,” he said. “And then they may be swayed a little bit by what is said to them in the meeting, but I think most of them have a pretty good idea walking into the meeting what they’re going to do.”
Donovan’s announcement notes if Phillips’ opinion moved forward into litigation, a successful lawsuit could make all five who were deemed ineligible ahead of June 9 vote eligible for the appointment. Giardini said if Phillips chose to file a suit, he was doubtful it could be resolved before July 15 — the deadline for the committee to appoint someone to fill Ritenauer’s vacancy on the ballot.
“We didn’t hire (Phillips) for the purpose of doing any research, and he’s entitled to his opinion but it directly contradicts the official opinion of the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office and it directly contradicts the official opinion of the secretary of state,” Giardini said. “We all take oaths to follow the law, we’re going to follow the law. If his committee or Mr. Flores don’t think that that law is open and transparent, I suggest they contact the Ohio Legislature.”
The Democratic Central Committee will meet 6 p.m. today at Rosewood Place, 4493 Oberlin Ave. Once an appointment is made to the ballot, that person will have to campaign for election in November to serve as mayor starting in January.
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