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Elections

Attorney sees way in for disqualified Lorain mayoral candidates

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    Gerald Phillips

    CHRONICLE FILE

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LORAIN — A local attorney is suggesting some Democratic mayoral candidates disqualified ahead the June 9 appointment meeting should be allowed to seek the appointment under a different interpretation of the Ohio Revised Code.

Gerald Phillips, an Avon Lake-based attorney, sent out a memorandum that argued the “sore loser statute” does not apply to successful primary candidates who were knocked out of the running for the appointment earlier this month.

Ahead of an initial June 9 appointment vote, five of the then-six candidates to fill former Mayor Chase Ritenauer’s unexpired term and slot on the November ballot were disqualified under the law. The statute, as interpreted by Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Gerald Innes and upheld by a secretary of state opinion earlier this week, knocked from the running at-large council member Mary Springowski and Mitch Fallis, Council President Joel Arredondo, city Auditor Karen Shawver and Lorain School Board member and presumptive at-large Council member Tony Dimacchia. All of them campaigned successfully in the primary.

That left only former State Rep. Dan Ramos eligible, but he withdrew the Friday before the June 9 vote, saying the process had become a “circus.” Attorney Jack Bradley and retired UAW Local 2000 chairman Jerry Donovan announced their bids on June 5 and 7 respectively.

Phillips’ 21-page memorandum argues the statute only covers unsuccessful partisan primary candidates and did not cover partisan members who were not running as independent candidates. In his opinion, the statute does not apply to successful primary candidates and applying it to them would be unconstitutional.

On Thursday he said the Democratic Central Committee is not obligated to follow his legal advice, but those he was representing did have the legal standing to sue. He declined to give the names of his two clients, but stated they were not any of the candidates who were interested in the mayoral appointment, nor were they Republicans.

The risk, he said, is if a candidate who won his or her seat in the primary chose to pursue the mayoral appointment for the November ballot, they would have to withdraw from their current slot to do so, as someone cannot run for two political offices at once. If that person did not secure the appointment as mayor, they would lose their original seat as well, under the same section of the Ohio Revised Code that Phillips challenges.

“I would take the risk,” he said. “… Maybe that risk will weed out those who really want to be mayor.”

He added later, “There’s risks if they don’t follow my opinion; there’s risks if they do.”

The risk of losing their current political seats was something Springowski and Fallis were both weighing Thursday night.

After reading the memorandum, Fallis said he was interested, as one of the five who were considered ineligible, but felt the timing was off. The opinion comes less than a week before when the Central Committee is scheduled to vote to select its mayoral candidate and fill the at-large Council seat now-Mayor Joe Koziura vacated to serve out the remainder of Ritenauer’s term.

Fallis said if the committee was going to consider Phillips’ opinion, the vote for the mayoral ballot slot should again be delayed to give the new candidates more time to campaign.

Springowski said she’s interested in the people’s right to vote and was keeping her options open. Her father, Jerry Donovan, is still in the running for the appointment and has said if appointed and elected that he would resign in January so his daughter could be appointed to his unexpired term.

“My main intent is to protect the democratic process,” she said, adding that she was also trying to help unite a severely fractured Democratic Party. She said she has been reviewing Phillips’ opinion since Wednesday, including seeking a summary of it from another lawyer, and believes it could help bring the party back together.

On Wednesday, an “integral” member of her campaign, AFL-CIO’s John Gallo, posted a Change.org petition calling for a special election, to be held in August, to fill the November ballot.

“Every Ohioan should support this call for a special election in Lorain, Ohio, because of the circumstances involved and to prevent similar situations from happening in their community at some future date,” the petition states. As of Thursday night it had collected 91 signatures, including Springowksi’s, though she said she understood the law is not set up this way.

Gallo could not be reached Thursday for additional comment.

On the other side, Dimacchia said he wouldn’t risk losing his Council position for the appointment to the November ballot. Dimacchia has long expressed interest in being mayor, but said his real goal is to serve Lorain residents and he would rather hold a Council seat than none at all.

Shawver declined to give an opinion until she had read the memorandum thoroughly. Arredondo could not be reached Thursday.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoyach@chroniclet.com.


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