Names, issues make BOE races interesting

The five-way, write-in battle for an unexpired term may be the most intriguing matchup.
YOUNGSTOWN -- In an urban school system such as Youngstown's, there's always plenty of important issues facing candidates for school board: low test scores, the budget, the effect of charter schools, school discipline and so on.
Despite the issues, one factor usually reigns supreme in these races: name recognition.
In upcoming election: That political fact may never be more true than in the Nov. 6 city board of education election.
Fourteen candidates, ranging from one of the area's most colorful characters to political unknowns, are seeking four seats on the seven-member board, which oversees the Mahoning and Shenango valleys' largest school system.
Eight candidates, including incumbents John Maluso, Lock Beachum Sr. and Marilyn Gonzalez, are campaigning for three seats with full, four-year terms.
Six write-in candidates, including former Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Don L. Hanni Jr., have filed for an unexpired two-year term.
The crowded field comes two years after only three candidates ran for three vacancies on the board in fall 1999.
Full-term races: The race for the full terms pits the incumbents against Michael Clarett, who unsuccessfully ran a write-in campaign two years ago; Robert Korchnak, a security guard; Joe Rafidi, a school board member from 1976 to 1980; Jacqueline Taylor, an active parent and research associate at Youngstown State University; and Oliver Weaver, who had run for the school board and city council previously.
The incumbents could ride into re-election on a wave of positive news coming the district's way: release from fiscal emergency and state oversight, passage of a $163.5 million bond issue and praise from state officials for making academic progress.
"We look like we're headed into something positive," said Gonzalez, who was appointed to the board last year when Ron Skowron resigned.
But the challengers say there remains many kinks in the system.
Taylor promised to closely monitor the district's plans to improve academics. The system meets four of 27 standards on the state report card and is in academic emergency.
She also said she will make sure the school board fulfills its promise to meet minority hiring goals for the building project. "You have to hold the administration accountable," she said.
Rafidi said his top priorities are assuring that the state's open meetings laws are upheld, creating a cabinet-level position to boost parent involvement and keeping the district out of fiscal emergency.
"We can't spend what we don't have," he said.
Interesting race: The election's real intrigue comes in the five-way, write-in battle for the two-year seat that includes Hanni; Clarence Boles, marketing director for Lincoln Place Residential Treatment Center for Youth and a former city council candidate; Neil Buzzacco, former carpenter for the school district; David Signor, a youth pastor; the Rev. Jeffrey Smith of Faith Tabernacle Church; and Michael K. Write.
Hanni, a controversial and popular leader in Youngstown politics for decades, downplayed his name recognition. "I doubt that 90 percent of the population even know I'm running," he said.
Hanni said his major priority will be to change the location of the planned new East Side high school. Hanni's son, Don III, unsuccessfully fought the same cause in the waning days of his 101/2 years on the school board before resigning in August 2000.
Boles said he had no plans to run for the board until Hanni filed. "If any Hanni runs, I have to be out there to counteract that," Boles said.
Buzzacco said he thinks Hanni's candidacy helps others in the race. "With the publicity he and his son got, I would find it hard to believe that there's that many people out there who will vote for him," he said.