Engler’s political charges debunked

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No endorsement: The Youngstown Warren Black Caucus isn’t impressed with any of the candidates running in the Democratic primary in May for the 58th Ohio House District seat.

The caucus chose not to endorse any of the candidates: Youngstown 6th Ward Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, Michael O’Hara, Cynthia McWilson, and Michele Lepore-Hagan. Tarpley and McWilson are black. The seat is being vacated at the end of the year by state Rep. Robert F. Hagan, a Democrat, who cannot seek re-election because of Ohio’s term-limits law.

“We will support a candidate who is committed to economic growth and job creation, is electable, and will be accountable to our community and fight for the rights of people of color throughout the entire district,” said Jaladah Aslam, caucus president. “Unfortunately, none of the candidates our screening committee interviewed convinced us they met all of those criteria thus the [caucus] is not endorsing anyone in this race. Each candidate had strength in some areas, but none were strong in all areas.”

David Engler, a candidate for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals, is not running a traditional campaign.

He said at a Feb. 22 Mahoning County Democratic Party meeting he was withdrawing and supporting his opponent, Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio, for the seat in the primary. Engler didn’t withdraw, “paused” his campaign, and is now “unpausing” it.

Engler has made a lot of claims that draw a lot of conclusions without actual evidence. Everyone I spoke to refutes all but some very basic facts and say Engler is distorting the truth.

Engler wants Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras to temporarily step down as chairman and call for a criminal investigation into these apparent hunches.

Betras isn’t doing either, and said, “David Engler is pathetic. His desperate and deceitful attacks” are “despicable. His allegations are ludicrous, baseless” and if Engler wants, he should file a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Engler says he’s back in the race because Betras “engaged in what appears to be inappropriate conduct for a lawyer seeking to ‘clear’” elections for Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney and Donofrio.

Engler said Betras “was explicit in influencing a potential Democrat challenger” Jeff Limbian from filing against Sweeney so the Republican judge wouldn’t have a Democratic opponent.

Limbian said, “Engler’s misstating this whole thing,” and “Engler tried to make this nefarious and dark” when it isn’t.

Limbian said he was bothered with how Judge Sweeney treated him during a court case, and he was going to run against her as a Democrat. Limbian said Betras told him shouldn’t run because of anger, and Judge Sweeney is an incumbent with a lot of money who would be difficult to beat. But if he ran, Betras said the party would support Limbian. Limbian said he thought about it, agreed with Betras and opted not to run.

Engler also said Betras spoke to Judge Sweeney around the time Limbian withdrew, and Engler wants sworn testimony to be taken to find out what was discussed.

The judge said she’s quite certain Betras never discussed Limbian’s candidacy and she already knew from county Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe that Limbian had taken out nominating petitions and from Limbian that he wasn’t running.

The judge and Betras, an attorney, say they sometimes talk informally about politics, among other things and with other people, but never in her chambers. Betras said he doesn’t remember if he spoke to Judge Sweeney about Limbian not running.

Engler said Betras violated the state judicial canons by clearing the field for judges and then having cases heard by them.

Betras said he didn’t clear the field, and he’s publicly endorsed Mark Hanni, who’s running as a write-in in the Democratic primary, against Judge Sweeney. Also, Limbian said Engler and Hanni tried to get him to run as a write-in against Sweeney.

Engler said Betras tried to get him out of the court of appeals race. Betras said that happened after Engler publicly announced he was withdrawing.

Engler claims Donofrio’s brother, Gene, already on the 7th District Court, had a “backroom meeting” regarding “support for his brother” with former Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Morley as well as Anthony and the brothers’ father, Joseph, a former judge. Gene’s “presence [as a sitting judge] was inappropriate,” Engler said.

Morley said he meets about once a year with Joseph — and sometimes with other Donofrio family members — for a meal. Gene and Anthony were at the last one, either in November or December.

“My only recollection of any [political] discussion was me suggesting to [Anthony] that he reach out to the precinct committee people if he wants the party’s endorsement,” Morley said.

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