Betras rebukes Humphries after request for role when presidential hopefuls visit



The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s request to be “involved” if any presidential candidates visit the area gave Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Betras an opening to take shots at one of his favorite targets: Thomas M. Humphries, the chamber’s top official.

Mary Beth Wyko, the chamber’s coordinator of government affairs, recently sent an email to Betras that reads, in part: “If a candidate is planning to visit the Warren/Youngstown area, the regional chamber would love to be involved.”

Betras responded in a Tuesday email that “while I appreciate your interest, recent incidents involving the chamber force me to pose a number of questions.”

In a largely sarcastic email, Betras asked if the chamber expected to be compensated, and, if so, how much and for what services.

Betras brought that up after it was reported earlier this month that the chamber was soliciting $5,000 from Mahoning Valley arts entities to lobby on their behalf for federal and state funds. When that was discovered, the Valley’s state legislators abruptly split from the chamber after they had teamed up to prioritize local projects for the state’s 2016 capital bill.

Betras also wrote that it appears that Humphries “prefers secret meetings to public events,” pointing to his involvement with a local group that backed the Youngstown Plan, which takes local control of the city school district and puts it in the hands of a chief executive officer.

Attempts Tuesday by The Vindicator to reach Humphries, the chamber’s president and CEO, and Guy Coviello, its vice president of government affairs and economic development, were unsuccessful.

Humphries previously said that the chamber never intended to rank the arts projects because that would be a conflict of interest, and that the local group backing the Youngstown Plan didn’t secretly meet.

The bad blood between the two goes back to 2010 when Betras’ law firm quit the chamber and he resigned from its government-affairs council. That happened because Humphries co-hosted a fundraising event for John Kasich, then the Republican nominee for governor who successfully challenged incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.

At the time, Betras called Humphries “an ungrateful hypocrite” in an email because as “the quarterback of the Valley’s economic-development team” he shouldn’t be “choosing sides” in political races by co-hosting an event.

Humphries, among Kasich’s closest allies in the Valley, said at the time that Betras’ email was “unprofessional and frankly inaccurate,” and it fits Betras’ personality of “shoot first and then aim.”

Humphries said he had many issues with Strickland, but the “one that broke the camel’s back” was when the then-governor’s administration refused in 2007 to hire Humphries’ company for a contract with the state’s lottery commission that the chamber head said would have saved the state $5 million.

In Tuesday’s email, Betras brought that up again and asked if Humphries would “be seeking any personal remuneration for his participation?”

Also in the email, Betras said if the chamber wants to be involved when Democratic presidential candidates come to the area, it needs to send him a letter with its “enthusiastic and unqualified support for” several initiatives, including: raising the minimum wage, repealing the Youngstown Plan, opposing “Right to Work,” reforming charter schools, backing paid family and medical leave, increasing unemployment benefits, strengthening state and federal prevailing wage laws, and enacting equitable and adequate public-school funding.

Betras also requested an outline of the chamber’s fees for services related to presidential candidate visits and how much money Humphries could gain from the chamber’s participation.

Mahoning Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe said a chamber official contacted him a couple of weeks ago during a brief phone conversation making a similar request to be kept aware of presidential candidates visiting the area.

“We’d be glad to share information with the chamber or anyone interested,” Munroe said. “It sounds like they just want to stay in the loop, and we’ll do that.”