Betras displays courage

Ohio Attorney General Mike De-Wine would do well to disabuse himself of the fanciful notion that guilty pleas by Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally and former Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy trial are a satisfactory conclusion to this putrid political tale. They aren’t.

Indeed, as this writer has pointed out several times, McNally, a former Mahoning County commissioner, and Sciortino, a former county auditor, were marionettes whose strings were being pulled by puppeteer Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.

Cafaro, the retired president of the nationally renowned Cafaro Co., is identified in court documents as the mastermind of the Oakhill Renaissance conspiracy. That’s why the attorney general can’t take a bow in the wake of the guilty pleas Friday from McNally and Sciortino in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. This case should be far from over.

Granted, going after an individual as powerful and wealthy as Cafaro could be political suicide for someone with aspirations for higher office. But, courage is an important attribute – as Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras demonstrated not long after the surprising turn of events in court were made public.

Important statement

Betras, who could well suffer the wrath of members of the Cafaro family and their legions of supplicants, issued this statement that has been widely reported, but is worth repeating:

“As I have said from the beginning, I believed Mayor McNally had the right to remain in office pending the disposition of the charges filed against him. In light of the fact that he today pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors related directly to his official duties as an elected official, I believe he should resign. At the very least, I believe he should not seek re-election when his term expires. If he does not, the voters will have their say when it comes time for his re-election.

“I would note for the record that it would not be unprecedented for an elected official to remain in office after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges. Governor Robert Taft, who pleaded no contest to and was subsequently convicted of four misdemeanors related to his failure to disclose that he accepted 52 gifts from lobbyists, chose not to resign and remained in office for the remainder of his term. While that precedent does exist, it is my hope that Mayor McNally resign.

“But I know the decision is ultimately his because he is not obligated to resign.”

No, McNally, who is shown to have worked closely with Cafaro to undermine the county’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center, is not obligated to resign. But he should. The Vindicator, in an editorial today on this page, urges him to do so.

Just as Betras is standing on principle in calling for the resignation of one of the most prominent Democratic officeholders in the Mahoning Valley, Attorney General DeWine should find the courage to offer a clear, unequivocal statement about the future of the Oakhill Renaissance investigation.

Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick reported on DeWine’s comments in the wake of the guilty pleas. The comments can only be described as classic political bobbing and weaving.

While the attorney general is eager to lay the burden of this case on the shoulders of the prosecution team – members of his staff and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty and his assistants – the fact remains that the AG is ultimately responsible. The decision to keep going until Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. and other members of the family are brought to court rests with DeWine.

Therein lies this writer’s concern about the attorney general’s lack of courage.

Last year, a column with the headline “Was AG DeWine just coy” observed that there was a marked difference between the Republican officeholder’s announcement in 2014 of indictments in the Oak- hill Renaissance corruption case and his demeanor in 2015.

Here’s what was written:

“Asked if he is personally keeping an eye on the clock, DeWine said it wasn’t his role. He said the prosecutors from his office who are assisting Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty are responsible for such aspects of the case.

“The explanation did not satisfy this writer, who as the editorial page editor of The Vindicator, pointed out that this newspaper and honest residents of the Valley would not take kindly to key players in the conspiracy spitting the legal hook because the statute of limitation had expired.

“Attorney General DeWine seemed taken aback with the admittedly veiled warning, but he responded that in cases such as this one, the goal must be to go after government officials who have violated the public trust.

“To which this writer responded: If there weren’t influential individuals in the community eager to bribe government officials, there wouldn’t be public corruption.”

Thus today, this question confronts DeWine: Will you publicly pledge to go after the individual identified by prosecutors as the mastermind of the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy?

The election for governor is just around the corner.