59th District Dems have choice of 2 strong hopefuls

About 50 percent of the population of

Mahoning County is guaranteed to see a fresh face representing them in the Ohio House of Representatives come January 2019. That’s because Democratic incumbent John Boccieri has bowed out of the 59th District race to run instead for the 33rd District state Senate seat up for grabs by the departure of Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in this spring’s hotly contested election.

Fortunately for those among the district’s 110,000 residents registered to vote in the Democratic primary, two well-qualified, energetic and thoughtful candidates have emerged in Boardman Township Trustee Larry Moliterno and

Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro.

Unfortunately for those same voters, however, choosing between these two township leaders with strong and impressive records of public service will be most difficult.

Similarly, members of The Vindicator Editorial Board, after interviewing each of the candidates and studying their backgrounds, found the

decision among the most trying of all contested primary races in the Mahoning Valley this year. Although we believe either Ungaro or Moliterno would represent the Valley effectively and honorably in the Ohio General Assembly, we give a slight edge to Ungaro and recommend him to Democratic Party voters in the 59th District.


In some arenas, the race is clearly a draw. Both candidates, for example, would bring hands-on experience in dealing with this state’s most critical public health crisis in decades, the opiate-addiction epidemic.

Moliterno serves at the helm of Meridian HealthCare, one of the Valley’s strongest

resources for drug-addiction recovery. The Boardman leader has been dealing professionally with the victims of the scourge since it began about a decade ago.

As a result, he has been able to pinpoint what has worked and what hasn’t in efforts to lessen its scope. If elected, he calls for providing instant access for overdosing drug users to treatment and counseling, ongoing recovery support, a collaboration with the criminal justice system and an investment in prevention education.

The epidemic also has struck close to home for Ungaro, son of former Youngstown Mayor and current Liberty Township Administrator Patrick J. Ungaro. His brother died of a drug overdose several years ago, and he’s been on the front lines of the war on drugs ever since.

Understandably then, Ungaro also has a solid platform of responsible ideas for helping victims and minimizing the many societal ills the epidemic has spawn. For example, he advocates strengthening promotion of family support and grief support groups, dramatically increasing available bed space for treatment centers and fortifying the years-long continuum of care that users and abusers so desperately need.

On other topics, the two Democrats strike similar chords as well. On economic development for our region and state, Moliterno advocates stronger promotion of two of the Valley’s strongest resources: its vast tracts of open land and its large available workforce. That match, for example, played a role in the construction of a new chill-can plant and research campus on Youngstown’s East Side, he said.

For his part, Ungaro vows to take a team

approach and work closely with surrounding mayors, trustees, plus state and local officials to promote the district and to use all available incentives to attract new business and develpment there.


On the hot-button issue of education and school funding, both candidates also have knowledge and experience. Moliterno, for

example, has testified in Columbus on the

impact of the state’s retrenchment in funding public education has had on local school districts in the Valley and the state. He’s also a staunch critic of charter schools that have siphoned even more state funding and resources away from public education.

But given the depth of Ungaro’s 28 years of experience as an educator, coach and union member and leader, we believe his finger is more strongly on the pulse of gnawing issues and problems confronting educators and school

administrators on a daily basis.

His platform on potential school reform reflects that experience and knowledge. In

addition to finding ways to make school funding more equitable, he advocates a transfer of public funds away from failing charter schools and toward successful public schools. The Poland Township trustee also seeks to address these public-education concerns:

Reducing or eliminating unnecessary testing.

Expanding pre-kindergarten and early-childhood funding as well as funding for workforce development and trade schools in grades nine through 12.

Addressing growing concerns about school safety and security in the aftermath of the deadly Parkland, Fla., high school shooting.

In a nutshell, Ungaro’s upfront, first-hand

insights and knowledge of some of the major troubles hindering public education would be sure to benefit his constituents and the state Legislature as a whole.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination for the 59th District House seat will face Republican Don Manning in this fall’s general election.