By David Skolnick
After a decade of serving as Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, the often opinionated and blunt David Betras will step down from the position May 15.
Betras said he’s leaving the job because “this week, after months of reflection, I concluded that I will not be able to devote the time, effort and energy required to ensure that our party’s nominees for federal, state and local office will prevail in what will be the most important election in my lifetime.”
Betras said he’s resigning to devote more time to his family and his law practice.
With one of his sons, Joseph, in the Army, Betras said it would be “disrespectful” for him to continue to “publicly chastise” President Donald Trump, the commander in chief, while his son serves.
“I cannot in good conscience be the aggressive, highly-partisan advocate the [party] chair should and must be,” he said. “I want to be clear, Joseph has never and would never, ask me to moderate my negative comments about the president.”
But it hasn’t stopped Betras before while his son serves.
When he was re-elected chairman May 31, 2018, Betras called Trump “the first pathological liar ever elected to the presidency occupies the Oval Office. The contrast between [Trump and Barack Obama] and the two eras could not be starker. Instead of hope, Trump traffics in fear. Instead of bringing us together, his divisive, racist rhetoric is tearing us apart.”
Also, Betras’ youngest son, Alexander, begins college in the fall. Betras said he wants the ability to visit his children whenever he wants. He said for the past decade, his family has “tolerated the constant travel, long hours, late-night phone calls, tension and aggravation that comes with being chair. I was often absent from their lives over the past decade. I am excited about the prospect of spending more time with them in the years ahead.”
Betras added that it’s “become increasingly difficult for me to focus on my duties as managing partner” of his law firm while serving the party.
Despite a few high-profile losses with Betras as chairman, Mahoning’s elected officials – including all but one county executive branch position – are predominantly Democratic.
Betras had planned for Christopher Anderson, the party’s political director, to succeed him as chairman. But Anderson has a newborn and doesn’t want to seek the chairmanship now, Betras said.
Betras said he wants to resign at this point to give his successor enough time to become familiar with the job for the 2020 election.
He plans to remain on the county board of elections of which he is vice chairman.
Betras was first elected party chairman April 27, 2009, filling an unexpired term. He was re-elected to full four-year terms in June 2010, June 2014 and May 31, 2018. The person who succeeds him would serve until May or June of 2022.
Betras became well-known for being outspoken and occasionally outrageous. He’s often been quoted in national publications and websites.
In January, two months after another Republican sweep of statewide executive races, Betras called for the removal of Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper and the entire party leadership. A couple of months later, he said there’s “no good reason on this Earth that Mike DeWine is the governor other than sheer political malfeasance and negligence of the leaders of the Ohio Democratic Party.”
Betras’ announcement comes only a few months after Mark Mun-roe resigned as county Republican Party chairman after nine years on the job. He was succeeded by Thomas McCabe, deputy director for the board of elections and then the party’s vice chairman.
One of Betras’ first moves as chairman was to bring back endorsements in the primary, which increased the influence of the party but also brought backlash from some. At first, the endorsements were successful, but became controversial in 2012 when the party backed Jay Macejko over longtime county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains, who won a close primary. It blew up in 2017 when all the endorsed candidates in Youngstown, who are white, lost to their primary challengers, who are all black. Betras wanted to eliminate endorsements after that, but chose not to saying several incumbent officeholders wanted to keep them.
In June 2011, Betras was awarded the Ohio Democratic Party’s highest award, the Democrat of the Year. He was honored by the state party in 2010 as the large county chairman of the year.