Massillon Mayor Francis H. Cicchinelli, Jr. has to be bristling at the suggestion that he is not a "real" Democrat.
Matt Rink of The Independent broke a story yesterday about Cicchinelli seeking Republican support in the Democratic primary on May 3rd (Oser files a complaint vs. Cicchinelli's campaign) that seems to validate the claim by some Stark County/Massillon Democrats questioning the Mayor's loyalty to the Stark County Democratic Party.
Andrew Oser (Republican candidate in the Stark County Republican Party primary) charges in a complaint to the Ohio Elections Commission (hearing set for today) that Cicchinelli through Mike Loudiana (a Cicchinelli administration top level official) who works on the Mayor's re-election committee has asked some Massillon Republicans to register "temporarily" as Democrats in order to vote for Cicchinelli over 3rd Ward Councilwoman Kathy Catazaro-Perry in the Stark County Democratic Party primary on May 3rd.
For a number of years, yours truly has heard considerable talk among leadership Democrats (from Massillon, of course) as to whether on not Cicchinelli's heart is with traditional Democratic issue positions.
Organized labor (Stark County's trade unions), in particular, has questioned his loyalty to union causes. As the politically aware know, unions almost exclusively support Democrat office seekers. But four years ago, much of Stark County organized labor (again, primarily; the trades) broke with Cicchinelli and supported Tim Bryan and were able to make the race relatively close.
The SCPR believes that the Cicchinelli overture to Republicans is a clear sign that he knows that his continuance in office (38 years covering his time on council and as mayor) may be in great jeopardy.
The Report sees the Cicchinelli Republican appeal as plausible and predictable especially in the light of other developments (both recent and longstanding); a partial list being:
- his recent statement to the SCPR that he was stepping down from the Stark County Democratic Party Executive Committee,
- his acerbic relationship with Clerk of Courts Johnnie A. Maier, Jr. (former Stark Dems chairman), Stark County Democratic Party Political Director Shane Jackson (also, Maier's chief deputy) and the entire retinue of Massillon Democrats who have lined up behind Cicchinelli opponent Catazaro-Perry,
- his prior statements to The Report that he may possibly support this or that Republican running either countywide or in Massillon,
- his being viewed as "pro-business" in the context of his testy relationship with the trades unions as referenced above,
- the expressed perception (to the SCPR) by a number of Massillon Democrats that they see Cicchinelli as being overly comfortable with and supportive of Republicans to the point of providing "behind the scenes" support to Republican candidates for Massillon City Council, and
- the belief by Massillon Democrats that he has recruited and support Democrats to take on incumbent Democrat council members who are more or less supportive of Catazaro-Perry.
On Monday night of this week Massillon City Council adopted the request of the Stark County trade unions to bid out future city contracts in conformance with project labor agreement (PLA) language. PLAs underwritten by public policy are very much prized by trade labor unions as they see them as a key component in helping union shops get public work.
Somewhat surprising, given his historically tense relationship with the Stark County trades, was Cicchinelli being on board with Councilwoman Catazaro-Perry and Councilman Larry Slagle in endorsing Council's action. Cicchinelli tells The Report he met with the trades last Thursday and where he announced his support for the PLA (project labor agreements) legislation passed by Council Monday night.
For his part, Cicchinelli has always insisted to the SCPR that he does support traditional Democratic Party values. His quarrel with the likes of Catazaro-Perry, Maier and Jackson, he says, has to do with their desire to take over Massillon government in a pure self-serving political power move.
The Report needed no convincing by Cicchinelli to buy into the notion that the contest between him and Catazaro-Perry is primarily about who is going to wield political power in Massillon and not really about the well-being of Massillonians. But the issue cuts both ways. It seems to The Report that the back and forth between the Cicchinelli and the Maier factions is about competition for political power in and of itself. Not primarily about serving the best interests of Massillonians.
What is troublesome about Maier and Jackson and their ilk is The Report's take that an unstated but clearly implied condition that all-out support, like that that Kathy Catazaro-Perry receives from them, comes at a price of losing political independence. No elected official should at the behest of anyone.
At least in Cicchinelli's case, he is obviously his own person. There is no Wizard of Oz behind the scenes. But make no mistake about it, he is a power politician very much in the political mold of his adversaries Maier, Jackson et al.
One of the determinations of Massillon voters in considering Catazaro-Perry as an alternative to Cicchinelli is how beholden is she to the direction of Maier, Jackson and their allies in other parts of Massillon city government.
The Report believes she is way too politically tight with Maier et al. But, of course, that judgment is for the voters of Massillon.
It could be that Cicchinelli has run his course in Massillon much in the same vein that it became increasingly clear that former Congressman Ralph Regula was losing his grip on the 16th Congressional District.
But you never heard of Ralph Regula sending Democrats letters encouraging them to crossover to become "temporary" Republicans.
And, he was savvy enough to know when to step aside.
A question about Cicchinelli is whether or not he has stayed too long and therefore is now faced with the prospect of leaving office under circumstances that are going to be hard for him to swallow?
But one more set of questions loom large that could have important implications or both sides of the May primary. And the SCPR is investigating.
The questions are: Is Andrew Oser's initiative against the Cicchinelli campaign his and his alone? Or, are there Massillon Democrats connected to the Catazaro-Perry campaign who prompted and are fueling Oser's move?
Preliminary indications are that the Catazaro-Perry campaign is not involved - behind the scenes or otherwise - in the Oser initiative.