Tuesday, August 14, 2012



08/14/2012 AT 12:15 PM

The SCPR caught up with Commissioner Bernabei today and asked for his reaction to Craig Conley's withdrawal from the race.


According to a SCPR source, "there was talk on the street that Conley was to drop, [yet] Matthews (Stark GOP chairman) apparently did nothing to prepare to find another candidate."

Such a complaint is indicative of the numerous dissatisfactions  (see prior blog) with Matthews' leadership style that The Report has received over the nearly five years that the SCPR has been in existence.

And the beginning of the the Stark GOP stirrings probably can be traced back to April, 1996 when then-political upstart Curt Braden successfully challenged then-Stark GOP chairman Rick McLaughlin for the party chairmanship (Unity is Paramount for G.O.P Group in Ohio County, Chooser of Presidents, New York Times, Michael Winerip, May 4, 1996). 

Also a victim of the Braden political coup was Vice Chairman Thomas Vignos (brother-in-law to former Stark County Commissioner Jane Vignos).

Over the ensuing years, Braden developed a "joined at the hip" political relationship with Jeff Matthews who succeeded Braden as chairman in 2008.

In 2008, (how's this for a start for a new party chairman?) the Stark Republicans failed to field candidates for two very important Stark County offices:  county prosecutor, county treasurer and county engineer.

And as we all know now, "all Hell broke loose" in Stark County government in April, 2009 with the revelation that former Chief Deputy Treasurer Vince Frustaci had stolen several million dollars from the Stark treasury.

One of the primary points of the Stark County Political Report from the beginning has been a focus of the extreme importance of political competition in ensuring that Stark Countians get a choice as to who serves in elected office.

But Matthews failed to provide that in the 2008 elections.

The Report believes that the chances of responsive and effective governance increases geometrically with highly competitive political races.

That Republicans recouped somewhat in 2010 with the election of Alex Zumbar (Stark treasury) and Alan Harold (the auditor's office).  But their elections had very little if anything to do with Matthews.   Rather The Report believes it was the public's reaction to the Frustaci event and the public's perception that the-then Stark County Treasurer Gary D. Zeigler and Stark County Auditor Kim Perez had not provided adequate management of their respective offices so as to deny Frustaci the opportunity to pull of his malevolent deed.

So here we are in 2012 and the weakness of Jeff Matthews as a recruiter of viable political candidates surfaces once again.

While The Report likes Craig T. Conley and has written numerous blogs complimenting him on holding the Stark County prosecutor's office feet to the fire (and the Stark County commissioners [Bosley, Harmon and Vignos on the "imposed" 2008 sales tax), yours truly was skeptical that he could make much of a race of it against Commissioner Bernabei.

As The Report's source also said:  "... many GOP activists expressed concerns when Conley originally filed, yet Matthews did little to recruit other candidates.  What about Windham or Walters? ... To let Bernabei be unopposed after barely winning last time is ridiculous."

After Conley withdrew, yours truly spoke with him about whether or not Matthews had a replacement in line.

Conley told The Report that he had recommendations for the chairman, but he had no idea whether or not he would find an alternative.

Well, as it turns out, he did not.

Now the only chance that Bernabei and the Democrats will have an opponent is limited to possible "write-in" candidates.  And, of course, as astute political observers know, a write-in candidate has virtually no chance at all to be competitive.

The SCPR/Conley conversation evolved to Conley making the following point: (paraphrase)   "Well, in the event that Matthews does not find a replacement for me, I feel comfortable with Tom Bernabei; he is a quality public official."

While the SCPR agrees that Bernabei has a track record of being a quality public official (e.g. Canton councilman, Canton law director and now commissioner), still, it is unacceptable for the Stark GOP and Chairman Matthews to recruit political competition.

IN 2010, in a somewhat of an irony, Matthews' sidekick Curt Braden nearly lost his Stark County Board of Elections seat to guess who?  You've got it:  Jane Vignos.  Payback or coincidence?  Hmm?

Braden had another scare later in 2010.  Political unknown Greg Butler of Jackson Township came within 198 votes of dethroning Braden from the Republican State Central Committee.

 Getting back to the significance of Democrat Bennabei being given a "free pass" by Matthews:

Republican Richard Regula (a former Stark County commissioner defeated by Democrat Todd Bosley in November, 2006) should be very, very unhappy with Matthews' failure to come with a replacement for Conley.

He is in a very tight race with former long time Canton councilman Bill Smuckler.  And, what the Bernabei Stark GOP issued "free pass" means to the Regula/Smuckler race is that Democrats can focus in terms of financial resources on electing Smuckler and thereby maintaining political control of the commissioners' office. 

Also, Bernabei - now freed from the task of campaigning for himself - can devote time and effort to help Smuckler eke out a win over Regula.

If Bill Smuckler is a savvy candidate, he will try to induce Bernabei to go to work for him.

In a final note, it appears to the SCPR that based on Matthews' history during his tenure as chairman that the source is right on the mark in making this ending comment:  "but it seems more & more [Stark] GOPers are ready for new leadership."

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