Sunday, June 09, 2002

Democrats to elect new party head

Party seeks to reposition itself with new chairman

By Debra Jasper,
Columbus Enquirer Bureau

        When Republicans opted last month to drain the state's savings account and raise taxes on cigarettes, trust funds and businesses, Democrats squawked that such moves were short-sighted and irresponsible.

        But their harsh condemnation had no impact on budget talks. Democrats at the Statehouse are so outnumbered that Republicans didn't even bother to invite them to the decision-making table.

        “Ohio Democrats, in a sense, are in a Chapter 11 situation,” said Robert Adams, associate professor of Political Science at Wright State University. “They are very near bankruptcy.”

        Democrats have been out of power in Ohio for nearly a decade — failing in the last election to win even one statewide non-judicial office. But in the next two weeks, the party faithful hope to turn the tide in their favor with the election of a new Ohio Democratic Party Chairman.

        Dennis Lieberman, chairman of the Montgomery County party, and Dennis White, Chairman of the Franklin County party, are vying for the title. One of them will replace David Leland, who stepped down in May amid criticism he continually failed to recruit and groom winning candidates.

        Both Mr. Lieberman and Mr. White say they have the experience necessary to take back enough statewide offices to again give Democrats a voice in Ohio government. But they also acknowledge a long road ahead.

        “We've been looking at one party rule for so long that there is a lot of frustration,” said Mr. Lieberman, 49, a Dayton defense attorney. “A new coach can give us a fresh perspective and can excite the team, the spectators and the fans.”

        Mr. Lieberman has been pursing the chairmanship for months, courting State Central Committee members across Ohio.

        He's sent them several letters outlining his plans for the chairmanship, saying he would, among other things, develop a “candidates college” to better train and educate candidates on effective campaigning techniques, improve the promotion of candidates statewide, and beef up marketing strategies.

        “We can target our message a whole lot better,” Mr. Lieberman said. “We need a change and the reason is very simple. We haven't won elections.”

        He cites his successes in Montgomery County as proof of his leadership. He notes that since 1994, Democrats have won virtually every county office in Montgomery County and won five mayor's offices, including a Dayton mayor's seat long held by Republican Mike Turner.

        Mr. White, 48, chief executive officer of Transport Consolidation, a truck freight company, also touts his record as a county chairman. He notes that since 1994 he has overseen the election of the first Democratic Columbus mayor in 28 years and the first Columbus city attorney in 25 years.

        Mr. White, who was a registered Republican in the 1980s, said he'd like to take what he's done in Franklin County, “bottle it up and take it across Ohio.”

        While he doesn't have specific plans for what he will do once in office, Mr. White said he will work to get different factions of the party focused on the same goal. “That's where our party has fumbled the ball. We've had too much division and too much wasted resources,” Mr. White said. "I'm the right guy to bring people together.”

        Mr. White criticized Mr. Lieberman for initially running against Mr. Leland. Mr. White declined to enter the race for Ohio party chairman until Mr. Leland stepped down.

        “I said I'm not going to run for party chair and divide the party during a statewide election,” he said. “As Dad always said, "Good things come to those who have patience.”'

        Mr. White's concerns about Mr. Lieberman were echoed by Bill Burga, president of the AFL-CIO, the party's staunchest financial supporter. Mr. Burga said he hasn't decided which candidate to support yet, but “there is some concern Lieberman has been divisive because he's been working (to be chairman) for so long.”

        Other labor leaders, though, are weighing in for Mr. Lieberman. Mike Bendas, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers and Communication Workers of America, said Mr. Lieberman is clearly the best man for the job.

        “We've been losing too many elections and it's going to take some new blood to turn Ohio around,” he said. “I've used my influence everywhere I could in labor circles for Lieberman. We need him to coordinate our efforts. The minorities are going in one direction, labor is going in another and the candidates are going in another. We've all got to open the same hymnal and sing the same song.”

        Mr. Lieberman has tried to become party chairman in the past but was unsuccessful at ousting Mr. Leland. This time, though, even Mr. Burga withdrew his support for Mr. Leland, who left office after seven years to become the national director of Project Vote, a non-partisan and nonprofit organization committed to increasing voter turnout.

        With Mr. Leland out of the way, Mr. Lieberman estimates he has 50 of the 66 votes he needs to win the office. Mr. White isn't sure how many votes he has secured but said, “I'm very pleased with the response I'm getting. I'm confident I'll be the next party chair.”

        Democrats elect one man and one woman from each of the 33 state senate districts to the State Central Committee and candidate needs a majority of those 66 votes to win. The actual vote hasn't been scheduled yet, but is expected in the next two weeks.


Ky. dioceses lead U.S. in priest abuse lawsuits
Bishops revoke invitation to abuse victims' group
Priest target of 48 suits
Convenience attracts N.Ky. drug buyers
Foreign-born numbers double
Security won't be left to faith
Airport Days all about family
Ball planned for seniors, disabled
Charter school moves closer to 'home'
Deal near on high school site
Driver faces charges after traffic attack
House destroyed in fire
Man charged after shooting suspect in leg
McCrackin's spirit alive in West End
Obituary: Betty Ritterhoff, 91, loved history, dance
Saying goodbye to graffiti
Summit teaches love for users
Tristate A.M. Report
BRONSON: Ready & willing
CROWLEY: Ky. Politics
PULFER: Roxanne Qualls
SMITH AMOS: Since Sept. 11
Rebels expected attack, ex-hostage says
Work begins on shopping center
Dayton Peace Prize awarded
- Democrats to elect new party head
One school stands tall on expanding view of evolution
Truckers keep eyes on road looking out for terrorists
Covington schools seek more diversity
Feds to inspect coal-waste site
Hitchhiker run over by truck
Kentucky News Briefs
Work on Ali center starting