YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A crowd gathered outside of the Mahoning County Board of Elections Wednesday afternoon as local African-American leaders talked about Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Betras.
They are accusing Betras of making threats on “certain” African-American leaders within the party.
He offended several black committee members recently at a Youngstown mayoral debate. The members were confronted by Betras when they wore t-shirts not supporting the Democratic Party-endorsed candidate John McNally.
Members of the Community Mobilization Coalition who are making the accusations include Youngstown Warren Urban League Executive Director Tom Conley, Youngstown NAACP President Steven Mickel, Former Youngstown Councilman Artis Gillam and Youngstown City Clerk of Courts Sarah Brown-Clark.
The group accuses Betras of using “bullying tactics” to force support and endorsement of party candidates.
“We will not tolerate or be a part of anything that oppresses or suppresses our people or tries to intimidate us to sway our vote,” said the Rev. Kenneth Simon of New Bethel Baptist Church.
According to former Youngstown Councilman Artis Gillam, the committee members felt “publicly humiliated” when Betras shared his decision to remove them from the committee through the media instead of in private.
“Don’t come out publicly and embarrass them in their own community and then threaten them and make statements,” Simon said.
Betras, who was out of town, released a statement early Wednesday, saying his decision was a party issue and had nothing to do with race. Former Ohio State Rep. Sylvester Patton, who is black, agrees.
“This is no way a racist thing. This is a Democratic thing and like I said, again, he probably could have handled it better, but it shouldn’t go as far as it’s going right now. We need to get together and talk and iron this out,” Patton said.
Rev. Simon and others hope for an apology, but said more could be done.
“If he’s not willing to rectify it, then we need to address it from a legal standpoint,” Simon said.
In his statement, Betras said his primary concern is to support the candidates that are endorsed by the Mahoning County Democratic Party. In the past, he has asked party officers to resign if their political support was not for an endorsed Democratic candidate.
“What matters to me is Party affiliation. Period,” Betras said in the statement.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern is aware of the accusations and issued the following statement:
“Chairman David Betras is among the most talented and dedicated Party leaders in the country. His actions this week reflect his deep commitment to the values we all share as Democrats. I support Chairman Betras without hesitation,” said Redfern.