Candidates and Issues Forum examines community diversity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Discussions of race and diversity dominated the Community Mobilization Coalition’s Candidates and Issues Forum Monday night, as candidates for local offices sought to emphasize their experiences with various segments of the community.

Michele Lepore-Hagan took some heat from fellow candidates for the 58th District House of Representatives seat, as well as panel members, who criticized her husband, current State Representative Bob Hagan, for not fighting against the 2012 elimination of a Youngstown Municipal Court judge’s position. Others criticized her for running as an extension of her husband, who is barred from being elected again due to term limits.

Lepore-Hagan responded, saying that those who want to question her husband’s record can talk to him and that while she shares her husband’s values and passions, she is her own person.

“I am not here to be my husband’s echo,” Lepore-Hagan said. “If you want to talk to Bobby Hagan, you know how to call him. He’s the only Robert Hagan in the phone book.”

Cynthia McWilson, Janet Tarpley, and Michael O’Hara also made their case to replace Hagan. McWilson said that her experience as a single mom and nurse has prepared her for the rigors of the representative position, and O’Hara emphasized that he wanted to bring accountability to the state’s finances. Tarpley emphasized her experience, saying that her work as a sixth ward councilwoman has helped prepare her for the job.

David Engler, who is running for the 7th District Court of Appeals judge’s seat, criticized the local Democratic party for its lack of endorsed African-American candidates.

“The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has more color than the endorsed Democratic ticket in Mahoning County,” Engler said.

Engler touted himself as an attorney of choice in the African-American community, and lamented the lack of a black judge in the Youngstown Municipal Court. “It’s different when you actually are black. I understand that.”

Engler later clarified that comment, saying, “There should be African-Americans on the courts. There’s no substitute for living in the shoes.”

Susan Maruca, seeking the Mahoning County probate judge spot, emphasized her hiring of gays and those in the African-American community. Chris Sammarone, running for the same spot, said that community education would be key to increasing diversity.

Congressman Tim Ryan, a Democrat and the incumbent in this fall’s 13th Congressional District race for the House of Representatives, did not appear at the meeting.

Mahoning County Director of Management and Budget Audrey Tillis spoke in favor of a sales tax measure that will be on this fall’s ballot, saying that continuing the sales tax increase is necessary for the county to help provide for the criminal justice system. Her counterpart, scheduled to speak against the tax amendment, did not show up, but Moderator Clarence Boles expressed concern about continuing the increase when some county officials are getting paid well above the county’s median salary.

Pros and cons of a measure that would ban fracking in Youngstown were also presented. Ray Beiersdorfer, a Youngstown State University Geology Professor, argued for the measure.

“It really is amazing that unions, from most of the places where the members or the leaders don’t even live in Youngstown, are throwing tens of thousands of dollars behind to tell you that you should let people come in, frack in your neighborhoods, expose your children to nosebleeds in the middle of the night, expose pregnant mothers to chances of getting birth defects so that oil companies can make a high profit,” Beiersdorfer said.

Others did not agree, saying fracking would bring necessary jobs.

“We’ve already defeated it twice, we can defeat it a third time,” said FloEtta Jordan, a Youngstown citizen and opponent of the fracking ban.

LIVE UPDATES:

•Tonight’s lineup: County sales tax; City charter amendment; 13th Congressional District; Court of appeals; probate judge; 58th district House of Representatives

•Moderator Clarence Boles: “Our objective is to make sure that this crowd doesn’t leave here uninformed, misinformed, or ill-informed.” Also said he believes Youngstown voters will not approve a permanent sales tax increase

•Supporters for Chris Sammarone, Janet Tarpley, and Susan Maruca appear to have the best attendance tonight, judging by amount of matching t-shirts

•Reverend Simon, in charge of the debate: “We will have an orderly debate. And the church said?” Everyone echoes, “Amen!”

•Rev. Simon: “Respect for each candidate and their answers is mandated.

•Audrey Tillis on the sales tax amendment: “We need it desperately.”

•Boles: Maybe a sales tax renewal isn’t the wisest when most elected officials are earning 100 and 200% more than the Youngstown median income

•Tillis: Not renewing the sales tax would likely mean closing part of the county jail

•Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer: Fracking can lead to birth defects; “These wells leak, and you can’t regulate against it.”

•FloEtta Jordan, Opponent of Youngstown fracking ban: “We’ve already defeated it twice, we can defeat it a third time.”

•Congressman Tim Ryan a no-show at tonight’s event

•David Engler: “The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has more color than the endorsed Democratic ticket in Mahoning County.”

•Engler on his lack of endorsement for the appeals court judge position: “I think the bar association needs to re-assess their process of giving endorsements, or else it means nothing going forward.”

•Susan Maruca, Probate Court Judge Candidate: short intro speech, emphasizes her record of taking a hard ethical line; Chris Sammarone asks for votes based on his integrity, experience

•Susan Maruca: “I can’t make promises, I can just tell you what I’ve done.”

•Sammarone says education is necessary to ensure diversity within the county’s judicial system

•58th District House of Reprsentatives Candidates; Michele Lepore-Hagan emphasizes her community ties; Cynthia McWilson says her background as a nurse will help her in the race; Michael O’Hara: “I’m going to Columbus with an attitude.” Janet Tarpley: I’m the most qualified candidate for this position.

•A lot of tension regarding the elimination of a Youngstown Municipal Court seat in 2012; several candidates attack Bob Hagan for not fighting for the retention of that seat; Lepore-Hagan: If you want to talk to Bobby Hagan, you can do it yourself

•Reverend Simon encourages attendees to sign the voter’s bill of rights, protecting early voting, among other things

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