YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — As the campaign for a hotly contested judicial seat continues, issues with some political ads are raising questions about one of the candidates.
Democrat Chris Sammarone, son of former Youngstown mayor and current Youngstown Council President Chuck Sammarone, often talks with a lot of pride about his time playing football for the Youngstown State University Penguins in the 1990’s and winning a National Championship. He has even made reference to it in some of his campaign literature for the Mahoning County Probate Judge seat.
One piece in particular includes a quote from Sammarone’s former coach, Jim Tressel, which refers to the candidate as “a leader.” Sammarone admits the line is about 20 years old and was printed in a local newspaper when Sammarone was still playing for Tressel, but the campaign material makes no mention of that.
It is a point not lost on Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Betras.
“Using Coach Tressel’s name in campaign ads and fliers to imply that he currently endorses him really raises questions about Mr. Sammarone’s integrity, and in turn, his fitness for this critically important judicial office,” Betras said.
We asked Sammarone about the ads prior to a candidate’s forum Monday night in Youngstown. He defended the ads, saying the Tressel quote helps bolster his credibility over Susan Maruca, who is the endorsed Democrat in the primary race.
“I’ve used references for my past and my background. I think it’s important to know a person’s background,” Sammarone said. “There’s no history of any issues as far as credibility or my reputation or my integrity.”
Sammarone also claims Maruca and her campaign are now desperately trying to discredit him and Tressel.
We checked with the University of Akron, Tressel’s current employer, and learned the quote is not new. A spokeswoman said while Tressel is out of town, the former YSU coach learned it was being used from friends who told him about it, that in fact it came from an article printed in the Youngstown Vindicator 20 years ago when Sammarone was still playing there, and that Tressel won’t have anything else to say about it.
Betras said Sammarone is trying to mislead voters.
“The last thing that people of Mahoning County need is a candidate and a candidate’s campaign who is willing to do or say anything to win,” he said.
Maruca said she learned about the quote recently and mentioned it to Tressel over the weekend at a local fundraiser.
“I said ‘you know you’re a university employee and I would imagine you can’t endorse anyone in the primary race in Mahoning County’ and he said ‘that’s correct.’,” Maruca said.
But Sammarone is standing by the ad and the quote.
“It’s a trait that you have, that you have those characteristics, and I think Jim Tressel will attest to that and it’s a quote he made,” Sammarone said.
He plans to meet with reporters on Wednesday to discuss the issue.