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Ohio Democrats Argue Over Party Leadership And Candidates

by Jo Ingles

There's some in-fighting in the Ohio Democratic Party these days between the current leadership and a former party chairman. The fight centers on the way the party's current leadership is dealing with Democratic candidates in the U.S. Senate race.

Former Ohio Democratic Party Chair Jim Ruvolo led the party from 1982 to 1991.  And much of the time he was at the helm, Ohio Democrats were successful, holding the Governorship and key state leadership positions.  In recent years, that hasn't been the case. Ohio Democrats don't hold a single statewide office and haven't since 2010. Ruvolo blames Democratic leadership for not doing what is needed to get good candidates. And he's not happy with current party chair David Pepper.

"I want David Pepper to go back to being a chairman, building a party," Ruvolo said.

Ruvolo said Pepper has made disparaging comments about one of the U.S. Senate candidates, P.G. Sittenfeld, in his and Pepper's hometown of Cincinnati. Ruvolo also said Pepper has urged Sittenfeld to get out of the race and cede the Democratic party's nomination to Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who is also running for the U.S. Senate seat. In a call with reporters, Ruvolo called on Pepper to focus on other priorities.

"He showed me his plan yesterday," Ruvolo said. "It's things that parties should do. I didn't have any problem with it. He needs to get back to that and not intimidate a candidate."

But Pepper said he hasn't intimidated Sittenfeld or asked him to step out of the race. He said the comments he made recently in Cincinnati were not directed at Sittenfeld.

"Part of building that farm team is a very simple message to the people on that farm team," Pepper said. "Whatever your aspiration is down the road, the most important thing you can do is do a really good job serving the people in the office you are currently in. That's the essence of building a good farm team. And that's what I say everywhere. Jim has somehow perceived that to be as somehow telling one candidate he shouldn't run for something else. That's not it at all."

Pepper said he gave Sittenfeld suggestions on how to deal with some problems in his current role as a Cincinnati City Council member. And Pepper said Sittenfeld has followed many of those suggestions. Ruvolo might not like the way Pepper is handling his job, but the chairman gets high praise from another former Ohio Democratic Party chair, current State Rep. David Leland from Columbus.

"David Pepper is doing a great job of recruiting Democrats across the state of Ohio," Leland said. "He's speaking to Democrats almost every night. He's building a strong grassroots. He's making sure we have the equipment and the technology we need. I mean he's doing what he needs to do. He inherited a bad hand after the 2014 election but he's doing everything anybody could ask him to do to rebuild our Democratic Party."

The party's endorsement of Strickland over Sittenfeld has been controversial. The executive committee of the party backs Strickland. So do leaders of many of the state's largest labor unions. But Democratic Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill as well as longtime Democratic consultant Jerry Austin, who both served as key advisers to former Democratic Gov. Richard Celeste, are backing Sittenfeld.