Conversations with the Candidates: Connie Pillich, Running for Treasurer

Photos: Ohio House of Representatives, Treasurer's office
Photos: Ohio House of Representatives, Treasurer's office
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It’s difficult to compare the two major party candidates running for state treasurer, because it’s hard to find an instance of Marine corps veteran and Republican incumbent Josh Mandel campaigning, much less talking about Air Force veteran and Democratic challenger Connie Pillich.

Mandel declined my interview request. But Pillich was eager to talk about her opponent.

“Pretty much since Day One, Treasurer Josh Mandel has been more focused on what that office can do for his political career than what he can do for the people of Ohio.”

And Pillich said that, coupled with what she called “the cesspool of political abuse in that office” which goes back several terms, made her want to run for treasurer.

While Mandel didn’t sit for an interview with me, he did appear with Pillich before the Editorial Board of the Plain Dealer and the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Mandel told the board he’s played a part in balancing the state budget and bringing the rainy day fund from $0.89 to $1.48 billion, and that his office has won awards for financial management and integrity.

“She hasn’t attacked the accomplishments and the performance in the office once because you can’t," Mandel said. "When you objectively look at the metrics in the treasurer’s office, in every objective metric, we’ve improved the office’s operations.”

Mandel and Pillich are both lawyers, and Pillich also has an MBA.

Mandel said that the state’s financial ranking, which he never specifically defines, went from 43rd in the country to 7th under his leadership. But Pillich said those numbers are from studies that don’t have anything to do with one another.

“Josh might as well have come in here and said, ‘Well, we used to have 43 apples and now we have seven oranges. Look at the improvement,'" she said. "If I had made that kind of analysis in business school, I would have been laughed out of the building. He’s terrific at citing numbers that have nothing to do with the treasurer’s office or anything he did.”

Mandel has been asked repeatedly about wealthy businessman Ben Suarez, who was acquitted of illegal campaign contributions to Mandel. Mandel was never accused in the case, but admits he met Suarez at Suarez’ North Canton home, though Mandel said he doesn’t remember what was discussed. Mandel told the Plain Dealer editorial board that his office did send a letter to officials in California on Suarez’ behalf because he was concerned about jobs at Suarez’ company.

“I know that there was nothing done improper, illegal, improper...in this situation," he said. "There was no quid pro quo in this situation.”

But Pillich said she’s not so sure.

“One does wonder how he could not remember a meeting with a man who generated $100,000 to his campaign, that led to an FBI investigation, a criminal indictment, trial and conviction, and he had to return the money, and it was the subject of much press for months and months and months," she said. "It’s a little surprising that he can’t remember, but his motivations are his.”

Pillich said the solution to political troubles in the treasurer’s office is a bill she’s introduced in the House to create an inspector general of the treasury, who’d be appointed by a bipartisan group of legislative leaders. But Mandel says the treasurer’s office is already audited internally and by the state auditor.

However, Mandel and Pillich do both support a proposal that would put the state’s checkbook online.

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