Betras Blasts Chamber for Seeking Role in Campaigns

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A request by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber to be involved with any local visits by Democratic presidential candidates has prompted a confrontational response from the chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party raising a number of questions, including whether the chamber or its CEO expects to be compensated for its involvement.

In an email distributed to news organizations, attorney David Betras, the Mahoning County Democratic Party’s chairman, called on the chamber to support several initiatives favored by Democrats before he would involve the group in any events.

Betras copied the email from Mary Beth Wyko, government affairs coordinator for the Regional Chamber, who requested the organization’s participation..

“I just wanted to touch base regarding the presidential campaign,” Wyko wrote. “If a candidate is planning to visit the Warren/Youngstown area, the Regional Chamber would love to be involved.”

In Betras’ response, the party chairman said that while he appreciated the Regional Chamber’s interest in being involved in any presidential campaign visits, “recent events” force him to impose several stipulations.

Those recent events, he said, include the revelation that the chamber had solicited contributions from local arts organizations to represent their interests in seeking state capital budget funds, a disclosure that prompted the local state legislative delegation to relieve the chamber of its role as a clearinghouse for Ohio capital bill project requests.

“If you do expect to be compensated, please outline the scope of services you intend to offer and the fees charged for those services,” Betras wrote.

The communication from Betras follows years of policy differences between the party chairman and the CEO of the Regional Chamber, Tom Humphries. The chamber was not immediately available for comment.

Betras cited the involvement of Humphries in the creation of the so-called Youngstown Plan for the Youngstown City Schools.

Citing media reports and legal proceedings related to the creation of the plan, it appears that Humphries “prefers secret meetings to public events,” Betras wrote. “Please make sure he knows that candidate visits are publicized in advance and are extensively covered by the print and electronic media.”

Betras also questioned whether Humphries would seek “any personal remuneration” for his involvement in candidate visits, citing his withdrawal of support in 2010 for then-Gov. Ted Strickland because the governor didn’t give a lucrative contract to a Warren company owned by chamber CEO,

In 2007, the Strickland administration reportedly passed over Humphries’ Voice Data Systems Review for a contract with the Ohio Lottery Commission.

“People and groups who participate in visits/events featuring Democratic presidential candidate do so because they support the principles and goals of our party,” Betras continued.

Based on the chamber’s desire to be involved in visits by presidential Democratic candidates, Betras says he is “assuming” the chamber supports policy initiatives such as raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, the Affordable Care Act, repeal of the Youngstown Plan, opposition to right-to-work laws, and substantive charter school reform among other initiatives favored by Democrats.

Betras called on the chamber to provide him and the Democratic Party with a letter affirming the chamber’s “enthusiastic and unqualified support” for the initiatives listed in his communication, an outline for the scope of services the chamber would provide and the potential fees charged for those services, and a statement outlining “any personal financial gain” by Humphries from the chamber’s participation in events.

“When I have received the items listed above I will carefully consider allowing the chamber to be ‘involved’ when Democratic presidential candidates visit our area,” Betras concluded.

 

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.