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Published: Thursday, 5/31/2012

Rising star

Josh Mandel's political career has risen faster than the SpaceX rocket that launched the first private resupply ship to the International Space Station. He could learn lessons from the history of space flight, such as that success depends on paying attention to details and addressing problems before they occur.

Mr. Mandel's resume is a politician's dream: high school quarterback, college student body president, law degree, military service that includes deployment to a war zone, rapid movement up the ladder from city council member to state representative to Ohio treasurer.

Add to that an attractive family, boyish good looks, and a studiously polite demeanor, and it is little wonder that the 34-year-old Republican is giving Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown all he can handle in this year's race for U.S. Senate.

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But the resume includes negatives as well. Left unaddressed, they could cause Mr. Mandel's career to flame out before it achieves the orbit he desires.

The most recent questionable -- but unanswered -- incident involves more than $100,000 in donations to the Mandel campaign from the owner and 16 employees of Canton-based direct marketer Suarez Corp. A Blade investigation last year revealed that at least some of the donors and their spouses gave the legal maximum amount of $20,000 total to Mr. Mandel and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth).

Owner Benjamin Suarez, a backer of Republican causes, says that the Mandel campaign solicited the donations and that his workers are well paid. But records suggest that at least some of the donors are of unusually modest means to contribute that much money to political campaigns. The FBI apparently agrees, and is investigating the donations.

The discovery that some campaign donations are questionable is not unusual. But they tarnish the squeaky-clean image Mr. Mandel projects, and call into question the wisdom of his fund-raising trips to New York, Hawaii, and the Bahamas.

The campaign shrugged off concerns for several months, and has declined to share much information about the investigation with voters. Mr. Mandel returned the donations last week -- months after the FBI investigation began.

Mr. Mandel also has created questions but provided few explanations about other issues. The state treasurer missed his first 14 monthly meetings of the Ohio Board of Deposit, which he chairs. Skipped meetings, frequent fund-raising jaunts, and his campaign for the next job he covets suggest a lack of focus on the job voters elected him to do.

Mr. Mandel has not adequately addressed charges that he rewarded campaign aides with high-paying jobs in the treasurer's office. He can't provide some of their resumes to dispel doubts about their qualifications for their taxpayer-funded jobs.

Previously, Mr. Mandel's terns as a Lyndhurst City Council member and a state representative both were interrupted by deployments to Iraq. That's honorable duty and, as his campaign attests, great material for TV advertisements.

Voters do owe the treasurer a debt of gratitude: His absences show that state-level row offices, like their county counterparts, might be better off in the hands of professional administrators rather than politicians and their cronies.

None of Mr. Mandel's self-inflicted political wounds appears fatal, yet. But he needs to stop the bleeding and to be more forthcoming with voters. And he needs to be seen doing the job he was elected to do, rather than constantly reaching for the next star on the political horizon.



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