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COLUMBUS - The shunning has begun.
With one negative vote, the Ohio Democratic Party's state executive committee yesterday retroactively stripped Attorney General Marc Dann of its endorsement for the 2006 election.
It echoed the call early in the week from Gov. Ted Strickland and other top Democratic officeholders for the attorney general to resign or face impeachment proceedings in the wake of a sex scandal in the attorney general's office.
Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), the party's state chairman, characterized Mr. Dann as being a Democrat with "a small 'd'.''
"Anyone can run with the title ...,'' he said. "He can call himself anything that he wants, but he's no longer viewed by the state party, the only body that's in charge of doing so, as an endorsed Democrat.''
Mr. Dann did not attend the meeting. Mr. Redfern noted that the attorney general would not have been recognized to speak to the committee to defend himself if he had attended.
Mr. Dann admitted on May 2 that, soon after taking office last year, he began an extramarital affair with a subordinate, and said he feared his affair may have contributed to an office atmosphere that led one of his top aides, to allegedly sexually harass two other employees.
He fired that aide, Anthony Gutierrez; fired Communications Director Leo Jennings for allegedly encouraging another employee to mislead an internal investigation; and accepted the forced resignation of another aide, Edgar Simpson, for allegedly failing to act quickly enough when the harassment complaints were filed.
Mr. Dann, however, has said he has done nothing to warrant his own resignation.
"The attorney general completely understands why they did this, and he's working every day to earn back their trust,'' said Jason Stanford, a spokesman for Mr. Dann's campaign committee. "That said, the resolution is predicated on a false premise. No one has demonstrated that the legal work of the attorney general has suffered one whit ...
"The second problem is that Marc Dann, as long as he is alive, has worked to elect Democrats,'' he said. "This morning he woke up as a Democrat. Tonight, he will go to sleep as a Democrat, regardless of what anybody wants to do about that.''
Dorothy McLaughlin, a state committeeman from Struthers, Mahoning County, cast the sole negative vote.
"He who have no sin among you, you cast the first stone ,'' she said. "Sure, the other fellows did wrong, but as far as I'm concerned, leave him go ahead. It's too soon. I would say give him a couple more months. He'll probably get out himself.''
John McClelland, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said Democrats can't erase the "black eye on their party'' so easily. "[The resolution] doesn't mean anything,'' he said. "They endorsed him in 2006. Of course, they did the right thing by calling for him to resign, but they helped him get elected. They can't selectively erase him from their memory.''
Mr. Dann is expected to formally call for an outside review, most likely conducted by a Republican, of the internal investigation already conducted that led to the two firings and forced resignation. Republican legislative leaders, as they consider impeachment, are talking about changing state law to give the Ohio inspector general authority to investigate the operations of the attorney general's office.
"[The resolution was] something that needed to be done, primarily because there's embarrassment and there's disappointment, and it's escalating,'' said Rep. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), a committeeman. "Dann obviously has dug his heels in and he will not resign, so the party in its wisdom is doing what it thinks is best to try to preserve what might be left.''
Subodh Chandra, the former Cleveland law director who lost the 2006 primary election to Mr. Dann, watched yesterday as the party tried to rewrite history.
"We certainly did make the case to the party in 2006 that there were significant issues in his background that should cause one concern, but I don't think even we predicted self-immolation to this extent,'' he said.
He said he would be interested in gubernatorial appointment to the post should a vacancy occur.
"I've been in politics since I was 14 years of age, and I've never seen a situation like this,'' said Mike Friedman, a central committeeman representing western Lucas County.
"It's sad, because Mr. Dann ran on a commitment to clean up the mess here in Columbus created in the last 16 years [of Republican control], and now he's done something like this,'' he said. "This was almost a slam-dunk, a done deal.''
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