LORAIN — Five of the six candidates looking to replace former Mayor Chase Ritenauer on the November ballot have been ruled ineligible thanks to an obscure law.
The section of the Ohio Revised Code precludes anyone who was a candidate in the primary election, whether they won or lost, from being appointed to fill a vacancy on the following November ballot.
Due to that finding, Council members Joel Arredondo, Mary Springowski, Mitch Fallis, Lorain school board member Tony Dimacchia, who won a slot on City Council in May, and city Auditor Karen Shawver are not eligible to be on the ballot as a candidate for the city’s mayor. Former state Rep. Dan Ramos is the only one of the six candidates who was not on the primary election ballot and remains eligible to fill the vacancy on the ballot.
The six candidates had announced their intentions to fill the unexpired term of Ritenauer, whose resignation took effect Friday. It had been believed that the person appointed to fill the unexpired term, which runs through the end of this year, could also fill the Democratic spot on the November ballot.
All six of the candidates are still eligible to fill the unexpired term, but only Ramos could fill the spot on the ballot. The Lorain City Democratic Central Committee will hold a meeting Sunday to appoint someone to fill the unexpired term.
Lorain County Democratic Party Chair Anthony Giardini said he and Lorain City Democratic Party Chair Paul Adams stumbled upon the law within the last couple days.
Giardini said he and Adams began looking into the law pertaining to filling a vacancy on the ballot if an at-large Council candidate was named to replace Ritenauer when they found the statute.
The section of the revised code reads: “No person who seeks party nomination for an office or position at a primary election by declaration of candidacy or by declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate … shall be permitted to become a candidate by nominating petition or by filling a vacancy … at the following general election for any office other than the office of member of the state board of education, office of member of a city, local or exempted village board of education, office of member of a governing board of an educational service center, or office of township trustee.”
Adams then asked the Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office for a legal opinion on the matter. In a letter to Adams dated Tuesday, Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes explained the law.
“It is the conclusion and opinion of this office that candidates who filed declaration of candidacy or declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate in the primary are not permitted to appear on the November ballot as a candidate for the office other than the one for which they may have been the successful nominee,” Innes said in the letter.
On Tuesday, Giardini and Adams met with all six candidates and went over the legal opinion with them.
Springowski, who was unable to be at the meeting in person, said she listened in over the phone.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to look at the law,” she said. “I would like to read the law for myself, and I would like to see how it pertains to everything. I’m not saying anyone is interpreting it incorrectly, or anything like that, but I am curious as to this.”
The other candidates ruled ineligible expressed disappointment in the finding.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t know the rules of the ballgame two or three weeks ago,” Fallis said. “You get geared up and decide to run and start your candidacy and then all of a sudden, five days before the vote, you find out the rules change. It’s just disappointing after gearing up for a run for mayor of Lorain.”
Fallis said he had looked over the law, and he said he feels it does preclude him and the other candidates from running.
“It was a surprise, and I’m disappointed,” he said. “The law is pretty cut and dry that if you’re a candidate, whether you won or lost, it precludes five of the six of us from being eligible to be named on the ballot.”
Shawver expressed disappointment at the timing of the finding.
“I am kind of shocked, especially at this late date that we’re finding out about this now,” she said. “All of the candidates, I’m sure, have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to put forward their best efforts in trying to become mayor.”
Dimacchia had similar thoughts.
“Obviously, I’m completely disappointed in the process,” he said. “I just don’t understand how we didn’t know this information a long time ago, but there’s a lot of things in this whole process that I have questions on.”
Giardini said he takes “responsibility for not having looked at the statute earlier.”
“These elections laws are so complicated, there are hundreds of them, and it is difficult to stay on top of them,” Giardini said. “Unless you come across the issue, you have no reason to look at these statutes because they so seldom come into play.”
Springowski and Arredondo both said they still plan to seek the appointment to fill Ritenauer’s unexpired term even if they can’t run for the position in the general election. Dimacchia, Fallis and Shawver all said they will no longer be candidates for the unexpired term. Dimacchia sent a letter to the Central Committee withdrawing as a candidate.
Ramos said he still plans to seek both the appointment to fill the unexpired term and to fill the vacancy on the November ballot. He also had kind words for all his former opponents.
“They’re all good people, and they’re all good public servants,” Ramos said. “My plan was to bring my vision forward, but I was never running against anyone; I was just running for it. It wasn’t Team Dan versus Team This or Team That. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all on Team Lorain. If I’m the candidate, my intention would be to run alongside them as a ticket.”
Anyone else interested in seeking the appointment for the unexpired term can still do so, as long as they weren’t a candidate in the primary election and meet all other criteria, prior to Sunday’s meeting, Giardini said.
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