Lorain County Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Giardini was soundly defeated Wednesday in his bid to replace Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.
Giardini and Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the vote was 51 to 10 for Redfern. Both Giardini and Ritenauer credited the endorsement of Redfern by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, for the decisive victory.
Giardini said Brown, who is being challenged by Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, told him in a recent phone call that he was concerned a change in party leadership might hurt his and other Democrats’ chances in November.
“We had a very pleasant conversation, no angry words or anything like that,” said Giardini, who was elected county chairman on March 29. “I’ll be not only voting for him but working hard for him.”
Ritenauer said he voted for Redfern because of Brown’s endorsement.
“The senator really doesn’t get involved in these types of races, and the fact that he got involved (and) made his preference clear and the fact that he’s got the most to lose this year, depending on who the chairman is, that solidified it,” Ritenauer said.
Ritenauer, a member of the state Democratic Party’s Central Committee, said his vote wasn’t because of a lack of faith in Giardini.
“It was a very tough vote to make because I think highly of both of them,” Ritenauer said.
Giardini’s challenge of Redfern, a former state lawmaker from Port Clinton, was partially based on Redfern’s decision to run for state representative again.
Redfern is seeking to replace state Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky, who is stepping down to spend more time at his law practice after the death of a partner.
“They were afraid we (Democrats) would lose the seat, and I run very well there. It’s my home,” Redfern said. “I literally gathered the signatures the night before the filing deadline.”
Giardini felt that if Redfern were elected, his responsibilities as a state representative would limit his duties as party chair. Giardini, an attorney who represents the Lorain Board of Education, said before the election that if he were elected party chair, a law firm partner would probably take over his duties with the school board.
Redfern said he consulted with Brown and others before making the decision, and no one raised concerns about him running. He was a sitting lawmaker when he first ran for chairman in 2005 and served simultaneously in both jobs for about three years.
At least one of the labor unions that lined up behind Giardini pointed to another reason for wanting to replace Redfern — the Democrats’ sweeping losses in 2010.
Kenny Holland, secretary treasurer of the Laborers’ District Council of Ohio, wrote in a letter of support for Giardini that the Democrats’ “devastating” 2010 defeat has shaken his confidence in the chairman. The party headed into that election with control of all but one statewide office, and wound up losing every seat in a Republican sweep.
Redfern backers pointed to labor’s subsequent victory in 2011, turning back Republican Gov. John Kasich’s anti-union proposal, Senate Bill 5.
Besides controlling the estimated $60 million likely to flow through the party this year, Redfern will now lead Democrats’ effort to defeat Kasich in 2014.
Redfern was picked in 2005 to lead the state Democratic Party by soon-to-be Gov. Ted Strickland.
Strickland lost a re-election bid in 2010 but has not ruled out running again in 2014. Besides Brown, who is the state’s highest-ranking Democratic elected official, Redfern had the support of the Ohio House minority leader, state Rep. Armond Budish, D-Beachwood.
Giardini’s candidacy was orchestrated by political strategist and fundraiser Melissa Barnhart, an ally of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.
Cordray, who, like Strickland, lost a re-election bid in 2010, is serving as President Barack Obama’s consumer protection director. He has not ruled out a run for governor in 2014.
Redfern will be serving his fourth term as party chair, and Giardini said Redfern’s incumbency gave him a big advantage. Giardini said Redfern has gotten to know most of the 66-member Central Committee personally over the years.
“Whereas, I had three weeks to try to get to meet them, which, of course, is physically impossible because they’re so spread out over the state,” Giardini said.
Giardini said he didn’t get a chance to congratulate Redfern on Wednesday but plans to call him today. Despite their differences, Giardini said he doesn’t believe his challenge of Redfern will have any repercussions for the county party. He said both will campaign for Obama, Brown, Lorain County commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski and other Democrats as November approaches.
“We’re still both Democrats,” Giardini said. “We’re still on the same team.”
On Friday, the Ohio Republican Party will settle an even more pointed and public feud of its own when its central committee chooses a replacement to a party chair who resigned under pressure from Kasich and his allies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.