By The Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group Editorial Board
The Ohio Treasurer’s Office has often served as a way station for political up-and-comers — despite the fact it is the state’s all-important tax collection and investment arm.
Certainly, Treasurer Josh Mandel, 37, has treated it that way. Thanks largely to a competent staff, he’s also kept the state’s coffers safe and in order despite his unrelenting penchant for fundraising and campaigning. But where Mandel has struggled is containing his ambition and safeguarding his own integrity (highlights added).
No sooner did Mandel, a Republican who now lives in Beachwood, win the treasurer’s job in 2010, than he started running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, a race that revealed Mandel has plenty of gall, but little gumption.
Leading up to that election, Mandel showed an incredible lapse in judgment when a letter went out over his signature, on treasurer’s stationery, intervening on behalf of North Canton businessman Benjamin Suarez in a regulatory dispute in California. Just days later, Mandel’s campaign received about $100,000 from Suarez and Suarez employees and their relatives.
In connection with those contributions and additional ones made to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, Suarez was charged with campaign-finance-related violations (he was found not guilty on all charges except obstruction of justice).
Neither Mandel nor Renacci were charged — and both have denied doing anything wrong. Both gave the Suarez money back.
Mandel defines his actions on behalf of Suarez as an elected official helping to save jobs in Ohio, yet in an interview with the editorial board, he could not think of another instance where he personally intervened with a constituent under such circumstances. He also waffled bizarrely over whether he actually signed the letter himself, claiming amnesia over this particular point.
Finally, Mandel — an Iraq War veteran who started his political career as a Lyndhurst council member and has seemed always to be running for the next office — also declined to commit to serving a full second term should he be re-elected.
It’s time for him to go. His Democratic challenger, state Rep. Connie Pillich, 54, an attorney from the Cincinnati area, would be far more level-headed and more committed to the job as treasurer.
Pillich has an impressive background of leadership and achievement. She rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force, earning her MBA along the way.She also ran her own law practice after getting a law degree, and for the last six years has represented a fairly conservative district in the Ohio House despite being a Democrat and a target of Tea Party Republicans.
She has bipartisan respect — and her suggestion for appointing an independent inspector general to keep an eye on the treasurer’s office has merit.
Pillich stumbled in the endorsement interview with an ill-considered attack on Mandel for taking state pension business away from a bank favored by the prior (Democratic) treasurer’s corrupt deputy, Amer Ahmad, after the bank came under a cloud in California. That was a wise call by Mandel.
But it’s clear Pillich can be counted on to be full-time administrator of what she has called “the most important office that pretty much nobody talks about.” She’s pledged to serve a full term and, at the same time, she won’t make a mockery of the honor and privilege of being elected to statewide office.
Pillich should be elected.
Read Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsement and listen to endorsement meeting interview.