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Local candidates introduce themselves

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County has a full slate of candidates to choose from in contested national, state and local elections this Nov. 3 and on Tuesday, a majority of those office-seekers gathered at St. Clairsville’s J.B. Martin Recreation Center to introduce themselves to the public.

The St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, and Michael McTeague, assistant professor at Ohio University Eastern, served as announcer.

The audience was socially distanced, seated singley or in pairs 6 feet apart, with many wearing masks to guard against spreading the new coronavirus. The crowd heard from Michael Fletcher, candidate for the Ohio Senate 30th District seat, who is challenging incumbent Frank Hoagland. Fletcher, a Democrat, emphasized the importance of civility and common identity as Americans. Fletcher said education was a focus of his campaign and that the longtime dominance of Republicans in the state legislature has led to an imbalance and lack of action in reforming the school funding system.

In answer to questions from the audience, he said teachers are overburdened.

“We need to let teachers teach,” he said.

Hoagland was unable to attend due to a conflict with his legislative duties, but he provided a statement McTeague read aloud. Hoagland wrote that he has focused his term on issues of education, mobility, communications and supporting veterans. His work has included directing funding to more road repairs, programs to treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse issues, and attempts to increase access to broadband internet access.

“Our children deserve every capacity to learn,” Hoagland wrote.

McTeague played a short video from U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. His opponent in the District 6 congressional race, Democrat Shawna Roberts of Belmont, was not present.

Next the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives 96th District introduced themselves and answered questions. Jack Cera,D-Bellaire, the current representative, is term-limited and concluding his service in office.

Richard Olivito, the Democratic candidate, was endorsed by Cera and said he was informed by the values of his father, Judge Dominick Olivito Sr., and the discrimination faced as an immigrant and the importance of fairness. He said he learned the importance of unions and workers’ protections. He focused on labor law and worked on the first proposal for an increase in state minimum wage. In answer to questions from the audience, Olivito said he would follow Cera’s example in encouraging job growth.

“We have to focus on union jobs, not just jobs that pay minimum wage,” he said.

Ron Ferguson, the Republican candidate, said he was motivated by the need for leaders to step up to serve the best interests of the people in a time of incivility and personal attacks. Coming from a family of business owners, Ferguson said he believes the role of government in job creation is clearing red tape for businesses.

“There’s far too many government laws on the books right now,” he said.

Libertarian candidate Oscar Herrera emphasized the need for rule of law, equality and lower taxes. He said the area should continue looking to new industries, adding that many old jobs have been shipped overseas.

“Those jobs won’t come back, but there are new and emerging industries that we should look forward to,” he said.

In answer to questions from the audience, all three candidates said the choice to reopen schools during the coronavirus pandemic should be left to the individual districts.

Candidates for county commissioner spoke next. In one of two races for board seats, Democratic challenger Michael Bianconi leveled criticisms against his opponent, incumbent Republican Josh Meyer, saying a piece of county property was sold without sufficient advertising and the site of the future county court and prosecutor’s building could have been used for industry.

Meyer countered that the sold property had stood vacant for 30 years and could bring more jobs to the area after it is developed. He said consolidating the courts and moving the board of elections and title office to the new site, located east of St. Clairsville and formerly owned by The Health Plan, will mean a savings of $100,000 in rent.

One pressing question from an audience member concerned jail overcrowding. For several years, Belmont County has had to transfer inmates to the Jefferson County Jail to be held at a cost. Bianconi said he would consult with the judges and ask them to consider programs such as community service with work crews as alternatives to jail time for certain offenders. Meyer said a jail expansion is likely necessary, but it will be a costly undertaking and require considerable planning.

In the race for a commission second seat, Independent challenger Vince Gianangeli spoke about his extensive financial experience at multiple levels of government and his workas financial director then director of the Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services, which included the Department of Senior Services for a time. He said assisting children and senior citizens has always been a priority for him.

Incumbent Republican J.P. Dutton said his record during his term of taking the long-term view, paying off outstanding debt and maintaining a conservative budget is helping the county weather the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact on the county.

Questions touched on the two candidates’ stances on a proposed injection well that may be placed at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ohio 331. Both voiced their opposition to that site for the project. The candidates also spoke about their efforts to encourage companies to provide more internet access to less served areas.

Auditor Anthony Rocchio, a Democrat, spoke about his office’s accomplishments during the coronavirus pandemic. His opponent, Republican Cindi Henry, could not attend.

Recorder candidates Jason Garczyk, a Republican, and Cory DelGuzzo, a Democrat, spoke about ways to modernize the office with measures such as e-filing. One of them will replace lontime Recorder Mary Catherine Nixon, who decided to retire.

The event also included many candidates who were running unopposed, such as Sheriff David Lucas and the common pleas, juvenile and probate court judges.

TheBelmont County NAACP will hold another Meet the Candidates night at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Martins FerryRecreation Center, 401 S. Fourth Street.

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