Justice William O'Neill to Ohio Dems: Run Away!

After a piss-poor statewide showing in 2014 — remember when we all found out that Ed FitzGerald didn’t even have a driver’s license for like a decade? — the Ohio Democratic Party is on the ropes. Their next Big Race: the U.S. Senate seat presently occupied by Sen. Rob Portman. With 17 months until the actual election, Ohio Dems formally endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland last week.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill — and surely thousands of other voters — ain’t happy. The judge published a scathing Facebook post (a “personal heartfelt message,” he says) last weekend, eviscerating the Ohio Democratic Party and urging everyone to stay away far from it.

“Leave the Ohio Democratic Party immediately. I have just learned that they have made an endorsement in the US Senate race for my dear friend Ted Strickland. When you see Ted, give him a hug and kiss him goodbye. He is a walking dead man.”

Columbus Dispatch correspondent Jessica Wehrman initially broke the story, and the words stuck. Political observers around the state either rejoiced in agreement or lashed out with vitriol.

O’Neill’s basic message was that the electoral process is just better served by having at least the sense that the Democratic primary will be worthwhile and robust. Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is the other name in the ring at the moment, and both his youth and hefty early-campaign donation have garnered more than a few curious supporters. O’Neill called Sittenfeld a “young Ted Strickland,” in fact, and added that an open primary would make for a stronger candidate.

This is no knock on Strickland himself, of course. On the surface, he’s got plenty of the stuff that wins elections: name recognition, state and federal experience to which he can point, and a healthy cache of big-money donors upon whom to call.

But with a party stricken by rigor mortis and an increasingly approved-of incumbent on the other side of the race, there’s little in the way of shining optimism. Except maybe for underdog P.G. Sittenfeld.

O’Neill concluded his anti-paean with a frightening image: “Run people. Run. The inmates are running the asylum.”
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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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