Ohio Democrats talk impeachment after AG refuses to resign
By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The political battle over whether state Attorney General Marc Dann should leave office has taken on the feel of a standoff.
Dann, 46, refuses to surrender to demands by an army of his own Democratic leaders that he step aside following an admitted affair and a sexual harassment scandal at his office.
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland said Monday that Dann’s refusal to submit to the pressure — including a threat by the Ohio Democratic Party to revoke its endorsement — means Democrats will move forward to impeach him. Republican House Speaker Jon Husted said that his chamber, which takes the first step in any impeachment, was already reviewing the process.
"I think it’s important for Democrats to send a very clear message that we will clean our own house," Strickland said. Democrats’ calls for Dann to resign were applauded by Republicans, adding a new twist to Strickland’s reputation for bipartisan cooperation.
Dann is the third high-ranking Democratic official around the country to be marred by sexual scandal in recent months.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned abruptly in March after revelations that he had been a customer of a high-end prostitution service. But Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick continues to hold office despite being charged with perjury, misconduct and obstruction of justice for accusations that he tried to hide a long-term romantic relationship with his former chief of staff.
In Dann’s native Mahoning Valley, people were divided, though. The Vindicator of Youngstown is the only major newspaper in the state that hasn’t called for Dann to resign.
Carlotta Sparks Cooper, 44, taking a walk in Youngstown while baby-sitting two grandchildren, said she voted for Dann and hopes he doesn’t resign.
"I feel everybody deserves a second chance," she said. "I believe in the man. I voted for the man. If he did something wrong, give him a chance to rectify it and then take it from there."
Dann showed no signs of budging despite being pitted against every other high-ranking Democrat in the state, including Strickland, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the treasurer and secretary of state, and the entire Democratic caucus in the Legislature.
The governor and Dann were among many Ohio Democrats swept into office in 2006 in the wake of an investment scandal that involved GOP donor Tom Noe and reached to former Republican Gov. Bob Taft.
"When there were those problems, the Republican party sort of circled the wagons and tried to protect him," Brown said. "The difference is, we think when there’s a problem on our side, that we fix it, we correct it, we get a new attorney general and we move on."
A sexual harassment investigation uncovered an atmosphere in Dann’s office rife with inappropriate supervisor-subordinate relationships, heavy drinking and harassing and threatening behavior by a supervisor. At a Friday news conference, Dann admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate after the investigation threatened to reveal the relationship.
Dann conceded that his behavior had contributed to an atmosphere in the office that permitted two junior staffers to be harassed and threatened by a friend he had hired as an aide. He also confessed to being ill-prepared to lead the office after his surprise victory in 2006 and, when asked if he’d engaged in cronyism, the answer was, "Yes."
Dann has insisted, however, that he is still capable of carrying on his work as the state’s lawyer and top law enforcement officer.
"I am in the office, have rolled up my sleeves and am working on behalf of the people of State of Ohio," Dann said in a written statement to his staff that he released. He told Strickland by telephone that he does not believe his actions warrant resignation.
For impeachment proceedings to go forward, Dann must have committed a wrong act, according to the state constitution. Strickland declined to say what act or acts Democrats planned to name against Dann in the proceedings.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said the party plans to vote Saturday on whether to rescind its endorsement of Dann and pull all party resources from him, which would make him "essentially an independent." He said Dann will find it difficult to be effective.