Democrats opt to leave Cleveland-area seat open until primary

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Democrats in the Ohio House have reached an impasse in choosing a replacement for a departed member and will wait until a nominee is chosen in the May 2 primary to fill the seat.

The winner of the five-way primary will be appointed to the seat left vacant when Rep. Dale Miller of Cleveland was appointed to replace Dan Brady in the state Senate.

The decision by House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus upset the American Civil Liberties Union, which in 2002 successfully sued Ohio Gov. Bob Taft for failing to call a special election to replace imprisoned U.S. Rep. James Traficant.

Miller, an eight-year House veteran, was planning to run for Brady's seat, but Brady left last month to join the administration of new Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. Democrats in the Senate voted to appoint Miller to serve the remainder of Brady's term.

Brady and Miller could not seek re-election because of term limits. Miller will run for a full four-year term in November.

Five people filed for the May 2 primary to replace Miller: former state Rep. Erin Sullivan Lally, Mike Foley, Susan Mahon, Bill Ritter and William McGivern, all of Cleveland.

Beatty said she decided to let voters in the district on Cleveland's west side pick Miller's successor after her 39-member caucus could not reach a consensus on a candidate.

That's not a good reason to leave Miller's seat empty, said Christine Link, the ACLU of Ohio's executive director.

Her group sued Taft over Traficant's seat, which remained empty from his expulsion from Congress in July 2002 for a bribery conviction until the general election in November that year. Taft had decided it was not worth the expense or possible voter confusion to hold a special election for a new lawmaker who could end up serving just a few weeks. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

"We think any day is too many days for citizens to be unrepresented," Link said. "This is in the party's interest, not the constituents'."

Link said the group had not made a decision on whether to ask a court to force the Democrats to make an appointment. Ohio law and House rules do not set a time frame for an appointment.

Beatty said her caucus had narrowed the field to Lally and Foley but could not make a clear choice. She added that she usually consults with the departing lawmaker and the county party chairman, but that in this case neither Miller nor Cuyahoga County party chairman Jimmy Dimora made an endorsement. She said a House staff member and policy specialist are working in Miller's office until the election.

"One of our own folks who understands the district does that every day," Beatty said. "The citizens deserve to pick their own person."

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