Former Youngstown-area state Rep. Sylvester Patton, a black Democrat, was right on two fronts Thursday evening when he said the removal of some African American members from the Mahoning County Democratic Party's executive committee was not a ''racist thing'' but a ''Democratic thing'' and that the situation probably could have been better handled.
Patton, the party's vice chair of minority outreach, was right, too, when he said the sides ''need to get together and talk and iron this out.''
Betras drew considerable heat last week from black leaders for removing former Youngstown councilman Artis Gillam Sr.; his wife, current First Ward councilwoman Annie Gillam; and Second Ward Councilman T.J. Rodgers from the party's executive committee for supporting DeMaine Kitchen, a black independent candidate for mayor of Youngstown and not the party nominee, John A. McNally, who is white.
Also, how Betras did it - publicly, rather than privately - came under attack.
Gillam told Tribune Chronicle newspartner WYTV 33 at a news conference Thursday outside the Mahoning County Board of Elections that the committee members felt publicly humiliated by Betras' handling of the situation. The committee members learned of their removal through the media rather than being told privately by Betras.
''We will not tolerate or be part of anything that oppresses or suppresses our people or tries to intimidate us to sway our vote,'' said the Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, who's also asking for an apology from Betras.
''If he is not willing to rectify it, then we need to address it from a legal standpoint,'' Simon said.
Before the press conference Betras released a long statement, in which he pointed out past times when executive committee members were removed or resigned for supporting non-endorsed candidates.
''What my critics either don't understand or are purposely ignoring is the fact that I could care less about a particular candidate's race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or economic status,'' Betras wrote. ''What matters to me is party affiliation. Period.''
Betras said as party chairman it's his obligation to secure wins for the party's endorsed candidates, and he believes party officers share that obligation.
''That does not mean they cannot exercise their right to support non-endorsed candidates. They certainly can,'' Betras wrote, but if they make that choice, they should resign their party positions.
''If they don't I will exercise my authority to remove them from those positions. I've done it before and I will do it again because unity - coalescing behind our nominees - is critical to our strength and continued success as a political organization,'' he wrote.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern even offered his thoughts on the matter, saying in an email Betras forwarded to the media that Betras' actions ''reflect his deep commitment to the values we all share as Democrats.'' Also, Redfern supports Betras ''without hesitation.''
Betras certainly was within is right to remove the executive committee members but could have better handled the situation. He could have told them face-to-face and given them the chance to resign.