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Conflict ramps up in local GOP

There is no love lost between Trumbull County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Wyndham and Niki Frenchko, a GOP candidate for county commissioner challenging incumbent Democrat Dan Polivka.

While the friction between the two has been going on since before the primary, it’s hit a boiling point in the past few months.

Frenchko raised numerous objections to the inclusion of Dennis Malloy — an independent taking on the other incumbent Democratic commissioner, Mauro Cantalamessa — on the Republican slate card.

“The party is doing something unlawful, not right and not compliant with process or bylaws,” Frenchko wrote in a Sept. 16 email to Jackie Loges, the party’s first vice chairwoman. “That represents EVERYTHING I am running against that is wrong in our county — right in our party!”

Malloy, as Frenchko points out, isn’t a Republican.

But Wyndham responded by email “the party hasn’t done anything ‘unlawful.’ We voted UNANIMOUSLY as an executive committee to let him appear on the slate cards. I personally have done nothing ‘dishonestly,’ and not made ANY decision without the officers and / or executive committee input and support. To say I’ve acted dishonestly is to say essentially the county party as a whole has acted dishonestly.”

Frenchko provided a number of the emails to this newspaper a few weeks ago.

There is no Republican on the ballot against Cantalamessa, so the Ohio Republican Party had no issues putting Malloy on slate card literature sent to voters to back the party’s candidates, Wyndham said.

The ORP literature states the candidates are endorsed, which isn’t correct, but Wyndham said that was the state party’s decision and not his or anyone on the local level.

Frenchko told me some in party leadership, particularly Wyndham, “manipulated the process, and I have a personal duty to stand up against them. I’m not against the Republican Party, but if people are doing something inappropriately, it should be expected people should stand up and say it’s wrong. When you try to do something right, you get a target on your back.”

Malloy got on the ballot after a lengthy fight at the Trumbull County Board of Elections over the validity of his petitions. Secretary of State Frank LaRose broke a tie July 17, certifying Malloy to the ballot.

The main sticking point was a nominating petition circulated by Wyndham that had a woman sign for her husband even though her spouse was there. The elections board has referred the matter for criminal investigation.

Wyndham accused Frenchko of trying to push the investigation. Frenchko said she’s spoken with investigators from the sheriff’s office, as have others, but she’s definitely not behind the probe. She added it’s ridiculous to believe she has power over the investigation.

But Wyndham told me Frenchko is arguing for no legitimate reason.

“She picks fights with everybody I know, literally everybody,” he said. “I stay clear of her. She’s her own worst enemy. I have nine local candidates and 90 percent of the time has been devoted to her. It’s crazy stuff. If you don’t agree with her, you make a mortal enemy of her. Everything not in her favor is a conspiracy against her.”

Wyndham said he’s blocked Frenchko’s texts and cellphone number and other party officers have done the same.

Frenchko said she’s “not a difficult personality. I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

Wyndham certainly disagrees.

This can’t be good for a party desperately trying to win races in a county controlled by Democrats.

OTHER NOTES

l I’ll be a panelist at Monday’s debate among U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, and his Republican challenger, Christina Hagan of Marlboro Township and Libertarian Mike Fricke of Kent.

It will be the only debate among candidates seeking the 13th Congressional District seat and should be informative and potentially heated.

It will be livestreamed on this newspapers’ website, www.trib today.com, starting at 7 p.m. Monday.

l Trumbull County Democratic Party and Trumbull County Young Dems are hosting a countywide drive-thru candidate sign distribution and sample ballot drive 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the rear of Pinetree Plaza, 36 Youngstown Warren Road in Niles, where the party headquarters is located.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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