Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 1:18 PM
Normally the state treasurer's race doesn't attract a lot of attention. But this year, accusations leveled by Democrat challenger Mary Boyle against Republican incumbent Joe Deters have caught the attention of newspapers and voters statewide. (Boyle charges that Deters accepted large campaign contributions from people who do business with the state treasurer's office. Deters responds that's perfectly legal - and that Boyle has her own accountability problems, dating from when she was Cuyahoga County Commissioner.) In the wider political arena, pundits say this is the only race where a Cleveland area Democrat has a realistic chance for statewide office. ideastream's Karen Schaefer lays out the issues.
Karen Schaefer: The state treasurer's office acts as Ohio's banking system. After the bills are paid, it's the treasurer's responsibility to invest any money left over and to make investments for the state's pension funds. Both candidates say they have the experience to do the job well. Republican incumbant Joe Deters has held the office of treasurer for the last four years. Before that the 45-year old Cincinnati native served as Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and was also a county prosecutor. Deters touts 17 national awards he's won for streamlining the treasurer's office. He says despite the state's recent economic woes, Ohio's money has never been safer.
Joe Deters: The thing I'm most proud of is the level of safety and the lack of risk in the state's portfolio, which is unparalleled since I became treasurer.
KS: Even with a low-risk focus, Deters says he's made a record $1 billion in returns on the state's investments. But Democratic challenger Mary Boyle of Cleveland says Deters has been too cautious. A three-time Cuyahoga County Commissioner, the 60-year old Boyle also served six years as a state representative. She says she knows how to handle money - and she thinks she can make the state even more.
Mary Boyle: The platform proposals, for instance, include competitive bidding for the services that the treasurer purchases for depositing pension funds and other depositing matters that come before the treasurer. And then reporting, public reporting and accountability for who's doing business with the office.
KS: Deters calls Boyle's 13-point investment proposals too risky. He points to the so-called SAFE scandal, when Cuyahoga County lost $114 million in investments under Boyle's watch as commissioner.
JD: I just think it ought to be frightening to anyone that a public fund manager is constantly touting higher yields. That is the recipe for disaster. It was the exact same thing that happened to Mary in Cleveland in 1995.
KS: But Cleveland State University Professor of Political Science James Kweder says Deter's attack on Boyle's performance is primarily a defensive shot.
James Kweder: Jim Petro was serving as a county commissioner at the same time that she was and he has discounted the allegations that somehow she bore any responsibility for the failure of the SAFE program.
KS: Boyle says voters should take a close look at the pay-to-play issue she's raised against her opponent.
MB: He has admitted that he aggressively raised funds from people that do business with his office.
KS: Deters has come under fire from Democrats for a number of fund-raising issues. They include getting money directly from jailed investment broker Frank Gruttadaria and laundering more than $300,000 in questionable campaign contributions through the Hamilton County Republican Party. Newspaper stories have tracked contributions donated to state party coffers from businesses that contract with the state treasurer's office, donations that were later redistributed to Deter's campaign. Deters has spent more than one-and-a-half million of those dollars on TV ads, while Boyle launched her first TV ad just last week. While none of Deter's fund-raising practices have proved to be illegal, they have raised concerns about the ethics of this kind of campaign funding, concerns which Deters dismisses.
JD: It's a lie. Frank Gruttadaria never gave my campaign a dime. And I've constantly through this campaign challenged my opponent to say where we have made a decision based on a political contribution. Of course, there's no proof of it.
KS: Deters charges that Boyle has also received money from contractors, although in admittedly smaller amounts. He's also attacked his opponent for accepting an early retirement buyout from Cuyahoga County after declaring her opposition to such plans. At this point neither candidate can claim to be squeaky clean. But it's unclear how much of a shadow these allegations have raised in voters' minds. Through most of the summer, Boyle held a small, but substantive lead over the incumbant. But in the last month, those figures have reversed themselves. Professor James Kweder believes that - from a political perspective - the pay-to-play charges are typical campaign rhetoric. But he says it will be voters who decide if there's really fire behind all the smoke.
JK: The only serious weakness that and incumbant ordinarily has is a scandal. And the Democrats are trying to capture the attention of the voters and have them move away from the incumbent and to support Mary Boyle.
KS: Kweder believes it's unlikely the allegations against Deters will have repercussions for the rest of the Republican ticket, although he says a scandal in the 1970's did cause a statewide upset. But he says if the issue does resonate enough with voters to oust Deters, it would give Democrats a much-needed foothold in statewide offices. The outcome will depend on who voters believe - and how many voters from each party get to the polls on November 5th. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.