LISBON - The Democratic Party has taken the unusual step of endorsing Columbiana County Recorder Craig Brown's primary opponent, saying the latest allegations against him left the organization little choice.
"Ultimately, the voters determine whether an elected official should remain in office. The Democrat Party encourages voters to support candidates with qualities becoming a public official. That person is not Craig Brown," wrote county Democratic Party Chairman Dennis Johnson in a news release issued Thursday.
The party is instead endorsing Brenda Dickey Myers, Brown's opponent in the March 6 Democratic primary election.
"Endorsing against an incumbent does not often occur. By this action, the Columbiana County Democrat Party has sent a clear message. We hope the voters are listening ...," Johnson said.
The action by the party comes little more than a week after the Salem News first reported a former recorder's office employee named Regina filed complaints accusing Brown of deliberately mispronouncing her first name in a way that rhymed with a part of the female anatomy. She said this occurred on three more occasions after she told him to stop, which was disputed by Brown, who said he quit immediately after being told she was offended by what he described as a playful nickname he came up for her.
This was the second time Brown has been accused in the newspaper of making improper comments, with the other alleged incident occurring in September 2010, when Brown served as director for the Johnny Appleseed Festival queen pageant. The mother of a queen contestant accused Brown of making improper comments in front of her daughter, which he denied.
"At that time we expressed concerns about allegations against Mr. Brown. Although disturbed, we determined to reserve judgment until more facts were disclosed," Johnson said.
"In light of the recent disclosures it appears Mr. Brown has conducted himself in a manner inconsistent with the principles of the Democrat Party. Enough is enough. The executive board, in good conscience, can neither offer nor endorse Craig Brown as a candidate for public office," he added.
When contacted for this story, Brown decried the board's decision as an illegitimate action conducted by a small group of Myers supporters who are using the latest allegations as an opportunity to undermine his re-election efforts.
"This is the worst kind of politics. It's unfair, it's undemocratic ... This isn't a legal or legitimate endorsement in my opinion," he said.
The party's executive board, which met Wednesday night to endorse Myers, consists of all elected Democrat county officeholders plus at-large members appointed by the chairman. Brown said as an elected county official, he should have been notified but instead found out about it on his own and went to the meeting. He and his wife were allowed to stay for a portion of the meeting.
"I should have been allowed to stay and hear everything that was said," he said.
Brown said the endorsement issue should have been brought up before the central committee, which consists of the executive board and precinct committee members elected by Democrats.
Brown said politics is the real reason behind the decision, and he is being punished for not being a good party member. He said party leadership leaned on him to hire certain Democrats in his office, regardless of whether they were qualified, "and I bucked that pressure."
"I refuse to hire someone just because they put up signs for Linda Bolon, or whoever," he said, referring to the former state representative who is running for county treasurer. "This is politics as usual ..."
Johnson predicted in his news release that Brown would attribute their decision to politics "and will attempt to portray himself as the victim. He is not the victim, although real victims exist. As Democrats, we stand for good government. The people of Columbiana County should rightfully expect officeholders to be worthy of their trust, regardless of politics," he said.
Brown is upset the party would abandon him over these allegations without giving him a real chance to address the accusations, noting in the United States you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
Brown pointed out he has been endorsed by the United Auto Workers in every election, including this year, and he also picked up the endorsement of the Citizens for Community Values, which describes itself as an organization that promotes Judeo-Christian moral values.
As for what impact the party's actions will have on the election, Brown said voters should judge him on how well he runs his office instead of what he described as unfounded allegations.
"If you look at the facts, there's no contest who is more qualified. That's why no one has attacked my record," he said.