J.P. Ducro IV is a man of his word.

Ducro, a Republican running for reelection to his Ashtabula County Commissioners seat, has confirmed his intent to participate in the Star Beacon’s planned candidate forums.

At present, Ducro is the only Ashtabula County GOP candidate who is honoring his preliminary commitment.

Weeks ago, the Star Beacon management team — including Publisher Sharon Sorg, Advertising Director James Briggs, Director of Audience Development Roy Jenkins and Editor Ed Puskas — formulated the idea of conducting a candidate forum to give those running for office in the county’s top races an opportunity to connect with voters and make a case for themselves and what they might bring to the job.

The Democratic and Republican candidates in each of six contests — state representative, common pleas court judge, prosecutor, sheriff and two commissioner races — were all contacted personally and all agreed in principle to participate.

GOP prosecutor candidate Colleen O’Toole expressed an interest to participate, but is currently living and working outside the United States and could not — or would not —  travel here for the forums. She wanted to participate via Zoom or through a video filmed in advance, but we did not think that was fair to the other candidates.

Some candidates had questions, which is understandable, given that the idea of a candidate forum is a new and ambitious endeavor.

Chief among the concerns was how such an event could be conducted safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

We wondered the same thing, but after discussing the matter with the Ashtabula County Department of Health, determined that we could indeed bring candidates’ messages to the public while observing COVID-19 regulations.

Initially, the forums were to be conducted here at the Star Beacon in downtown Ashtabula and streamed live on Facebook and our website.

As the idea for the forum grew, our plans evolved and the opportunity arose for the event to be staged at Max’s Pizza and Grill, 2893 N. Ridge Rd., in Ashtabula Township.

Some candidates had questions about the format and the questions that would be posed to them. The Star Beacon management team decided that the questions would not be provided in advance and that they would come from reader submissions, which we’re still accepting at debates@starbeacon.com.

Other than those concerns, we felt confident we had secured verbal commitments from each candidate in the races we intended to feature.

Until Friday, Sept. 4.

That’s when Ashtabula County Republican Party Chairman Charlie Frye emailed Sorg to notify her that he believed none of his candidates — with the exception of Ducro — would participate.

Not along after that, GOP candidates Sarah Fowler (state representative), Kathryn Whittington  (commissioner) and Bill Niemi (sheriff) all confirmed that they would not take part. At press time Friday night,  David Schroeder (common pleas judge) is undecided about his intentions, but like his fellow GOP candidates, he had initially confirmed he planned to participate.

We’re disappointed that some Republican candidates chose to pass on an opportunity to make a case for themselves and their plans to our readers. We don’t have a dog in any of these fights, since the newspaper’s policy is that we do not endorse candidates. We simply wanted to provide a service to you — our readers — and give you a chance to ask relevant questions and learn about how these candidates intend to serve you in the positions they seek.

After all, no matter what the job is, ultimately those who win office will be working for you.

We’re curious about what changed and why Frye wouldn’t want his party’s candidates to take questions and make their platforms known publicly. Certainly, Frye wants you to vote for the GOP candidates. If he wants your vote, he should want his candidates to tell you why they should get it.

Is it possible that the GOP’s reluctance to participate is a sign that Frye lacks confidence in some of his own candidates?

Whatever their motivations are, the show, as they say, will go on. We believe it is important for our readers to have as much information as possible before voting.

Frye and the county GOP may disagree, but Eli Kalil, chairman of the Ashtabula County Democratic Party, has confirmed his candidates’ earlier commitments to participate.

They include Richard Dana (state representative), Marie Lane (common pleas judge), Cecelia Cooper (prosecutor), William Johnson (sheriff) and Susan Hagan and Angel McVoy (commissioner).

So ultimately, Frye succeeded only in limiting your access to several of his own party’s candidates. 

Why? We were puzzled then and remain so today. Perhaps that’s a question Frye — who doubles as the chairman of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections — should be called upon to answer in the days to come.  

But for now, let’s give credit to all of the candidates who have agreed to participate and share their qualifications and aspirations for what  lies ahead for our communities.


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