Marc Dann was the weakest link in the Democrats’ 2006 sweep of five out of six Ohio statewide offices, winning the attorney general’s race with just 52 percent of the vote. He’s looking even weaker now, barely holding onto his job after revelations that the state’s top law enforcement office has been run like a frat house under his watch.
On Friday, four staffers from the Ohio attorney general’s office quit or were fired in connection with a sexual harassment investigation while the attorney general himself admitted to an extramarital affair with his 28-year-old former scheduler. “I did not create an atmosphere in my public and personal life that is consistent with the important mission of the office of attorney general,” Dann acknowledged.
That’s one way of putting it. After taking office as attorney general, Dann hired his Youngstown pal Anthony Gutierrez as general services manager. Gutierrez decided it was time to loosen up the place. He told investigators, “When I had first came to that department, everything was like, more or less, church… I said you can’t be productive by being quiet and always having your nose right to everything. You can liven up and be more relaxed.”
Gutierrez now stands accused of sexually harassing multiple women in the office. One charged that Gutierrez invited her to an apartment he shared with Dann for drinks and that she woke up with her pants unbuttoned. Dann’s communications director Leo Jennings, the third roommate in the apartment, allegedly encouraged a staff attorney to lie to obstruct the sexual harassment investigation. “I will not lie like Leo wants me to,” the attorney wrote in a text message to Dann. “I will not risk my bar admission. I love you and Tony and Leo, but not enough to get disbarred.” Dann himself may not have been completely cooperative with the investigation, reportedly telling investigators that he did not know the woman drinking in his apartment was one of Gutierrez’s employees.
So now Gutierrez, Jennings, the scheduler, and Dann’s director of policy and administration are gone, but the attorney general is fighting to stay in his job. The Columbus Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cincinatti Enquirer, the Akron Beacon-Journal, and the Dayton Daily News have all called on Dann to resign. (His local paper, the Youngstown Vindictator, wants to see him vindicated.) Several Republican members of the state legislature also want Dann to go and some of them are even talking about impeachment. “I haven’t done anything impeachable,” he insisted at a press conference.
Dann’s fellow Democrats aren’t exactly rushing to his aid. “It is what it is,” said Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. “We’ll see what happens from here.” State Treasurer Richard Cordrary’s office released a statement on Dann’s problems that said simply, “It doesn’t involve us, it doesn’t concern us.” Gov. Ted Strickland expressed disappointment and also said it might suggest a double standard if Dann is allowed to remain in his job (Dann, meanwhile, told the press that having to tell his wife about the affair was punishment enough).
THERE ARE two reasons the tawdry scandal has sent Ohio politicians scurrying. If Dann survives as attorney general until Sept. 24, Governor Strickland can appoint a successor to fill out the rest of his term and keep the office in Democratic hands. If Dann resigns or is ousted before then, there will be a special election that Republicans could potentially win. One of Dann’s justifications for how poorly he handled personnel matters was that he surprised even himself by winning the attorney general’s race.
“I was not as well prepared for the office as I should have been,” Dann told reporters, asking Ohioans to give him a “second transition” period. Such a confession might have made a difference in his close race with GOP Auditor Betty Montgomery, who had served two terms as attorney general from 1995 to 2003. It might even be enough to hurt the Democrats’ replacement candidate in a special election.
But there’s a second reason the attorney general’s troubles have roiled the Buckeye State: Dann’s conduct isn’t as lurid as Eliot Spitzer’s but they both share a penchant for crusading against others’ corruption. This makes such politicians tempting targets when their own wrongdoings are exposed. Dann helped shine light on “Coingate,” a scandal in which a state bureau invested $50 million in a rare coin business run by a major Republican donor, and criticized his Republican predecessor’s handling of the matter. He has also been creative in using the powers of his office to go after businesses. When Dann was sworn in, he pledged to “continue to take on powerful politicians, corrupt corporations, entrenched special interests or anyone else who threatens the well-being of Ohioans.”
Now there are questions about whether his promise extends to the well-being of Ohioans who happen to be young, female, and employed in the state attorney general’s office. If Marc Dann can survive this, Ohio is a blue state indeed.