December 19, 2014

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Lorain Democrats warn 3 men to stick to party line

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Councilman Dennis Flores, D-2nd Ward, left, labor leader and precinct committeeman Joe Thayer and Lorain County AFL-CIO President Harry Williamson were given 10 days to start adhering to party lines.

LORAIN — Three Lorain Democrats have been warned they will be suspended from participating in party activities if they don’t stop backing non-Democratic candidates in Lorain City Council races.

The three Democrats, Councilman Dennis Flores, D-2nd Ward, labor leader and precinct committeeman Joe Thayer and Lorain County AFL-CIO President Harry Williamson, were given 10 days to fall in line during a meeting last week that none of them attended.

Lorain Democratic Party Chairman Paul Adams wrote in a letter to the three men that part of their obligation as Democrats is to support candidates and issues endorsed by the party.

Thayer said he and Williamson have been backing independent Josh Thornsberry, who is challenging Councilman Frank DeTillio, D-8th Ward, and independent Greg Argenti, who is challenging Democrat David Burgess for the 4th Ward council seat.

The Democratic Party, Thayer said, hasn’t been meeting its obligations to organized labor recently. He said Council’s March vote to water down unionization and local-hire requirements on contractors bidding for city projects was one example. DeTillio, who is president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, voted against union wishes.

Another problem, Thayer said, is that city officials, including Mayor Chase Ritenauer, essentially acted as “strikebreakers” when they collected trash in the city during a weeklong strike by Republic Waste workers in April.

“If we can’t get a party that we’ve always supported hands down to support us, we’re going to look elsewhere,” Thayer said.

Williamson echoed Thayer’s concerns and said that if Democrats want to win back the support of labor, they need to back the unions.

“If the Democrat-endorsed candidates supported us, we’d support them,” he said.

But Adams said it doesn’t make sense to let Democrats who are actively working against Democratic candidates in on what the party is doing in the run-up to the November election.

“It would be a conflict of interest for them to be at a meeting where we are discussing strategy,” he said.

Adams said while he is a proponent of labor and considers them a vital component of the Democratic Party, the suspensions are about party loyalty and promises Thayer and Williamson made.

He also said that suspensions, which don’t impact Thayer and Williamson’s work as members of the Lorain County Democratic Party Executive Committee, also are necessary to ensure fair enforcement of the rules.

Flores, who is an elected precinct committeeman, has been largely banned from party work for years because of his support for county Commissioner Tom Williams, a Republican, in the 2010 and subsequent flirtations with tea party groups and Republican candidates.

Flores said Monday that Democrats suspect him of supporting Libertarian Kendra Sheppard against Councilman Brian Gates, D-1st Ward. But Flores said he hasn’t taken a side in that race, and all he did was attend a fundraiser for Sheppard to learn more about her.

“I haven’t publicly endorsed or talked about anyone really,” Flores said. “I haven’t supported anyone.”

He also said that he found it ironic that a year ago Thayer was among those leading a charge to have him banned from party activity for signing up to receive information from a tea party group at the Lorain County Fair.

Thayer took a photo of Flores’ signature on the list and that was used as evidence to suggest that Flores might be a Republican spy.

Thayer said while he doesn’t support the tea party, he now has a better understanding of what Flores went through last year.

“It gives me a different view,” he said.

Adams, Thayer and Williamson all said that they hope to resolve their differences in the future, although whether that will happen after November is still a question mark.

Thayer and Williamson both said they come from generations of Democrats and labor, but their priority is clear.

“My loyalties are with labor first,” Thayer said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.