O’Brien still has eyes on other term

By Dustin Ensinger

January 22, 2014

Despite Delaware County Commissioner Dennis Stapleton’s announcement of his intention not to run for re-election, Delaware County Commissioner Ken O’Brien remains in the race for what is now Stapleton’s seat.

O’Brien informed Delaware County Republican Party (DCRP) Chairman Bob Mann this week that he intends to run for the seat and will seek the party’s endorsement for the position, according to an email obtained by The News.

What O’Brien proposes is unprecedented in recent elections for a county commissioner’s seat. O’Brien is completing a term that will not be up for re-election until 2016. Whoever is elected to the term Stapleton now serves will sworn in early January 2015. If O’Brien runs for that seat and is defeated in November, he can remain a commissioner and complete the term he now holds.

In the email to Mann, O’Brien wrote that an economic development process “fragmented and dominated by isolated meetings with only select individuals” is the motivating factor behind his decision to run for the position Stapleton currently holds.

“Only through seeking this position can I effectively raise awareness of these issues confronting the county and the impediments I have encountered in trying to address them,” he writes.

O’Brien said he has sought to reorganize the county’s economic development department, but has been rebuffed in the process. The department is led by Gus Comstock, who O’Brien has regularly clashed with.

The email also accuses the DCRP of focusing “on personalities and the holding and accumulation of power within the county party structure by a certain few who are more interested in higher political offices than the best interests of Delaware County.”

“The time for back-room deals and political power maneuvering is done,” he writes. “The residents of Delaware County deserve a county commission that will act in their best interests, not in the best interest of those who are seeking to build or maintain a political support structure for lobbyists or other politicians more interested in higher office than the interests of Delaware County.”

The DCRP central committee is set to meet Wednesday, and the party’s screening committee is slated to make its recommendations to the full membership.

The screening committee will recommend that no candidate receive an endorsement, according to a copy of the screening report obtained by The News.

O’Brien and Mike Kelley, owner of Ostrander Implement, are the only remaining candidates who screened for the commissioner position.

The screening committee found Kelley to be unqualified for the role, writing that he “lacks an understanding of government operations.”

While acknowledging that O’Brien is statutorily qualified to hold the position, the screening committee slams his “present political conduct and arrogance” and calls into question his qualifications to continue in office.

The DCRP could have another option. The News has learned that Genoa Township Trustee Barb Lewis has been approached by party members about running for the seat.

“I am strongly considering it,” she told The News. “That’s where I am right now.”

Lewis said O’Brien’s presence in the race would not deter her from running. Yet, “I don’t believe that Ken should be running for an office he already holds,” she said.

Lewis believes she would be able to work with O’Brien should she win the primary

“If I would run and I’m elected I’m sure we could work together,” she said. “I would look forward to working with him as a fellow commissioner.”

The filing deadline to run for the position is Feb. 6. The primary election is slated for May 6.