COLUMBUS — The pressure on Marc Dann started out like the drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet just a few months into his term, but ended with the blast of a fire hose that swept the disgraced Democrat all the way back to Youngstown.
Dann, 46, is now an unemployed former attorney general with a sullied reputation, an uncertain future and a cloud of investigations that will likely follow him for months to come.
Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann admitted to an extramarital affair in a Friday news conference following the release of an investigation into sexual harassment complaints filed by two staffers in Dann’s office. Staff photo by Chris Stewart
During his 17-month tenure, the former state senator from the Youngstown area promoted himself as a crusader for consumers, the environment and everyday Ohioans. Early on, he scored glowing press accounts from national newspapers, but in his home state negative headlines dogged him.
Beginning of the end?
He got dinged for buying a fancy SUV from a campaign contributor, using the state plane for a political trip, spending more than $140,000 on security for himself and his family, and sending an e-mail to his friend who had a bad press day saying “Jesus had it better on Good Friday.”
Men he hired from his hometown caused him problems. He had to reprimand longtime friend Leo Jennings III for sending a profane, abusive e-mail to a colleague and later fired Jennings for allegedly trying to persuade a lawyer to lie under oath. Dann fired his “top cop” Rick Alli for double-dipping his job, and he canned driver Dave Nelson when it came to light he had been responsible for another man’s shooting death.
The crushing blow came May 2 when Dann’s own lieutenants released a 52-page internal report that substantiated sexual harassment complaints by two 26-year-old female employees. The same day, Dann admitted an extramarital affair with his 28-year-old former scheduler, Jessica Utovich, and said he wasn’t prepared to be attorney general when he won election.
Newspapers from the Ohio River to Lake Erie called for his immediate resignation. A lot of politicians did too, including top Republican leaders and Democrats like Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Still, Dann held firm that he was hard at work with his sleeves rolled up.
On Tuesday, May 13, House Democrats made good on a threat to try to impeach him, while the General Assembly and Strickland worked in concert to pass a law authorizing state Inspector General Tom Charles to investigate Dann and coordinate other probes.
By Wednesday, Charles and the Ohio Highway Patrol had seized computer hard drives in Dann’s office in the Rhodes Tower.
Still, Dann made no public announcement. Then, just before the close of business, it was over. Dann tendered his resignation and made a brief statement to the press before exiting state government.
Dann’s strident campaigning for open and clean government and his call for Ohioans to hold him to a higher standard made his downfall look like a scene in a Greek tragedy.
Strickland downplayed any harm the Dann scandal and resignation could inflict on the Ohio Democratic Party and their chances of delivering a crucial swing state to the Democratic nominee for president.
The governor, who has been a staunch backer of Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, said the party cleaned its own house.
“Given the difficult circumstances, I think I responded as quickly and directly as I possibly could,” Strickland said.
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Republicans were quick to pounce.
“Marc Dann is only the latest in a growing list of Democrat office holders caught in their own culture of corruption,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett.
Dann’s top legal aide, Tom Winters, is the new attorney general — for now. Strickland is expected to appoint an interim attorney general, who may or may not stand for election, to the remainder of Dann’s term in the fall.
In an election with a good deal of spice already, the unexpected race for attorney general gives both political parties something more to talk about.
Strickland said he will look for someone with maturity, experience, management ability and great integrity to replace Dann. He declined to name names and sidestepped a question about whether Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a former attorney general, would be on his short list. In the fall, the Democrats will need an experienced politician able to deliver votes. Political insiders have mentioned Treasurer Richard Cordray, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. and Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates as possible candidates.
Marc Dann, who resigned as Ohio attorney general in 2008 due to scandals in his office, has revived his career as a lawyer and now represents victims of mortgage fraud. ERIC ALBRECHT/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
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Political scientist John Green said political fallout from the Dann scandal is more likely to hurt Democratic candidates for state office than the presidential candidate. “Presidential politics and state politics operate on different levels,” said Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
On the GOP side, former attorney general Betty Montgomery, who lost to Dann in November 2006, said she is not interested in making a comeback. Republicans may turn to former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine or U.S. Magistrate Gregory White, who is a former U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Ohio.
Also mentioned Wednesday as a possible candidate was Deborah Pryce, who is leaving her Columbus-area U.S. House seat at the end of the year.
Kevin DeWine, Mike DeWine’s cousin and deputy Ohio Republican chairman, said the party’s screening committee will come up with the right candidate.
“We want to complete (the search) as expeditiously as possible so we can get that candidate out on the trail,” said DeWine, a state representative from Fairborn.
DeWine said he is looking forward to the campaign.
“I think it gives us a great opportunity to talk about how the Democrats have failed to provide the kind of leadership they promised in 2006,” he said.