STEUBENVILLE – The Ohio Democratic Party is looking for a new leader and Lou Gentile of Steubenville is confident he is the right person for the job.
“I’ve spent most of 20 years voting for Democrats in Ohio.” Gentile stated last week. “I had to run and win and fight tough elections in southeast Ohio, a place where Democrats really need to connect with voters if we are to be relevant.”
Gentile is one of six candidates for the presidency of the state party. Whoever is selected replaces David Pepper. Pepper, who served in his hometown of Cincinnati as a councilor and commissioner for Hamilton County, will step down on Friday from the office he has held since 2015.
“I had a good relationship with David and I expect this to continue.” said Gentile. “He worked hard for the party and I expect he will continue to be part of the party.”
Democrats did not do well across the state during Pepper’s tenure, and Donald Trump won the state’s presidential election in 2016 and 2020. There were also bright spots, Gentile said, pointing to the gains the party had made in the state’s Supreme Court and won three seats in the last election.
Gentile said he has a clear plan to build on that dynamic.
“We need to speak directly to voters in small towns. This is something important for Democrats across the state. “ Said Gentile. “I think it has to be a strategy where we all do things. We need to deal with black and minority voters and improve voter turnout.
“There has to be a program in which we are in these areas for a long time and have a constant dialogue.” he added. “We have to be able to tell them what the Democrats stand for.”
Gentile still lives in his hometown, but he said he spends part of his time in Columbus, where he is a principal at Vorys Advisers, a position he has held since 2017.
The company provides government relations and strategic advice to Ohio companies and other professionals.
He has an extensive background in democratic politics beginning in 2002 when he was Field Director for then-US Representative Ted Strickland. Gentile was also a field organizer for Richard Gephardt’s presidential campaign, was involved in Strickland’s gubernatorial campaign, and served as assistant director of the governor’s office for Appalachians under Strickland.
Gentile was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010 and was appointed to the Senate in 2011, a seat he successfully defended in 2012. He lost his 2016 re-election offer to current Senator Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction.
During his tenure in the Senate, Gentile chaired the Democratic Campaign. He sees this experience as a plus in his pursuit of the top party spot.
“Part of the department’s job is to recruit candidates and raise funds.” he explained. “When I was in the Senate, I was the chairman and campaign manager for the caucus, and I was successful in fundraising.”
Gentile understands the challenges the next chairman will face and presented an eight-point plan to the party’s executive committee. It includes engaging with black and minority voters, engaging with rural voters, fundraising, lighting up Democratic stars, reaching out and organizing, making sure the party is open and inclusive, focusing on communication and message, and more Commitment to diversity.
He pointed out that his wife, Lori Hinton, was the leader of women’s initiatives during Strickland’s tenure as governor.
“We have to make sure we can tell people what Democrats stand for”. he explained. “We have to expand our base with the urban core and reconnect with the workers.”
Gentile acknowledges that the political landscape in Ohio has changed dramatically in the past few decades and that areas that could be relied on in the election of Democrats at any given time were no longer barriers.
“There are a number of things you can point out, but I can see that longtime democratic strongholds like the Mahoning and Ohio river valleys have turned the corner.” he said. “Regardless of how we got there, it is important to realize that we need to liaise with workers and rural voters if this is to change.
“We need to focus on meeting people and talking about important issues like work, healthcare and infrastructure.”
The party had planned to set up a new presidency by Tuesday. A revised schedule means the selection won’t be made until January 14th. This will give Gentile and the other five candidates for the spot – a field that includes Antionette Wilson of Columbus, Liz Walters of Akron, and Vanessa Enoch of West Chester in Butler County, and Will Klatt and Gary Josephson of the Columbus area – more time to clear up their cases.
“I’ve spent most of my time talking to members of the executive committee.” Said Gentile. “I also spent a lot of time listening to them and hearing their thoughts on how they think we should restructure the party.”
Some of this will likely reflect the leadership style of President-elect Joe Biden, who lost in Ohio in November.
“Biden will focus on a message that will resonate in smaller cities and rural Ohio.” Gentile declared. “We need to try to broaden our base and improve our performance with voters to turn areas that were traditionally red into purple.
“We can’t rely on us to do well in our regular areas.” he added. “That’s important – but we also need to be able to improve our margins in other areas of the state.”
It is a job that Gentile claims for itself.
“I am optimistic about the future of the Ohio Democrats.” he said. “We have a number of talented leaders to build on – lawmakers, mayors, and local officials from all over the state. It is the President’s responsibility to illuminate these talented stars, lift them up and help them become the face of the party. “
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