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Martin makes history as first black chairman of Jefferson County Democratic Party

ROBBIE MARTIN

STEUBENVILLE — As local political races start to heat up in anticipation of November’s election, Robbie Martin is looking forward to his new position.

Martin, who has decades of political experience under his belt, on Friday was elected chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party. His selection, which was made during a virtual meeting of the party’s central and executive committees, carries added significance: It makes him the first African-American to hold that post in the more-than-200-year history of the county, officials said in a press release.

“I am very excited to be able to do this job because it has been a passion of mine to lead,” Martin said Monday. “I am very humbled to have the people who supported me. They are the individuals who have put their trust in my ability to do the job.”

The lifelong resident of Wintersville has been a member of Village Council for the last 20 years. He serves as council president, chair of the recreation committee and is a member of the finance committee.

“People look at how I conduct myself. That’s one of the reasons I think that they reached out to me and gave me the honor of leading them,” he explained.

Martin said he wanted to be able to take the party in a new direction.

“I’m going to work to bring everyone together in one unit,” he said. “I’m going to try and give everyone a fair shake across the board, and I’m going to be transparent.

“This party does need different leadership,” he added. “That’s not saying anything against my predecessor. He had his skills and the way he did things, but the way I’m going to take it will be a little different from him. I think the way I’m going to approach this will be better for the party and better for membership.”

He succeeds Frankie DiCarlantonio as party chair. DiCarlantonio was selected to the post in November 2017 following the July 24, 2017, death of longtime chair John Abdalla.

“I respect the wishes of the central committee,” DiCarlantonio said. “Overall, it’s been a very pleasant experience. I wish the new chairman well.”

Martin said he is focused on the future.

“Overall, the Democratic Party needs to be a little more energized, and I think I can do that,” Martin said. “I’ll also look to rebuild the party financially so we can help our candidates this November.”

The local slate of Democrats on the Nov. 3 ballot includes Ed Littlejohn, who is running against Republican Tony Morelli and independents Daniel Cermak and Patrick Murphy for the Jan. 3 seat Jefferson County commissioner; Bob Smith, who is running against Republican incumbent Dave Maple for the Jan. 2 commissioner seat; Richard Olivito, who will be running against Republican Ron Ferguson for state representative; and Darrin Corrigan, who will face Republican Andrew Plesich in the county clerk of courts race.

Should Littlejohn win, he will become the first African-American to serve as a Jefferson County commissioner.

“They are special people in our party — very hard-working people, and they deserve to demonstrate to Jefferson County that they are worthy of being elected.

“The biggest challenge is that these candidates have some pretty strong challengers,” Martin continued. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park. They know they have to do their work to take the seat. These guys have a lot of talent. I am proud to say that we have an elite bunch of men who would serve Jefferson County well, which is why I am going to do everything in my power to lead them.”

Martin said it’s important to him to be the county’s first African-American party chair, adding that members of his family are excited and proud about his opportunity. That includes his wife of 24 years, Andrea Martin. She is, Martin said, “his rock” because she supports him in every way. Martin, who worked with the IBEW for 40 years, added he is not afraid to show he is a person of faith — he thanked his “savior, Jesus Christ, because he is the one who is going to lead me through this.”

“Yes, I am black, but I look at myself as being a leader,” Martin, a 1971 graduate of Wintersville High School, continued. “I appreciate the fact that it isn’t every time that you can be first. I just happen to be the first in this.”

Martin said he is disturbed by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died when a white police officer pressed a knee against his neck. Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter and is in custody in a state prison. He and the three other officers on the scene have been fired.

Floyd’s death sparked protests that turned violent in cities across the nation during the weekend. That was in contrast to gatherings held in Steubenville Saturday and Sunday, which were peaceful,

“I appreciate what we have here,” Martin said. “I appreciate the people getting out and protesting peacefully. Nothing was burned, no windows were broken.

“It’s heartbreaking to me to see what’s happened on TV. A police officer sitting there, with this man trapped under his knee –we’re not animals and we shouldn’t be treated like that. I would hate to see my child go out to the store and get a call that says he’s dead or he’s in jail because he didn’t want to do the right thing,” Martin said. “That’s why people are so angry right now — who commits murder on TV and gets away with it?”

Among the reasons Steubenville has remained calm, Martin said, are changes that came about after the city in 1997 entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice in response to complaints filed about the actions of its police department.

“We are not here to burn things down, we’re not here to break windows. We are here to let you know we don’t like the systemic racism that goes on with the police. I look at that video and violence each and every time, and it brings tears to my eyes, because this is America,” Martin said. “This happens in third-world countries — this should not be happening here.”

Yet, there’s reason for hope, Martin said, pointing to images of police officers and protesters shaking hands and hugging each other.

“It’s starting to look like we’re getting an idea about what needs to happen instead of having somebody sitting in the White House saying that when you start looting, you start shooting. We need calm, and that’s not calm.”

That’s one of the reasons this election is important, Martin added.

“Right now, we need leadership, and Joe Biden will deliver that,” he said. “He was Barack Obama’s vice president, and Obama was a good president for all people. He didn’t serve in that office for black people, he served in that office for everybody, and I think Biden understands what he has to do.”

Martin added he’s stepping into a spot that carries a strong history.

“Abdalla made this party. He is very much missed. I’m walking into some big shoes trying to fill John Abdalla’s seat. He ran this party in a way that made it a strong party,” Martin said. “He had an iron fist. When he spoke you listened because John took to heart what he did. He respected the candidates and he got behind his candidates to put them into office.

“I’m not John Abdalla, but I share his spirit — he was adamant about making sure this party stayed together and stayed strong. It’s very important to me to keep his legacy alive.”

Also elected Friday were longtime party members Eileen Krupinski, who will serve as vice chair, and Candace DeStefano, who will serve as treasurer. Christina Reaume, a relative newcomer to county politics, will serve as secretary. Martin said he’s looking forward to working with them and all party members.

“I’m excited about getting started,” he said. “Columbus will know about us here. If they didn’t know about us before, they will know about us now because we are going to be working hard to put people into seats — that’s what it’s all about.”

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