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Michael C. O’Malley in the Democratic primary for Cuyahoga County prosecutor: endorsement editorial

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“I will make you proud,” said Michael C. O’Malley after he took the oath of office as Cuyahoga County Prosecutor on Jan. 3, 2017 – assuming command of a department that was in some disarray following public outcry over his predecessor’s handling of the 2014 fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a public park.

Largely, he has.

O’Malley’s tenure has not been without controversy or criticism, but, on balance, he has displayed good judgment, courage, honesty and a firm hand at the tiller as the county’s top law enforcement officer over the last seven years.

Despite that, O’Malley, 60, of Rocky River, has drawn a Democratic primary opponent in his quest for a third term: Matthew Ahn, 32, of Cleveland, who has taught law at Cleveland State University.

The winner will likely face a relatively unknown Republican candidate in the Nov. 5 general election — Cleveland lawyer Anthony Alto, who is a write-in candidate in the March 19 GOP primary. Given that, plus the heavily Democratic makeup of Cuyahoga County, it is almost certain that the Democratic primary will determine who will run the prosecutor’s office for the next four years.

Even though the county’s Democratic Party declined to give O’Malley its endorsement, voters should have little trouble deciding on their choice. O’Malley is the superior candidate in nearly every way over the inexperienced, left-leaning Ahn.

At the party’s endorsement meeting last month, O’Malley received support from 58.5% of the assemblage (60% is required for the official endorsement) to 37.7% for Ahn – a result some have attributed to the leftward shift of the local party.

O’Malley has been endorsed by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown, however, and while his no-nonsense approach to public safety might not appeal to far-left progressives, it should play well with everyone else.

Ahn has criticized O’Malley for too often charging juveniles as adults, bizarrely citing that as part of the reason for the recent surge in juvenile crime. In his campaign materials for the endorsement interview, Ahn wrote that the county’s “criminal justice outcomes are the worst in the state, and often the worst in the country,” yet he failed to provide persuasive data to support that charge.

O’Malley countered with numbers: Of the 3,000 juvenile cases his office handled last year, he said, “roughly a thousand were put into a diversionary program … and of those thousand cases, we saw a success rate of 90% who did not recidivate within one year.”

Regarding the 72 juveniles who were charged as adults, O’Malley was unapologetic.

“These are not kids who are stealing Hyundais and Kias,” he said. Most were facing “the highest level of felony [charges] you could possibly have,” said O’Malley, listing 29 charges of aggravated murder, nine of attempted murder, and 28 of aggravated robbery.

O’Malley also spoke of his need to explain to a mother how he was going to handle the case of her dead 14-year-old son, who was shot 15 times by a 16-year-old.

“I have an obligation to listen to those victims,” he said.

In addition to these duties, O’Malley also had the courage and professionalism to answer a request from the FBI to prosecute 16 current and former East Cleveland police officers accused of a raft of violations – a prosecution that would normally have been done by federal prosecutors, but that the FBI took to the county, likely because of a long-unfilled opening for U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Ohio.

O’Malley brings a wide range of experience to the job, having served in the past as a court bailiff, Cleveland City Council member, assistant city law director, assistant county prosecutor and now seven years as Cuyahoga County prosecutor. He runs an office of more than 400 people, including 237 attorneys.

Ahn has an astonishing academic record, earning his college degree at age 17 and his law degree at 23, but he has almost no courtroom experience, and no management experience other than, he says, being in charge of six people in the federal public defender’s office during the pandemic. It would be almost frightening to put someone with paper-thin experience like that in charge of a large, complicated and important office.

Democratic voters should nominate Michael C. O’Malley for Cuyahoga County prosecutor on the March 19 ballot. Early voting begins Feb. 21.

As part of its endorsement process, the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and on Feb. 7 interviewed the two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. Incumbent Michael C. O’Malley is being challenged by Matthew Ahn. Republican Anthony Alto has filed as a write-in candidate and is unopposed on the GOP side. Listen to audio of this interview below:

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of and The Plain Dealer — the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.

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Other resources for voters:

League of Women Voters voters’ guide.

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