There's a split in the Franklin County Democratic Party. It's not new, but rarely has it been on such public display as it was this week when County Commissioner John O'Grady and Sheriff Zach Scott, both Democrats, filed to run for the same seat on the state party's central committee.

There’s a split in the Franklin County Democratic Party.

It’s not new, but rarely has it been on such public display as it was this week when County Commissioner John O’Grady and Sheriff Zach Scott, both Democrats, filed to run for the same seat on the state party’s central committee.

Normally, who’s running for the state party’s central committee doesn’t make headlines. Outside an ardent core of local Democrats, few know, let alone care, about the group, which raises money for elected Democrats statewide and meets every two years to pick a party leader.

But this time, the election has exposed a fault line among the Democrats who run Franklin County and Columbus.

O’Grady is closely aligned with Columbus City Council President Andrew J. Ginther and Mayor Michael B. Coleman, and Scott is tied to Commissioner Paula Brooks, Councilwoman Eileen Y. Paley and County Recorder Terry J. Brown.

Brooks, Paley and Brown all recently have faced the ire of O’Grady and his allies.

Last year, when O’Grady was president of the board of commissioners, he stripped Brooks of all her committee assignments except those required by law. Commissioner Marilyn Brown, who has sided with O’Grady in the past, continued that after being named board president this year.

Ginther blocked Paley from all city council committees this year except the administration committee, which many consider the Siberia of committee assignments.

And it was Democrats who called Dispatch reporters last year when Terry Brown hired his longtime friend and political fundraiser Melissa Barnhart for a taxpayer-funded job as his community-outreach director.

Barnhart a dividing line

In fact, if there’s a line in the sand between the two groups of county Democrats, it seems to lie with who is — or is not — friends with Barnhart. She recently has been a fundraiser for Paley, Brooks and Terry Brown, and Scott is a close friend.

In 2012, she orchestrated a failed attempt to oust Chris Redfern as chairman of the state Democratic Party, and she was the subject of county and state investigations into payments the county party made to her under former Chairman Greg Schultz. She was cleared of wrongdoing.

Now, some members of the party see her hand in Scott’s decision to run for the state central committee.

It was Barnhart who obtained the petition for Scott to run for the seat, according to records at the county’s board of elections. At least six of the nine signatures on Scott’s completed declaration of candidacy are those of people who either work in Terry Brown’s office, where Barnhart is now director of operations, or are relatives of the recorder’s deputy fiscal officer, who circulated Scott’s petition.

How it got to this point

As to what happened this week that pitted Scott and O’Grady against each other, here’s what’s known:

On July 31, Scott called John P. Gilligan, the son of former Gov. John J. Gilligan, and said he planned to run against him for the state central committee seat in the 16th Senate District, where both men live.

Gilligan, who first won the seat two years ago, called other Democrats, upset that Scott was getting into the race. He didn’t think he could win against the sheriff, who got more than 60 percent of the countywide vote in his 2012 election.

Gilligan did not return calls for comment.

On Tuesday, O’Grady filed to run for the seat.

Scott filed his petition on Wednesday, just before the deadline.

Last-minute phone calls and meetings among Democratic insiders and the two men kept the conflict from exploding during a party meeting on Wednesday to endorse candidates for the May primary and beyond. No one was endorsed in the committee race.

Dan Williamson, Coleman’s spokesman, confirmed that the mayor was one of those working to broker a peace. Williamson said Coleman called party Chairman Greg Haas and “all three individuals involved, and encouraged them to get this worked out amongst themselves.”

Contingency plans

Bill DeMora, a consultant for the state party, said O’Grady entered the race only to help Gilligan, who has the full support of Redfern and others. He said that if both the sheriff and O’G rady stay in the race, Gilligan will drop out and support O’Grady.

Haas said he’s still hopeful that O’Grady and Scott will drop out and leave Gilligan unopposed. The sheriff is supposed to meet with Gilligan to discuss the race, Haas said.

Democrats have said that a divisive political battle between the two would cost party resources and damage the reputation of the two officeholders.

Scott said this week that he has no animosity toward Gilligan, but the 16th District seat is the only one available to him because of where he lives.

“As I’ve gotten more involved with the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, and with local legislators, I thought it was important to gain a better understanding of statewide politics,” Scott said.

He said yesterday that he hasn’t decided whether he will run, but he had to file by the deadline to keep that option open.

O’Grady wouldn’t discuss DeMora’s account of the conflict. He said he is seeking the committee seat because he grew up with statewide politics and is best-suited to serve on the committee.

“I know what it means to be a member of the state central committee and a good Democrat,” O’G rady said.