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Published: Monday, 8/19/2002

The GOP's challenge

When Lucas County Republican leaders meet tonight to select a candidate to oppose Sandy Isenberg for county commissioner, they would be well-advised to heed an old political maxim: You can't beat somebody with nobody.

In this case, they must offer a candidate with experience in elected office. If Republicans want to regain the respect they've lost with county voters by being a part-time political party, they will field a respected individual prepared to run a strong, well-financed challenge to Ms. Isenberg.

Among the candidates reportedly under GOP consideration, Toledo City Council members Rob Ludeman and Gene Zmuda, and Maggie Thurber, clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, fit that profile.

Faced with the sticky question of ousting a long-time Democratic officeholder like Ms. Isenberg, a certain percentage of the electorate is unlikely to vote for a challenger who does not possess public-office credentials. The Republicans cannot afford to start this campaign with that handicap.

Ms. Isenberg has, without question, been wounded by the double-dipping controversy and ethical allegations. But the president of the board of commissioners has served notice that she is not giving up and is determined to fight to continue her 32 years of public service.

The Republicans have been handed an opportunity much like a football team whose opponent fumbled on its own one yard line.

They have no shortage of issues. Ms. Isenberg provided the first ammunition by announcing that, if re-elected on Nov. 5, she would begin collecting a $40,000 a year pension along with her $76,000 salary. That's double dipping and a large segment of the public didn't like it, even if it is legal and even if Ms. Isenberg did change her mind.

After her opponent, Dock Treece, dropped out of the race, he accused Ms. Isenberg of having tried to bribe him off the ballot by offering him a seat on the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board.

And now it is revealed that Ms. Isenberg accepted a $7,500 roof replacement for her Sylvania Township home from builder Dick Moses, who benefited from her vote on a zoning matter.

The roof job could be interpreted as a simple case of one old friend helping out another except for the fact that Ms. Isenberg did not pay for the repairs for ten months - until the issue was on the verge of becoming public. To a public enraged by daily reports of shenanigans and wrongdoing in the business world, it looks like she never intended to pay. The word for that is graft.

The Republican task in this race would be simpler were it not for the local party's recent history of putting up only token candidates - or worse, no candidate at all - for public office. Leaving the field in last year's Toledo mayoral race to two Democrats is but one embarrassing example. Letting Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger, another double dipper, go unopposed this year is another.

No, this time, the GOP must field a candidate against Ms. Isenberg on the order of Richard Knepper, who selflessly answered the call to duty in the 1996 county prosecutor's race. In this case, no party plums, such as judgeships, should be awarded to anyone who hasn't made a sacrifice.

Now, as then, the odds of success are difficult. But the voters deserve a quality choice.

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