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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2005

Isenberg departs

FOR the first time in memory, the chairmanships of both of Lucas County's major political parties are vacant at the same time. The Republicans have too few people wanting to lead them while the Democrats, as usual, have too many.

The resignation of Sandy Isenberg on Sunday came after nine tumultuous months at the Democratic helm in which she failed to pacify her party's opposing factions. Each side wanted a stooge, and - like her or not - a compliant, stand-aside role isn't in Ms. Isenberg's character.

Her forced departure comes less than a month after Bernadette Noe's unexpected resignation as county GOP chief, purportedly to spend more time with her family and, later, to develop unspecified political opportunities at the state level.

Now, with a mayoral election looming in a little over eight months, both county party organizations are, for the time being, rudderless. Given their historical dominance over elective politics in Lucas County, the power vacuum at the top could be more damaging to the Democrats.

It's no wonder that Ms. Isenberg wanted to bail out now and avoid the bloodletting likely to occur in a party endorsement fight between Mayor Jack Ford, who's running for re-election, and former mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who wants the job back.

Besides, Ms. Isenberg was taking flak from both sides.

To hear insiders tell it, she had abandoned those who gave her the chairmanship after Paula Ross was ousted last May. Moreover, in their view, she bet on the wrong horse - City Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz - in the intra-party fight over selection of a successor to Ray Kest, who resigned as county treasurer rather than risk his pension or other penalties over misappropriation of county funds to pay his college tuition.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz, supported by Ms. Isenberg, had vowed to get rid of all the Kest cronies in the treasurer's office, including John Irish, who sought to remain on the treasurer's payroll for another year to pad his public pension.

The winner of that battle, however, was union leader Dennis Duffey, who now serves as interim treasurer and, by virtue of Ms. Isenberg's departure, interim Democratic chairman.

Lurking in the background is Mr. Finkbeiner, who backed Mr. Duffey and has been busy taking advantage of party disunity to line up labor support against Mr. Ford in anticipation of another run for mayor.

All of this, of course, makes great entertainment for those who are fascinated by the ebb and flow of in-your-face local politics. Most likely it is unprecedented in Lucas County that both political parties are without a chairman.

In the case of the Republicans, that's a problem. In the case of the Democrats, it could be a blessing.

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