OVERSHADOWED perhaps by the public s preoccupation with the race for mayor, the scramble for seven seats on Toledo City Council deserves more attention than it s getting. With all six at-large seats and one district seat at stake on Tuesday, Toledoans have important decisions to make.
City council incumbents have a big advantage over their generally lesser known challengers. So it is hardly surprising that three current councilmen are leading the pack in pre-election polling conducted by Zogby International.
But we suggest, with all due respect, that two of them should not even be in the race.
Democratic Councilman Bob McCloskey has represented East Toledo and a chunk of South Toledo for 12 years and has two more years to go on his current term. By running in mid-term for an at-large seat, he would gain a fresh four years on council.
Similarly, Councilman Betty Shultz, once a Democrat and now an unendorsed Republican, has been on council since 1993 and seeks a new four-year term. She started out as a district councilman and was appointed to an at-large vacancy in 1997.
Both contend, therefore, that the voters clear intent when a 12-member council was established in 1992 limiting councilmen to three four-year terms does not apply to them.
City Law Director Barbara Herring evidently agrees, but we believe otherwise. If elected, both will have served 16 years when their terms end. We cannot in good conscience suggest to the citizens of Toledo that Mr. McCloskey and Ms. Shultz s end-run around the city charter doesn t matter, or that the latter s testimony before the federal grand jury in the Tom Noe case is somehow unimportant.
For that reason, we recommend these six candidates for at-large seats: incumbents Frank Szollosi, Phil Copeland, and George Sarantou, and challengers Mark Sobczak, Karen Shanahan, and Bob Vasquez.
Mr. Szollosi brings an appealing blend of council experience and relative youth. He was appointed to a council seat in January, 2003, to replace Peter Ujvagi and won the remainder of Mr. Ujvagi s term that November. He now seeks his first full four-year term. As one of the bright lights on this council, he has earned it.
Mr. Copeland, like Mr. Szollosi, was appointed to council back in January. The nephew of the late William Copeland, a popular office holder for several years, Mr. Copeland is interested in making his own name and has demonstrated a quick grasp of municipal issues.
Mr. Sarantou must feel at times like the Lone Ranger on this council.
Ms. Shultz is a former Democrat, and Rob Ludeman, council s only other Republican, is leaving after an unsuccessful run for mayor.
Mr. Sarantou s four-year tenure on council has been a bit of a disappointment. We endorsed him four years ago but we haven t seen the kind of effectiveness we had hoped for. His experience is worth retaining, though we hope for better things.
Toledoans have not always had attractive alternatives to the incumbents they know so well. This year they do.
Mr. Sobczak, vice president of Teamsters Local 20, is a rising political figure who got more votes than any other challenger in the September primary. Questions have been raised about the possibility he will have to abstain from council votes on matters related to the 240 city employees represented by his union. We do not see it as significantly more troublesome than former councilman Pete Gerken s abstentions on issues pertaining to Jeep or the United Auto Workers.
Ms. Shanahan finished a strong seventh in the primary, just behind Mr. Sobczak. She elected to make a run for an at-large seat, rather than await a district opportunity, after a health scare reminded her of her own mortality. It was a false alarm, fortunately, but she was sufficiently motivated to get into public service. She wants stronger neighborhoods and greater exploitation of Toledo s strategic location and status as a transportation hub.
Mr. Vasquez is another impressive newcomer, but even though this is his first try for public office, we would guess he is already known to large numbers of Toledoans by virtue of his civic involvement. We count at least 10 boards, committees, and organizations for which he is currently volunteering his time.
He is executive director of The Twelve, a nonprofit organization serving children and families.
It is difficult to muster much enthusiasm for the field of four candidates who seek to replace Wade Kapszukiewicz, now Lucas County Treasurer.
Certainly the candidate most familiar with city issues is the only one who has run before limousine service operator Joe Birmingham.
Mr. Birmingham, a Republican, ran against Mr. Kapszukiewicz in 2003, was soundly defeated, and now seeks to finish out the former councilman s term.
Our problem with Mr. Birmingham two years ago was his disdain for Toledo s smoking ban. That stance remains an issue with us. But his competition for the district council seat is minimal, and he is the best equipped to deal with the range of matters that come before City Council.