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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

How do you spell shakedown?

COUNCILMAN Robert McCloskey, elected Nov. 8 to a four-year-term as an at-large member of Toledo City Council, is a man who has little sense of his reasonable limits, personal or political.

Already under fire for skirting the three-term limit on City Council based upon a dubious opinion by the city law director, Mr. McCloskey now is embroiled in a civil lawsuit alleging that he attempted to extort $100,000 from Pilkington North America as the price for a rezoning change the company wanted to complete a business deal on a 15-acre tract in East Toledo located in his former council district.

The $10 million lawsuit against the city and Mr. McCloskey has already cost the city more than $38,000 in legal bills, and the total may run to an additional $50,000 or more.

The new at-large councilman, whose misleading TV advertisements made it appear that he had been a councilman for all parts of the city rather than just District 3, had been campaigning to become City Council president, a job that would put him in a position to become mayor if Carty Finkbeiner were unable to complete his new term.

While Mr. McCloskey now says he won't run for council president, the civil suit allegations are attracting attention from law-enforcement officials, with the announcement Monday by Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates that she will investigate the possibility of criminal charges against him. The civil case, buttressed by hundreds of pages of depositions and transcripts of voice-mail messages left by the councilman, suggests he will be lucky if he escapes jail.

His strategy, as we understand it, will be to claim that he was only asking Pilkington for a "donation" to get prescription drugs for the company's retirees, of which the councilman is one. But anyone dumb enough to not understand that such a demand would be interpreted as extortion probably can't spell shakedown.

This is especially true since Mr. McCloskey was on the record in favor of the rezoning, but later changed his vote and persuaded other council members to change theirs.

The statement attributed in the lawsuit to Mr. McCloskey, "That's the way business works in the city if you want to get something done," is particularly disturbing and should be grounds for soul-searching not only among council members who changed their vote in the Pilkington case but those who might still be inclined to give him the council president's post.

If this city wanted to solidify a presumption in some circles that Toledo is an unseemly place to do business, all council would need to do is look the other way when colleagues engineer payoffs.

As the court cases proceed, Mr. McCloskey would be well-advised to take the opportunity to recognize that whatever qualities might have served him well as a district councilman do not make him a credible candidate for council president or any other position which might cause people to think he speaks for the city of Toledo.



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