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Published: Tuesday, 2/14/2006

Another fine mess

BOB McCloskey's already shaky claim to his seat on Toledo City Council just got a little more tenuous now that he has become the only local elected official in modern memory to be criminally indicted in office.

Mr. McCloskey was indicted on two felony charges of bribery for allegedly trying to shake down his former employer, Pilkington North America, and a charter school developer, for $100,000 in 2002 in exchange for his support for a rezoning matter sought by the company and the developer.

No such payment was ever made, and the zoning change, which would have allowed the conversion of a former Pilkington facility in East Toledo to a charter school, ultimately failed to win council approval after Mr. McCloskey withdrew his support.

The indictment broadens Mr. McCloskey's murky legal predicament.

He already was facing a $10 million lawsuit in connection with the alleged bribery. In addition he is under fire for his little end-run around the three-term limit on City Council.

If the circumstances are as alleged in the criminal indictment - and the evidence seems damning - Mr. McCloskey's conduct was reprehensible. While compromising one's ethics for money is egregious any time, it is worse when it involves the public trust.

Consider the three telephone messages he left for officials at Pilkington and EJS Properties, the charter school developer, expressing his dismay that no $100,000 check had been received and his determination that the project would not move out of council committee.

Mr. McCloskey does not deny seeking the contribution. He says, now, however, that he changed his mind about supporting the rezoning after some East Side constituents expressed reluctance about losing a large industrial parcel to another use. Are we to assume then that if the payment had in fact been made, he would have returned it after learning of his constituents' unhappiness?

Mr. McCloskey's alleged conduct is hardly mitigated by the fact that the $100,000 he sought was intended for a prescription drug fund to benefit Pilkington retirees. Bribery is bribery no matter how worthy the cause or ultimate recipient. The charges against him only fan public cynicism at a time when many believe that public and corporate officials are on the take almost as a matter of course.

One glimmer of good news out of this mess was Mr. McCloskey's resignation the other day as chairman of council's economic development committee, an appointment he never should have received in the first place.

We still maintain that Mr. McCloskey is on council illegitimately in view of term limits. Unfortunately for him, the day may come when he faces a term of a far different sort.

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