Mark Wagoner and his allies — Republicans for a New Lucas County — were pleased with the 276 candidates they recruited to run in the Lucas County Republican Party Central Committee race on May 8.
No Republican chairman had ever come close to finding candidates for all 312 Lucas County precinct committee seats.
But their elation proved to be premature. Incumbent Chairman Jon Stainbrook recruited 312 candidates.
Mr. Stainbrook and his coterie of young people, tattoo artists, musicians, and personal friends have controlled the Lucas County Republican Party since 2008. At times, it’s been dysfunctional and embarrassing. Mr. Stainbrook attempted to appoint a retired tugboat engineer, with no experience in running elections, to be director of the Lucas County Board of Elections. He also texted instructions to two GOP members of the elections board during a meeting of the board. He’s a would-be political boss who always seems to find a banana peel to slip on.
Mr. Stainbrook has shown himself consistently incapable of behaving as an adult or running a professional, and competitive, local Republican Party.
But no one should underestimate Mr. Stainbrook’s ability to outhustle his opposition and save his own political career.
The Lucas County Board of Elections on Tuesday certified all but two of the approximately 598 candidates who have filed. In previous contests for chairman there were some bitter fights over whether some of the candidates legally qualified for the ballot, based on voting records and where they live, and we can expect some of that.
The 312 precinct seats will be awarded in the May 8 election and Mr. Wagoner has been raising money to make sure the Republicans in those districts get plenty of mail telling them which candidate he wants them to vote for. After the elections are certified, Republicans will convene for an organizational meeting in early June. Some previous Stainbrook-run organizational meetings have devolved into pushing, shoving, and heckling. Mr. Wagoner is expected to appeal to the state Republican Party to step in and run the meeting when that time comes.
Why does all this matter? Why should any normal person care?
Well, Toledo has become a one-party city, and one-party rule is bad for democracy anywhere it occurs. Ultimately, it is bad for the function of local government. The cronyism and self-dealing that has plagued Toledo city government would be harder to pull off — it at least would be more shame-faced — if we had fierce political competition.
Mr Stainbrook is a divisive figure and he prizes loyalty to him personally above all else. This means that he seldom recruits good candidates. (The best candidates of recent years, mostly in the county, have been self-recruiters.) Moreover, he has been unable to amass enough volunteers to put together an effective “get out the vote” machine.
Could Mr. Wagoner do better? No one can say for sure. But he could not do worse.
Mr. Stainbrook is a showman, and he seldom fails to entertain. But he has proved that he is not a party builder. He has not only failed to expand and improve his party, he has made it more marginal and irrelevant.
But Mr. Stainbrook is also a survivor.
It now appears likely that the election for Lucas County chairman will be a lot tighter than some in the Wagoner camp were expecting.
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