High energy and long odds


“Jon Stainbrook. musician.” That is not how he wants to be described in the press. He also implores me: “Please don’t call me the fast-talking, overly caffeinated Jon Stainbrook.” He speaks these words very, very quickly. But he is drinking water.

I don’t think Jon Stainbrook needs caffeine.

He’s a tall, wiry guy who moves like a lightweight boxer. Or a hummingbird.

So how does he want to be known?

As the Lucas County Republican chairman.

But he was a musician and still loves music.

And words and stories. Lunch with Mr. Stainbrook is not a walk on the beach. It is march — a relentless march across Toledo political history. He started volunteering in political campaigns more than 30 years ago. His major exposure to public affairs before that was as a Blade paperboy. He is still going door to door with the candidates he has handpicked to run for City Council. Mr. Stainbrook says it is his poll.

Why does he want this job? He says he often asks himself the same question. “Am I captain of the Titanic or a man running up the hill with a red flag? In my mind I'm the guy with the flag.”

Mr. Stainbrook is definitely a glass-half-full kind of guy. He says the Democrats and the unions are always going to have the upper hand in this neck of the woods. But, outside the city, in the towns and ’burbs, his party is fully competitive. And on the state level his party often wins. He believes John Kasich is a stand-up guy and a governor as compassionate as he is politically tough.

Competition is important to Mr. Stainbrook. He believes that without political competition, corruption follows. Being the Republican chairman here is like being being Willy Loman with an empty sample case. Or maybe the Lone Ranger without a horse. But Mr. Stainbrook thinks that without the check of the Republican Party, politics in Lucas County would be like Chicago back in the day. One-party rule means the crooks and the thugs eventually run things. He tells me that he knows some bagmen from the ’70s who are pretty well set today.

That’s why Mr. Stainbrook is fielding a full slate of Republican candidates for Toledo City Council. He says it’s not easy to find and screen them. Will more than one or two of them actually win this year?

Maybe not. But some are comers. Mr. Stainbrook keeps on plugging, undeterred.

That’s politics to him — push back, competition, and loyalty.

But there is no endorsed Republican candidate for mayor. Is that because Mike Bell is a de facto Republican? Here, Mr. Stainbrook becomes uncharacteristically quiet. But Mr. Stainbrook does admire Mr. Bell. As a firefighter, Mr. Bell saw horrors that make the risks and rewards of politics look pretty juvenile, Mr. Stainbrook says.

What would Mr. Stainbrook like to do in the future? He wants to re-elect Mr. Kasich. He wants to bring young people into the GOP. Maybe take a day off now and then; maybe go jet skiing. He spends a lot of time taking care of his disabled dad, a Korean War vet. He feels honored to do this. He has no desire to go to D.C. or Columbus under a GOP president or governor. He’s a Toledo guy.

Mr. Stainbrook is always in motion and the words keep flowing. But he doesn’t spin, exactly. He overwhelms. He’s aberrant for a Republican chairman these days — a throwback to Jerry Ford and George Bush, the elder — a moderate and one who is not only not afraid of black people or rock ’n’ roll but embraces both.

“Politics is show business for ugly people,” he says. And he’s off.

Keith Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.