Former City Councilman George Sarantou admits he is a Republican. That's almost refreshing in a town where most Republicans, in order to get elected, run as Independents or RINOs (Republicans In Name Only.)
What is more, he is an old-fashioned moderate Republican. Remember them? He likes what his church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral on North Superior, is doing for poor folk in the neighborhood.
That's refreshing too.
But, after 12 years on council he was term limited and forced to rotate off — leaving his expertise behind him. For 11 years he served as the chairman of Council’s Finance Committee, first appointed by a Democratic president of council, at the urging of a Democratic mayor — Jack Ford. Mr. Sarantou built up a lot of respect. Even Democrats go out of their way to say that Mr. Sarantou is a gentleman who knows his stuff.
But, for a while, Mr. Sarantou seemed to have nowhere to go. He came out close, but on the losing end of three bruising county-wide races — one for recorder and two for commissioner. It seemed to be a case of a solid public servant with a lot of knowledge being discarded.
But the story has a happy ending. Mayor Mike Collins appointed him the city's director of finance. When I asked Mr. Sarantou what he did to prepare for the job, for he only had two months to transition, he told me he had been preparing for 11 years. He's been doing oversight of the agencies and functions for which he'll now be responsible. “Municipal finance,” he says, "is complicated and it's not sexy. You don't go to a cocktail party and get asked: 'So how's Toledo's bond rating?'”
Mr. Sarantou has been an investments guy for most of his adult life. He tells me that two events in his lifetime changed the world — the Twin Towers attacks in 2001 and the crash of 2008. It's a more fragile and uncertain world now, in markets and in government. The fat days for financial planners are gone.
“No more three martini lunches,” Mr. Sarantou says. The easy days for government — fund it all — are too. It will be his job now, not only to keep the books, but, he thinks, urge fiscal caution on the mayor and the council.
We meet, not over martinis, but coffee at Coney Island. And we talk of many things that make me think this man is indeed a grown-up in a business that seems to attract children — county government reform; the danger of one-party rule, no matter the party; Toledo's limited awareness of its own assets and quality of life; his father, a Greek immigrant who came to this country at 13 and paid off his first home in three years.
He says he thinks the mayor, along with Sheriff John Sharp, did a fine job managing the snow emergency and that the mayor has set a tone for an administration filled with serious people, both experienced and fresh. “We are interested in solutions,” he says, “not postures.”
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.