Former Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg lost her first race, for City Council, in 1975. She lost her last race, for county commissioner, in 2002. In between, she never lost. She was on council. She was county recorder. And she was commissioner for the better part of 20 years. Quite a run.
Long before I met Ms. Isenberg, I heard accounts of her one-liners, most of which cannot be repeated here. So, the first time I had lunch with her, I brought a reporter’s notebook. When I got back to my desk, there was nothing written on it. What had been said? A lot. But what was the theme? Good times, bad times. Life. Had I asked questions? I thought I had. But she had talked about what she felt like talking about. It wasn’t an interview, but an experience — a combination of Aunte Mame and Lenny Bruce.
Much of the lunch was Ms. Isenberg talking to people who came into the restaurant or worked there. She seemed to know the personal and medical histories of all of them. I had been Isenberged. It’s kind of like surfing — ride the wave and try not to fall off.
I decided to try again: Go to lunch with Sandy Isenberg and try to keep up. This time I placed my notebook in the center of the table, to better focus both of us.
I wrote down three things:
● She doesn’t order fish called cod or scrod, because that would be a “mystery fish.” She doesn’t do mystery fish.
● She thinks economic development — the Port Authority, the city, and the county — should be combined into one agency. (At that moment you think of course it should be.)
● Politicians who say they want to spend more time with their families are full of, uh, insincerity. “Watch for the indictment, my dear.”
When she saw the few lines I had scrawled, she told me not to forget, “She’s crazy.”
Her father was a Russian immigrant turned well-known Toledo haberdasher and her mother a Polish immigrant. There is something regal about her, but she can talk to anyone, and does: the mayor, the people at the next table, the guy driving the fish truck. She wants to know why there is a crack on the new part of I-75 and why the potholes get fixed over and over and don’t stay fixed. She thinks we can stick a fork in Chris Christie. She is proudest, in her political career, of what she did for poor and abused women. She remembers the day she was confirmed as a girl, like yesterday. She saw the light stream through the stained glass and knew that no matter what happened to her in life, she would be OK — some force would be guiding and protecting her. She loves the city: “We bitch constantly, but two firefighters die and everything stops, and we take care of each other. I am damn glad I live here.”
She laments her “big mouth,” which hindered her career. But her big heart is the thing people remember.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.
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