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Published: Friday, 3/31/2000

Attack ad sets nasty tone for election year

An early attack ad aired on local radio by the Lucas County Democratic Party has taken Republican state Rep. Jim Mettler to task for his support for a bill that the commercial said would bail out polluters.

The ad, which has ended its air schedule, complained that Mr. Mettler was among those representatives who couldn't care less about kids and education, but loved those big businesses that pillage the Earth for profit.

If this spot is any indication, this could be one of the nastiest political years in the modern era.

The ad referred to House Joint Resolution 15, a measure that stems from a pollution clean-up initiative introduced in Governor Taft's State of the State speech. The resolution, sponsored by Mr. Mettler, would place bond issues totaling $400 million on the Nov. 7 ballot. Voters would be asked in a single ballot question to amend the Ohio Constitution so that the state can borrow money to clean polluted land in urban areas, protect farmland, and establish parks.

"Apparently, they did not read the resolution before they wrote the commercial," Mr. Mettler said of his Democratic attackers.

At issue is a provision in the resolution that allows the state money to be used to clean up polluted areas when the individual or business that created the pollution cannot be found, or has no money to pay for clean-up.

The ad calls that provision polluter-friendly.

But Mr. Mettler said there is nothing in the proposal that removes liability for the pollution clean-up. In cases where once-active land sits contaminated for decades in an unusable state, he said it makes sense to move forward to reclaim the land, all the while retaining the right to go after the polluter for the clean-up cost later on, if practical.

"Maybe the Democratic chairwoman doesn't realize those sites exist in Toledo," Mr. Mettler said. "Maybe her living in Ottawa Hills is part of the problem. She is falling back to her days as one of Mike Ferner's tree-hugging cronies who don't believe Republicans have the right to clean up the environment."

Paula Ross, who did not respond to calls seeking comment, worked on the 1993 mayoral campaign of Mr. Ferner, who ran on a platform laden with environmental activism. Ms. Ross has also worked for Ohio Citizen Action, an activist group which has also voiced concern about HJR 15.

CARTY FINKBEINER, the Democratic mayor of Toledo, has repeatedly said a top priority to development in the city is to reclaim polluted sites, exactly the goal of the resolution. It also fights urban sprawl by making possible the recycling of city land as an alternative to building on suburban farmland.

During a Toledo campaign appearance in 1998, gubernatorial candidate Taft was praised by Mr. Finkbeiner for his commitment to cleaning up polluted "brownfield" sites to help cities redevelop used land.

HJR 15 had 44 co-sponsors, including 11 Democrats, among them Rep. Jeanine Perry of Point Place. She scrambled to have her sponsorship rescinded about the time that heat was building in Columbus over the advertisement. After all, it could be hard for her to explain her support for a resolution that her own county party chairwoman is blasting on local airwaves.

Mr. Mettler represents House District 52, which covers parts of south and west Toledo, parts of Springfield Township, and Ottawa Hills. He was appointed to the seat last fall, and is running to keep it in the November election.

Teresa Fedor, a Toledo school teacher who is making her first run for public office, is opposing him.

"I do have concerns," Ms. Fedor said of the legislation. "I believe in holding people accountable" for polluting the land. She said she wants to "make sure that taxpayers are not left holding the bag" cleaning up contaminated sites while polluters get off with no expense.

Mr. Mettler said the resolution is an early step in the process, and that legislation to follow would spell out specifics about exactly how the millions would be spent.

The ad aired at a time when the legislation is still in flux. The opportunity to attack Mr. Mettler will be gone when those specifics are outlined later this year. He said it is too bad that Democrats would "try to politicize legislation that holds great promise for communities like Toledo."

The ad also implied that Mr. Mettler, faced with a choice between spending $400 million on public schools in the state and bailing out well-heeled polluters, backed the polluters. In his view, not only was the part about the polluters a distortion, the bill has nothing to do with education.

Ms. Fedor said the ad was fair because, in her mind, the Legislature should "solve the state's education crisis first," before pursuing other legislation.

Mike Swartz, president of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Young Republican Club, makes the point in a press release that "this bill could greatly benefit schools, especially in urban communities, by creating additional jobs and revenue that could be invested toward school funding."

Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Questions? Comments? Tips? He can be reached via e-mail at Fritz@theblade.com.



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