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Published: Sunday, 4/1/2001

This big fish seeks move to smaller pond

The proposal to raise the Toledo mayor's annual salary to $136,000 has produced a bombshell - one with national ramifications.

The prospect of a $61,000 raise - from the current salary of $75,000 - has turned into a public relations coup for the city, piquing the interest of more than a dozen nationally known politicians, the most notable being William Jefferson Clinton.

That's right, Bill Clinton.

As the big story on the front page of today's paper suggests, an announcement is imminent. “He thinks April 1 would be the perfect date to kick off his campaign,” said one of Mr. Clinton's top advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


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Mr. Clinton, who has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in New York City, is said to prefer Toledo because he wants to get away from the media spotlight.

“That pardon scandal really took a toll on him,” said the adviser, who also played a behind-the-scenes role in Hillary Clinton's transformation from First Lady to New York senator. “Bill wants to stay involved in politics and feels Toledo would be a good fit. He talked with several people about Toledo. Let me tell you, his eyes really sparkled when Brendan Sullivan told him about the downtown McDonald's.”

More than anything, though, Mr. Clinton would relish the opportunity to work in a media-friendly environment. After eight investigation-filled years in Washington, even New York City would be a welcome relief. But Toledo would be even better.

“Even though Toledo is Small Potatoes compared to the Big Apple, the salary would make him the top banana among Ohio's mayors,” said Arkansas radio personality Scott Mark Schaffer, who, thankfully, resisted the temptation to extend his thought with an apples-and-oranges reference. “Plus, it's my understanding that The Blade never scrutinizes public officials.”

Mr. Clinton is said to be perturbed that his annual salary as Toledo mayor still would be less than the $137,108 paid to James Hartung, director of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

“I'm sure Bill can get past that,” the adviser said, “but, geez, you'd think The Blade would want to hold an agency like that - with a director who earns $137,108 - accountable for its actions. You may want to do a little digging and see what you come up with.”

As of Friday, Mr. Clinton wasn't convinced Toledo was the place for him. But a meeting with the outgoing mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, changed all that.

“One word: Toledowood,” said Mr. Finkbeiner, who, in a strange twist of fate, may finally get a job in the Clinton administration. “He was skeptical at first, but I won him over with my enthusiasm. I'll admit I got pretty animated - my face got beet red and, unbeknownst to me, I started pointing at him. Funny, now that I think about it, he changed his mind right after I came within an inch of poking him in the chest.”

Toledo mayoral candidate Ray Kest seemed to welcome the challenge: “Bring him on. I've got $200,000 in my war chest. Let's see Denise Rich top that.”

On Saturday, Mr. Clinton sent emissaries to Toledo to check out available office space. The best deal they found was at the University of Toledo's Levis House, which has been vacant ever since Frank Horton's tenure as school president. The deal-breaker came when UT said Mr. Clinton could stay for only two months.

“That would have been a good place, especially when he has overnight guests, but it just didn't feel like an office, especially when you put it up against ones in Manhattan and Harlem,” said Mr. Clinton's brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, who reportedly was offered $250 by Marc Rich to arrange a let's-compare-notes meeting with fellow financier and Toledo native Marty Frankel.

If elected, one of Mr. Clinton's first duties would be to create a City Hall internship program, the aide said.

“One more thing,” the aide said, “April Fools!”

Russ Lemmon's column appears Sundays. Readers may contact him at 1-419-724-6122, or e-mail rlemmon@theblade.com.



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