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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Monday, 8/19/2002

Will the race be Perz vs. Isenberg?

Lucas County Republican leaders will meet tonight to decide who will take up the campaign against embattled incumbent Democrat Sandy Isenberg in the race for county commissioner.

Lots of GOP names have been tossed about - all but one of them current office holders. That one - Allison Perz, an education consultant who is linked with charter schools - has given the most positive reaction of all the prospects to queries about her interest in the race.

She is the daughter of former state Rep. Sally Perz, a four-term veteran legislator who now lobbies for the University of Toledo. Allison was intimately involved with her mother's campaigns, and has worked as a top official of the county GOP under former chairman Tom Noe.

Both Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette, a lawyer who is the current chairman, are very supportive of the person they refer to as “A.P.”

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You know the story.

Last week Democratic Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg flip-flopped and decided against a retirement scheme that would have allowed her to collect a pension from an elected position for which she is also seeking re-election - and a full-time salary.

Her plan was to retire at the end of the year and begin collecting a $40,000 pension, combined with the $76,000 per year she would receive in regular salary starting Jan. 1 - assuming she wins re-election.

Now the rest of the story: Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger, another Democrat, who also filed an intent to begin drawing a pension, is set to receive about $70,000 per year from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, on top of his salary of $106,000. Unlike Ms. Isenberg, Judge Puffenberger has said he plans to go ahead with his plans to retire, and collect his pension and salary if re-elected.

This despite the public outrage that has surfaced since word of the double-dipping hit the news pages.

Mr. Puffenberger said the legislature examined the law allowing the double-dip, and spelled out specifically how public officials should proceed to take advantage of it. He has followed those rules. In reversing her course, Ms. Isenberg said “I was wrong. It is wrong for an elected official to retire and keep working the same job. Clearly the public senses a problem when officials announce their retirement from public office while still seeking that office.”

No member of the Ohio Supreme Court, which sets ethical standards for Ohio judges, has used the double-dip provision. Only Alice Robie Resnick could have. She could not be reached.

Assuming continued re-election until state law bars him due to age in 2026, Mr. Puffenberger stands to earn $1.68 million in pension cash alone, not counting regular salary.

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The difference between the two candidates? Ms. Isenberg faces an opponent in the fall election, while Mr. Puffenberger does not.

At least not yet.

The deadline for write-in candidates in the race is Sept. 16. Paperwork is not much of an obstacle. The Lucas County board of elections requires completion of a simple one-page form and a check for $80 to cover the filing fee.

Ron Faucheux, editor-in-chief of Campaigns and Elections magazine, based in Washington, said special circumstances must be in place for a write-in campaign to be successful.

“That campaign, as any campaign, has to be run correctly. You would have to gear a campaign around explaining mechanically how to do it, and sort of making it a matter of pride that your support base will go out and vote” despite the barrier of having to write the name in, Mr. Faucheux said.

“If there is genuinely public outrage over something like that, that could be enough to do it,” he said. “It seems like voters are less tolerant of things like that now. They have, over the years, become less tolerant of public officials taking care of themselves at public expense. I don't think voters think that's cute anymore.

“It has created a sense that people high up in power, whether it is government or business, are abusing their positions. A lot of people are reacting against that,” said Mr. Faucheux.

Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, said write-in campaigns are occasionally successful in Ohio.

It's not impossible,” he said. “It has happened before. The odds for success dramatically improve with resources being applied to the candidate and if the political environment favors them.”

Ms. Isenberg could tell you the political environment at Government Center is quite different than it was a month ago.



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