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Published: 7/20/2003

Politics and preservation

Leaders in Sylvania are serving up a tasty political treat, as the hottest issue to crop up in years is likely to go to the ballot in the same election in which four city council seats are up for grabs.

The measure, expected to be put to voters in November, would settle the fate of the Lathrop House, a structure across Main Street from St. Joseph Catholic Church. The house, said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, is owned by the church, which wanted to either tear it down or move it to make way for other development. The city, wanting to preserve the historic house at its present location, recently initiated legal proceedings to take control of the house over the objection of the church.

Churchgoers led the way in circulating the petition that asks voters to reverse the city's action. The juicy initiative mixes politics with religion, money, and constitutional issues, including property rights and the government's power to confiscate them. It puts the Republican Party, dominant in that part of the county, into a pinch because some party members favor the measure and others oppose it.

Incumbent Republicans Bonita Scheidel and Keith Haddad voted to take the Lathrop House, and oppose the measure that would reverse their decision. Two other Republican candidates, John Borell, Jr., and Douglas Haynam favor the church's point of view.

“John and I believe the Lathrop House could be moved and still be meaningful to the community,” said Mr. Haynam, chairman of the Sylvania Republicans, a political club. But, he said, “there are obviously two very compelling interests that, in this particular instance, run headlong into each other.”

He insists the controversy will not cause a split in the local GOP.

“We are not disenfranchising any Republicans, and we're not throwing anybody out of the party,” he said, adding that he believes the fact that the Lathrop House has become such a big issue is testament to the quality of government services that the GOP-led council has established in Sylvania.

“It's important to note that the big issue out here isn't police and fire issues, or garbage pickup or problems with the streets,” he said. “We are not in disarray. We have never been stronger than we are right now.”

Just in case, Democrats, who hold only one of seven seats on council, are making a play for a second. Mark Luetke, a member of the Sylvania School Board, joins fellow Dem John Billis in the council race. The top four finishers will win seats.

No matter the outcome of the issue, the Lathrop House will cost the city plenty of cash. If it ends up taking the house, it will have to pay the church a reasonable price. If the measure passes and the city is forced to abandon its takeover effort, it will have to reimburse the church for legal expenses it incurred to defend against the city. Either way, Mr. Haynam said, it looks like the city is going to be out about $100,000.

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Heavenly coincidence? Two of the seven Sylvania candidates for council this fall were born on Christmas Day - Mr. Borell, Jr., (1969), and Mr. Haynam (1954). A third, Mr. Luetke, was born on Christmas Eve (1948). All Borell, Jr. and Haynam are siding with the Catholic church in the Lathrop House dispute. Could it be that their holiday birthdays are guiding their consciences? Luetke said he is neither on the side of the city nor St. Joseph Catholic Church.

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Another attempt at a third-rate burglary? Toledo police report that Lucas County Democratic headquarters on Madison Avenue was broken into the other night. The police report states that a window was pried off, but “the building was clear, [and there] appeared to be no loss.”

The building's alarm apparently sounded, and party Chairman Paula Ross was alerted by the monitoring company. It also apparently scared away the perpetrator.

No word on the whereabouts late last Monday night of G. Gordon Liddy.

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Opinion alert: As the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks approaches, Zogby International, the survey company based in Utica, N.Y., reports that nearly half - 45 percent - of Americans responding to an online questionnaire said they are not willing to give up any civil liberties to increase the government's ability to find terrorists embedded in our midst. Resistance to government snooping doubled compared with a telephone survey that Zogby conducted just one month earlier.



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