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Published: Monday, 3/1/2004

Youngstown in campaign eye

For those locals concerned that Toledoans have an inferiority complex about their city, imagine what it must be like to live in Youngstown.

It's the place where, every four years, presidential candidates, regardless of party, go to point at all that is wrong with America's economy. It is the national symbol for unemployment and corruption, of better days long gone, never to return.

According to script, both leading Democrats for their party's nomination stopped recently in Youngstown, then took their memories of the visit with them to other stops on the campaign trail.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry talked during his stop in Toledo Wednesday about his tour of a shuttered steel mill in Youngstown, using it as a symbol for the loss of jobs under the Bush Administration - never mind that the Mahoning valley has been an economic basket case since long before Mr. Bush took office.

The city, once represented in Congress by convicted felon James Traficant, still has the same hopeless, grimy feel it had when I first visited nearly nine years ago. The only things that seemed to me to have changed are the roads. They've gotten worse.

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Imagine what it must be like to be Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest waking up to local radio commercials by one of the candidates who wants to replace him. The tag line to the Wade Kapszukiewicz spots? "Integrity, for a change."

Mr. Kest, still the target of an investigation by a special prosecutor, has recently gone on the offensive, appearing on radio and television talk shows to defend his stint as treasurer, leaving some to wonder whether he might be trying to lay the groundwork for a political comeback. A Democrat, he is up for re-election this year, but did not file to run in the Democratic primary, probably and properly assuming that his on-going fight with the leadership of his own party would have meant it would not support him.

The party instead is backing Mr. Kapszukiewicz.

The only option for Mr. Kest, should he desire to try to keep his office, is to run as an independent. His filing deadline is today.

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All eyes will be watching what happens during tomorrow's primary election in Monclova Township, Precinct 1.

That is where Mr. Kest is registered to vote, and speculation is that, considering the fight with party leaders and the investigation, he might request a Republican ballot. That way, should legal problems force him from office before the end of his term, the GOP, not Democrats, will get to name his replacement.

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It is a mark of political wisdom for Mr. Kapszukiewicz to be airing those radio ads right now, instead of waiting until the last two weeks before the November election, when everyone and his dog are on the air. Now, Mr. Kapszukiewicz has the airwaves virtually to himself. No political clutter means he has the undivided attention of listeners, whose ears are caught off guard.

The conventional wisdom on airing political radio and television ads has always been that the week or two just before an election is when you get them on the air, and that running them weeks or months earlier than that is a waste of money because no one is paying attention. But a strong argument can be made that voters don't pay attention only because they haven't been taught to do so. If you give them something to pay attention to, as Mr. Kapszukiewicz has, the odds are pretty good that they will.

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With all the attention in local party politics focusing on the local Democrats, who are locked in a battle over who should run the organization, little has been made of the fact that Republicans will also meet in the near future to elect their chairman.

There has been no controversy to speak of on the GOP side of the aisle, but incumbent Chairman Bernadette Noe said last week that to assume she will automatically continue in the post would be a mistake. She said she is measuring her options, but is particularly worried about fund-raising to keep the party going.

There is enough money for now, but, having given up her law practice to attend to party business, she said she cannot continue without some help. The search is on for big-ticket donors.

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Speaking of money, former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's annual campaign finance report for 2003, filed recently with the county elections board, shows he has less than $1,000 in the bank, a mere $195,000 less than incumbent Mayor Jack Ford. For as much talk as there has been about a Finkbeiner challenge to Mr. Ford in next year's mayoral election, the former has no chance against the latter unless his bank account goes on steroids, and quickly.



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