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Published: Sunday, 5/2/2004

Democrats poised to decide Ross' fate

For more than a year, the ad hoc committee known as the Coalition of Concerned Democrats has worked to recruit precinct committeeman candidates who would vote to toss Lucas County party Chairman Paula Ross from office this spring.

Led by former county Commissioner Sandy Isenberg, they have established what is by now a well-known litany of complaints, all of which have been countered by Ms. Ross. Both sides claim they have enough backers among the precinct captains, who serve on the party's central committee, to win the day.

Tonight, as the committee meets at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall on Ashland Avenue to decide the matter, the chairmanship race will be like all other elections - who turns out will matter most.

It may come down to which campaign carpools best. Ross opponents have complained that the UAW hall is too small a venue for the meeting and lacks adequate parking. They worry that the UAW leadership, which favors Ms. Ross, will somehow fill up their parking lot early, leaving nowhere for Ross opponents to put their cars. Ms. Ross said such a plot is not in the works, but heated suspicion over these small matters demonstrates - again - just how fractious this party has become.

Those who worry that a parking jam might discourage people from attending probably don't realize that, parking trouble or not, this political meeting is one that a lot of people would pay good money to watch.

Under Ohio law the general public is welcome regardless of political affiliation.

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When the staffer for the John Kerry presidential campaign told me at a Cleveland fund-raiser Tuesday night that I needed to be in the hotel lobby ready to travel at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, I suspected the next day's schedule was in doubt. I was right.

The next morning, after waiting with other reporters and photographers in the lobby for about half an hour, Secret Service agents arrived and began "wanding" reporters with those hand-held metal detectors and running their explosives-sniffing dogs through our luggage.

Not long after, we boarded buses that would become part of a 120-mile motorcade to downtown Toledo. We pulled away from the curb about 8:45 a.m. - not quite an hour after people said they started arriving at the downtown Toledo-Lucas County Public Library for what was supposed to be an informal 9:30 a.m. event. (Contrary to what you might expect, while the motorcade swept all cars off the roadway to give it a clear path, the drive to Toledo still took about the same amount of time as driving in a private vehicle. And there was little evidence that it had disrupted traffic much).

About 11 a.m., 90 minutes behind schedule for his first event of the day, Mr. Kerry arrived in Toledo, greeting about 150 people who, despite the delay, retained enough energy to give him a good welcome. Fifteen minutes later, he was gone, taking with him the last opportunity for average residents to get close enough to see one of the two men who will be the next President of the United States.

Ohio being in play this year, locals will likely get another chance before casting their votes.

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An invitation-only town hall-style meeting not far away at the UAW hall, set for 10:30 a.m., slipped to a little past noon, but again, no one there seemed to mind. Mr. Kerry, who has demonstrated a tendency during the presidential campaign to run late, is not as bad as former President Bill Clinton. Al Gore was worse still, once being three hours late to a meeting of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, where 10,000 people had paid $100 each to dine with him and hear him speak. By the time he showed up, the food and three-quarters of the people were long gone.

The optimistic view is that Mr. Kerry is bound to get better about his schedule, as his campaign grows accustomed to dealing with the enormous logistics problems that accompany the travel of a presidential candidate.

Security was a factor four years ago, but in this first presidential election since the 2001 terror attacks, it is paramount.



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