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Published: Monday, 9/20/2004

Another dustup in the ranks of Lucas County Democrats

HOUSE-CLEANING continues at the headquarters of the Lucas County Democratic Party, as its new leaders, including Chairman Sandy Isenberg and top aide Jerry Chabler, tidied up the party's constitution. This resulted in several elected officials being swept from its executive committee.

The de-listed include several Toledo council members: Ellen Grachek, Karyn McConnell, Michael Ashford, and Wade Kapszukiewicz.

That they are all members of the party's so-called "A Team" who supported former party Chairman Paula Ross in her failed attempt earlier this year to keep control of the party was not lost on Mr. Chabler, one of the architects of Ms. Isenberg's ascension to leadership. "Yeah," he chuckled the other day.

But Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he wanted to be counted among those who "don't want to pick a fight with Sandy and Jerry" about his aborted membership on the party's top decision-making committee. The committee doles out money to candidates and confers endorsements.

"I think what they wanted was a more efficient executive committee," said the councilman from Point Place. "To me, they made enemies where they didn't have to."

The intra-party dustup stems from different interpretations of one provision of the party's constitution and bylaws that outlines who is entitled to be a part of the committee: "Elected officials of Lucas County legally eligible to serve."

Don Burnard, the chairman of the party's Policy and Bylaws Committee, said the new leadership interprets that phrase as every non-judicial official who has been elected to countywide office. Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he takes that phrase to mean all Democrats who hold elected office in Lucas County, including its cities, school boards, and townships. "For years and years and years, it meant any elected official in the county,'' he said.

Presidents of the various Democratic clubs sprinkled around the county, who enjoy constituencies of several dozen or several hundred, have guaranteed seats on the committee, but city councilmen or school board members with constituencies of tens or hundreds of thousands now apparently do not.

Other deletions from the committee include all "past chairs of the executive committee," which would include three prominent opponents to the current regime - Ms. Ross, James Ruvolo, and Mike Beazley. In other words, institutional memory is effectively banned.

Added to the bylaws is a provision demanding that all party records be handed over to new leadership, threatening criminal penalty for failure to perform. Ms. Isenberg and Mr. Chabler have complained bitterly that their early days at the helm have been hampered by financial and operational documents that somehow went missing once Ms. Ross was ousted.

But perhaps the most intriguing new amendment was the insertion of a phrase under the duties of the party screening committee: "In the case of more than one qualified candidate running for an office, no recommendation of endorsement will be given until after the primary is held."

This simple sentence carries incredible meaning in the current political climate. It is seen by some as a remedy to the clash that, finally, created a spark big enough last year to motivate the "B" team to toss former Chairman Ross from office. The spark, of course, was the party's pre-primary endorsement last December of Democrat Peter Gerken, a Toledo councilman, over incumbent county Commissioner Harry Barlos, in the race for Mr. Barlos' seat.

Many were outraged that Ms. Ross and company turned their backs on Mr. Barlos, who had no scandal attached to his name and appeared in good shape to win re-election when Mr. Gerken, a Toledo councilman with connections to influential union leaders, abruptly announced he wanted the seat.

But there is more. The non-endorsement policy clears the way for former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to run with a free hand against current Mayor Jack Ford next year without having to battle against an organized party apparatus. If the party stays on the sidelines until after the September primary next year, Mr. Finkbeiner could build a head of steam. Eventually, he may even win the party's backing in the race.

It's certainly within the realm of possibilities, considering Mr. Finkbeiner was among the organizers of the group that put the current party leaders into power in the first place.

This development is proof that what goes around comes around. It was Mr. Ford's entrance into the mayoral race against fellow Democrat Ray Kest four years ago that split the party into the two factions that are still at odds today.



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