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Published: Monday, 10/4/2004

Candidates' forum? Two words: Lively entertainment

The public was treated Friday to what has become a fixture on the local campaign trail - the annual candidates' forum sponsored by the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and WGTE-TV Channel 30 and aired both on Channel 30 and the Buckeye CableSystem.

The breakfast event is a smorgasbord of political rhetoric because virtually every local candidate is there. They each get two minutes to deliver an unedited and uninterrupted campaign speech, and then are subjected to questions supplied by the live audience.

The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. tonight on Buckeye's community channel 69.

The question-and-answer segment is always entertaining. At one point, moderator Tom Walton, Editor of The Blade, asked each of the candidates to describe their opponents in just two words. Such queries are interesting because opponents sit right next to each other in chairs that are placed uncomfortably close, maybe to increase the drama.

Lucas County Sheriff James Telb, a longtime instructor at the University of Toledo, looked over at challenger Tom Gulch, and said: "Former student."

Mr. Gulch, who after a long career with the Toledo Police Department is now the police chief in the city of Oregon, returned the favor: "Former teacher."

It was a pleasant exchange in a race that has included some tough barbs.

Nancy Fuerst, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court who is running for an open seat against Judith Lanzinger of Lucas County, looked at Ms. Lanzinger and said: "Well funded."

The ocean of money swashing around Ohio's Supreme Court races has been a major source of irritation for some, especially those candidates without so much cash.

Democrat Peter Gerken, the challenger running for the county commission seat now held by Harry Barlos, on his opponent: "Status Quo." At that, Mr. Barlos leaned away from Mr. Gerken, as if suffering a stab wound.

But Republican Mark Wagoner, running for the District 46 state representative seat in suburban Lucas County, had the two words that brought down the house. He looked at the empty seat next to him that was supposed to be filled by opponent Nancy Patrick Greeley, and said: "Not here."

Ms. Patrick Greeley later said she overslept because of an alarm clock malfunction.

"The power went off. I just feel really bad."

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Mr. Telb and Mr. Gulch, both "double-dippers" who take a pension from a public entity while continuing to earn public sector paychecks, were asked to explain why voters should continue to support them when they are financially so well-supported now. It's a topic neither of them enjoys explaining, and some were surprised when Mr. Telb grabbed for the microphone.

"I'll answer that question first. I've been doing it longer," he said. Realizing the audience assumed he meant that he had been double-dipping longer, he quickly recovered: "Defending it. I mean I've been defending it longer," he said.

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Mr. Gerken, an employee of the United Auto Workers who entered the commissioner race last year against Mr. Barlos with the strong support of UAW boss Lloyd Mahaffey - who some claim wangled the Democratic Party endorsement in the race away from Mr. Barlos and to Mr. Gerken - was asked if the union would run his county office if elected.

Mr. Gerken said it would not.

Given a chance to weigh in on the subject, Mr. Barlos - whose professional relationship with Mr. Mahaffey has been rocky at best - quipped: "I don't think I'll be influenced by the UAW."

The Barlos-Gerken endorsement battle last December caused a rift in the Democratic Party to become a chasm, and led to the ouster of party Chairman Paula Ross earlier this year. Many in the party are still angry that Mr. Barlos, a longtime incumbent, was denied his party's endorsement, a fact so obvious that Mr. Gerken tried valiantly to ignore.

"I'm not sure there is a split in the local Democratic Party. I thought we fixed that," he said.

Then acknowledging that conflict remained in the party, he explained that Democrats have "a big tent with a lot of critters in there."

In a clear demonstration that it takes a lot more time to heal some wounds, Mr. Barlos said giving the party endorsement to Mr. Gerken was "a calculated error" by Mr. Mahaffey and former chairman Paula Ross, who lost her job because of the fight. The pair, he told the chamber and television crowd, "showed a total disrespect for the political process."

Turns out some critters have sharp teeth.



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