The committee voted 8-0 yesterday to cite the Kest campaign for violating the clean campaign pledge because of the web site, which committee spokesman Dr. Gary Blaine called “offensive and deplorable.”
The committee also decided there was nothing improper about Mr. Ford's TV ads, nor did it cite Mr. Ford's camp for handing out copies of a 1997 court deposition in which Mr. Kest admitted to telling a subordinate she had “beautiful breasts.” Mr. Kest later apologized to her.
Both candidates signed a pledge in August to run campaigns based on issues and not mudslinging. That pledge resulted in the formation of the 15-member volunteer committee, headed by Dr. Blaine, pastor of First Unitarian Church.
Yesterday's 1 1/2-hour meeting addressed complaints of increased dirty tricks by both campaigns in the waning days of the race. The committee found the only violation was the clandestine web site.
The web site was registered to a fictitious person, but the registration's e-mail links to a Todd Gagne, treasurer of the pro-Kest group “Republicans for Ray.” Web registrants say that, while the name on an account may be phony, the e-mail address must be listed accurately for proper billing.
Mr. Gagne has said his e-mail link to the web site must have been an elaborate, high-tech trick by the Ford camp. But the clean campaign committee doubted that.
“That [theory] seems pretty fanciful,” Dr. Blaine said.
“It's an awfully convenient charge to make: `Oh, I didn't do it. They must have planted it. Or someone surreptitiously set it up in our name.' Right now, it all goes back to [Mr. Gagne.],” Dr. Blaine said.
Mr. Gagne did not return a phone call yesterday. According to a Kest campaign statement released yesterday, “Mr. Gagne feels that it's a purposeful attack on his character and his reputation by falsely charging him.”
Mr. Kest maintained yesterday he knew nothing of the web site.
The inaccuracy of the web site was also cited by the committee.
The site contained a cover letter that claimed that a “mentally crazed Jack Ford who was insane on drugs and alcohol” ran away from police and “attempted to commit suicide by jumping off” the Anthony Wayne Bridge in a 1988 incident.
The web site linked to a copy of a real, 1988 police report involving Mr. Ford. He has said the report stemmed from an argument he had with his ex-wife. No charges were ever filed. Dr. Blaine said the police report didn't match the allegations in the cover letter.
“We didn't find anything, for example, in the police report that could substantiate, by any credible witness, that Mr. Ford was psychotic, that he was suicidal, anything like that,” Dr. Blaine said.
“There was just no evidence there, and we find [the web site] to be a really offensive ad,” Dr. Blaine said.
Mr. Ford, a state representative, said yesterday that he appreciated the committee's ruling on the web site: “I thought [the web site] was a sleazy piece of campaigning.”
Although Mr. Kest, the Lucas County treasurer, maintained he had no connection to the web site, the committee said it didn't matter: He had a responsibility to ensure surrogates didn't violate the campaign pledge either.
Mr. Kest had other concerns. He said he was angry the committee did not cite Mr. Ford for the ads, in which Mr. Ford said Mr. Kest wanted to take over Toledo Public Schools and export Toledo jobs.
In the school issue, Mr. Kest has said if the district does not improve, he would support “legislative changes” and take a “leadership role.” His campaign web site says Cleveland, a district taken over by the mayor, is an example of successful mayoral intervention.
On the jobs issue, Mr. Kest has said a regional approach to development would increase jobs in every community, including Toledo. Mr. Ford has said a regional approach could backfire and suck jobs out of the city.
Dr. Blaine said neither TV claim by Mr. Ford crossed the line.
The committee did not issue any sanctions against Lucas County Democratic Party chairwoman Paula Ross for distributing “six to 10” copies of Mr. Kest's deposition in a 1996 sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a co-worker, which Mr. Kest won.
Dr. Blaine said he felt he already had publicly sanctioned the Ford camp in a Blade article yesterday. In that article, Dr. Blaine called both the web site and the deposition distribution “muck.”
On Wednesday, the committee sanctioned Mr. Kest for calling a proposal by Mr. Ford “Neanderthal” thinking - saying the term has negative and racial connotations that date back centuries.
Mr. Kest said yesterday he could not believe he is the one that keeps getting sanctioned: “I'm amazed they can quote something back from a couple centuries ago, like Neanderthal, and not cite Jack Ford's campaign for running an ad that's patently not true.”