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Published: Monday, 5/3/2004

Election of leader could get disorderly

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

As Lucas County Democrats gather tonight to vote whether to keep incumbent Paula Ross as their chairman or to opt instead for challenger Sandy Isenberg, Ross opponents said yesterday they are concerned there are no clear rules and procedures in place to govern the meeting and election.

"There has been a rebuff in meetings held this last week that Robert's Rules of Order be the guiding structure for us during this meeting,'' said Carty Finkbeiner, former Toledo mayor and a leader of the Coalition of Concerned Democrats, a group working to oust Ms. Ross from power.

"If they don't have it, you're going to have complete disorder,'' added fellow Ross opponent Jerry Chabler. "How do you run a meeting without some rules of conduct?''

"The ground rules will be as they always have been - the rules of common sense,'' countered Ms. Ross in an interview yesterday, "designed so that the majority will rule and the minority will be heard.''

"I don't think any of us wants to be there until midnight,'' she said.

The key, said Mr. Chabler, will be the first vote of the night, which should be to elect a temporary chairman to run the rest of the meeting. If Don Burnard, the temporary chairman candidate representing Ross opponents, is elected, Mr. Chabler said Robert's Rules will be employed. If Ross supporter Keith Wilkowski is elected temporary chairman, the "rules of common sense'' will be followed.

Ms. Ross said the formal Robert's Rules will not be followed chiefly because they are too cumbersome and could cause extensive, unnecessary delays on technical points that have no bearing on the main objectives of the meeting. Mr. Chabler said that, without Robert's Rules, a contentious meeting could devolve into "chaos.''

More than 400 Democratic precinct committeemen, also known as precinct captains, who make up the party's central committee, will gather at 6 p.m. at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall on Ashland Avenue today to decide the matter.

The race for chairman promises to be close. Both Ms. Ross and her opponents claim to have the support of a majority of precinct captains to carry the day.

The vote for chairman of the party will be conducted only after there are brief nominating speeches for each candidate and slightly longer speeches by the candidates, Mr. Ross said. Then votes will be cast confidentially using paper ballots.

Both Ross supporters and opponents will be allowed to participate in the credentialing of the central committee members to see that only those who are qualified to vote are allowed to do so. Credentialing will begin an hour before the meeting.

Volunteers will be working to help direct committee members and the general public to available parking around the UAW hall, should those slots become filled.

Vans also will be available to shuttle people to and from the meeting from lots in nearby blocks, Ms. Ross said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that if Ross opponents believe they are being "steamrolled'' at the meeting, it will cause discontent that could damage the Democratic Party slate this fall.

His goal, he said, is that "once the vote for the chairmanship has run its course, nobody will leave the UAW hall feeling the other side had manipulated the proceedings to their advantage, leaving them embittered and unlikely to join the ranks to work for the election of John Kerry.''

But he said that with so many issues about the meeting still unsettled, it could lead to big trouble for the party later on.

Democrat Teresa Fedor, a state senator and ardent Ross supporter, was optimistic.

"We are a party, we are a family,'' Ms. Fedor said. "With a family, you are going to have some bumps in the road, but I am confident that we are going to pull together.''

A long-standing rift in the local party became a chasm when two Democrats - Jack Ford and Ray Kest, each representing a different faction of the party - ran against each other in the 2001 mayoral race. That chasm became a canyon late last year, when party insiders turned their back on incumbent Democrat Harry Barlos, a county commissioner, and instead conferred the endorsement in that race on fellow Democrat Pete Gerken, who hails from the party's other faction.

Ms. Ross was elected chairman in early 1998. Ms. Isenberg was a longtime county officeholder, last serving 17 years as a county commissioner until her defeat two years ago.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at: fritz@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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