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Published: Sunday, 6/20/2004

Challenger puts 1 foot in front of the other during uphill climb

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ben Konop spent part of the weekend walking with his father, Alan, a Toledo attorney. Ben Konop spent part of the weekend walking with his father, Alan, a Toledo attorney.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

LIMA, Ohio - Democrat Ben Konop is getting to know Ohio's 4th Congressional District one step at a time.

Yesterday, the lawyer from Ada, who is making his first run for public office, stepped off the mileage from Cridersville to the Allen County Courthouse in downtown Lima, walking alongside the gravel shoulders and water-filled ditches that separate the old Dixie Highway from fields of corn and soybeans.

Mr. Konop walked segments of roadway across the sprawling district last week. The journey, which has taken him what he said was about 15 miles each day, ends today with a walk home to Ada. He is challenging incumbent Republican Mike Oxley in the November election.

"The point is to listen to the community to gain an understanding of what is going on here in the 4th District, so that when I go to Washington, D.C., I can represent the people of the community," Mr. Konop said.

"At each town we stop and talk; we go into the diners. People voice their opinions on a variety of issues and tell me what I should do when I go to Washington. That is really invaluable. And then there is just seeing the district."

Meeting about 20 supporters at the courthouse, he told them he was feeling "good enough to walk to Washington.''

"I saw you walking down the highway," said supporter Ellen Wright.

"It's nice you didn't hit me,'' replied Mr. Konop.

"Tuesday I was in tremendous pain. [Friday] I was sort of over the hump. I feel good today,'' the candidate said yesterday.

"Now you know what we feel like,'' replied retired letter carrier Jim Wilhelm.

Several campaign volunteers shared the burden last week of hoofing it with him on the byways across sections of the sprawling 4th District. Yesterday, he marked Father's Day weekend by walking with his dad, Toledo lawyer Alan Konop.

They paused for pictures outside the former Lima Tank Plant, which recently was renamed the Joint Systems Manufacturing System, and then continued their march northward toward downtown. The plant has just won the right to build a new amphibious tank - to be used by the Marine Corps - and will add more than 200 jobs to accomplish the task, a dose of much-needed good economic news for a city that has lost jobs, some of which came with the controversial closing of a state prison. "The No. 1 issue people bring up, by far, is jobs,'' Mr. Konop said.

"People are worried about keeping the jobs they have, and they are worried about the jobs that are being created. The jobs are service-sector jobs that you can't send your kid to college on or pay for health care. People are having to work two or three jobs just to get by. People are nervous.''

Mr. Oxley, first elected to Congress in a special election to fill a vacancy in June, 1981, is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He has reported more than $1 million in his campaign bank account, compared to $33,000 for Mr. Konop, as of March 31.

Mr. Oxley did not respond to calls seeking comment. He is one of 12 Republican congressmen from Ohio. Democrats hold six seats.

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



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