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Published: 10/18/2004

Democrats likely to maintain hold on treasurer's office

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

This week The Blade will report the results of a local Zogby International poll. Today's story is about how Lucas County residents rate the candidates for treasurer.

A Democrat has held the Lucas County treasurer's office for decades, and voters show no signs that they want to change that in the Nov. 2 election, a new poll shows.

With incumbent Democrat Ray Kest not running for re-election, Democrat Wade Kapszukiewicz holds an edge in the race to replace him, leading Democrat-turned-Republican Betty Shultz by 49 percent to 36 percent.

With the candidates' media campaigns poised to begin as they head down the stretch to Election Day, 16 percent of voters said they remain undecided.

"I'm obviously encouraged" by the poll numbers, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. "I know that there's still a lot of work left to do. I'm not taking anything for granted. I am continuing to run the same aggressive campaign I've been running for the last six months."

Among Democrats, 72 percent favor Mr. Kapszukiewicz, while 12 percent favor Ms. Shultz, who spent all but the last 18 months as a member of the party. She jumped to the the GOP after a squabble with then-chairman Paula Ross, who herself was tossed out of party leadership this spring after a rancorous battle between the two wings of the local Democratic Party.

Ms. Shultz said the poll's results that show Democrats favor her opponent by a wide margin are "disappointing to the extent that I am the same person that they supported for 29 years" despite the party switch. "I have the same way of thinking. I still vote in the same way, and I will never be bought by a political boss. I continue to serve the people."

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he thinks Ms. Shultz lost a lot of support among Democrats when they learned that she had contributed to the re-election campaign of President Bush.

Republicans seem to have embraced Ms. Shultz; she leads among GOP voters by a 75 percent to 17 percent margin.

"I plan to keep on working diligently through Election Day," she said.

The race for the independent vote is essentially tied, with 39 percent supporting Ms. Shultz and 37 percent supporting Mr. Kapszukiewicz. One in four independents say they remain undecided.

Though Mr. Kapszukiwicz has only ever appeared on a ballot in the sliver of North and West Toledo that makes up Toledo City Council's 6th District, he has built a measure of strength across the city and in suburban Lucas County, the poll shows. Within the city, he leads Ms. Shultz, 50 percent to 34 percent, even though Ms. Shultz has run multiple times on a citywide ballot as an at-large councilman.

In the suburbs, Mr. Kapszukiewicz holds a narrow lead, 44 percent to 41 percent. Fifteen percent of suburban voters remain undecided.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz leads among men, 46 percent to 38 percent, and among women, 51 percent to 34 percent.

Incumbent Treasurer Ray Kest is not running for re-election in part because he remains embroiled in a criminal investigation by a special prosecutor over expenditures of thousands of dollars in county funds for a PhD he was pursuing at Cleveland State University.

A Blade investigation showed that he was using county funds to pay for tuition, books, lodging, and automobile expenses. The investigation led to an overhaul of the policy governing how county officials use their county cars and cell phones.

The results of a state audit to be released today show Mr. Kest must reimburse the county nearly $17,000.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz has devoted much of his effort on the campaign trail promising to clean house at the treasurer's office to rid it of any hint of the alleged Kest corruption, and he has charged that Mr. Kest is supporting Ms. Shultz in the race.

Ms. Shultz denies that claim, and, like her opponent, has promised to run a clean office based on decades of fiscal discipline in public office.

"I think my message is resonating with the voters," he said. "I think people really believe it's time for sweeping change in the treasurer's office."

Ms. Shultz also pledged to bring in her own crew to make sure the office operates as efficiently as possible. She has pledged to ask financial experts to help her reform efforts.

Asked whether a Kest endorsement of a candidate in the race for treasurer would make respondents more or less likely to vote for that candidate, a majority - 64 percent - said it would either make no difference or that they were unsure.

However, most of the remaining 36 percent said a Kest endorsement of one candidate would cause them to vote for the other. A Kest endorsement would repulse 28 percent, while 8 percent would see it as a positive thing, the poll shows.

Ms. Shultz said Mr. Kapszukiewicz's effort to tie her to Mr. Kest is misguided.

"He has continued to run against Ray Kest, but Betty Shultz's name is on the ballot. In the final analysis, I believe that the polls will narrow. The state auditor [Betty Montgomery] has come out and supported me. She is the one who has examined what has gone on in that office. She supports me as the one to clean it up."

The poll also shows Mr. Kest made a prudent decision not to seek another four-year term. Two out of every three respondents - 66 percent - said that if he were on the ballot for re-election, it is unlikely he would receive their vote. He would receive the support of just 22 percent, the poll shows, while 12 percent said they were unsure how they would vote if he were a candidate.

Tomorrow: The races for Lucas County sheriff, recorder, and clerk of courts.

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



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