When Toledo City Councilman Pete Gerken decided to run for Lucas County commissioner, he knew he was taking on the board's most senior commissioner and a fellow Democrat.
That decision in December began a contentious year in local politics and led incumbent Commissioner Harry Barlos, a lifelong Democrat, to run as an independent.
The men are fighting for one of two county commissioner seats up for grabs Tuesday. County commissioners, who are paid $78,966 a year, oversee numerous county agencies and services.
Mr. Barlos, 53, has served as the president of the board for the past two of his five years as a commissioner. A longtime resident of Lucas County, Mr. Barlos said he began his work in public service when he was hired as a page in the state capital.
At 25, he ran for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. Though he lost, Mr. Barlos said he was hooked on politics.
In 1985, Mr. Barlos was elected mayor of Maumee. Seven years later, he was elected Lucas County's clerk of courts. While serving in that job, Mr. Barlos was appointed to fill a seat on the board of commissioners vacated by Mark Pietrykowski, an attorney who resigned to become a judge on the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo.
Mr. Barlos said his plans, if re-elected, include trying to improve cooperation between the county and the city of Toledo to build a stronger community. He said he will continue to emphasize the need for economic development and job growth.
"On a local level, it becomes critical that we unite our common goals and vision," Mr. Barlos said. "We need to set aside the political damage we do to ourselves and strive for that common ground."
Mr. Gerken, 52, who works as co-administrator for the DaimlerChrysler UAW Training Center, pledged to retire from his job if elected, making commissioner his full-time position. He said he believes the county is heading in the "wrong direction," especially when looking at the number of jobs lost. He offered his experience working with major corporations, namely Jeep, as a key difference in his credentials over his opponent.
"Job retention and creation is a No. 1 priority," he said. "We need to act quickly and be ready for future opportunities, as well as the ones we have now."
A Toledo city councilman since 1996, Mr. Gerken has proposed establishing a citizens' review board that would review all countywide levy requests that go before the commissioners.