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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2005

Isenberg, Duffey rally to reunite Democrats

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

When it was all over Tuesday night, Sandy Isenberg declared it an "embarrassment."

But by yesterday afternoon, the chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party said she thinks the raucous meeting of the party's central committee may have been a low point from which the party will inevitably rebound - the political equivalent of an addict hitting bottom.

Yesterday came the intervention. Ms. Isenberg met for more than three hours with Dennis Duffey, the winner of the Tuesday night vote to replace Ray Kest, a fellow Democrat who stepped down as Lucas County treasurer at the end of November to avoid a felony theft charge.

Mr. Duffey, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8 and chairman of the party central committee, defeated Toledo Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz, who was supported by Ms. Isenberg and who was elected treasurer on Nov. 2 for the term beginning in September.

Both said they regretted the untamed nature of the meeting, but agreed yesterday's conclave was a first step in uniting the party.

While Ms. Isenberg said there is a possibility that some may yet challenge the vote, she said after yesterday's meeting with Mr. Duffey that she considers him the winner.

"I still look at the people in that room [Tuesday night] as all good, passionate, dedicated Democrats, regardless of how they look at this situation. I will work diligently with as many people as I possibly can to help solve some of the issues that are there," Ms. Isenberg said.

"I just feel badly that it erupted into such a chaotic meeting. It was a business meeting. I am just looking forward to moving on, getting this all behind us, getting this settled, having heartfelt discussions," Ms. Isenberg said.

"I wish I had a magic wand to bring this [party] all back together," said Mr. Duffey. "We've had some conversations, and we're going to continue to have some conversations until we can figure out what the problems are. We can point fingers and make accusations, which accomplishes absolutely nothing but leads to a further divide. If we get some key people to the table, and they can put their honest concerns on the table, that's the only way we can address it."

Mr. Duffey and Ms. Isenberg are part of what has for decades been known as the party's "B team," who until last year never seemed able to wrest control of the party from the "A team," which includes Mr. Kapszukiewicz.

But since taking over last spring, the B team has found stormy weather at the top.

Conditions turned particularly nasty in recent weeks, as party leaders looked for a replacement for Mr. Kest.

The battle even caused a rift between Mr. Duffey and Ms. Isenberg that yesterday's meeting was intended to help heal.

"I would prefer not to keep calling it the A and B teams. I would prefer to be calling it the Democrat Party that has great, passionate feelings on many different sides of an issue," she said.

"We've made a lot of changes here, and we've done a lot of great things. I am looking forward to good days," Ms. Isenberg said.

Mr. Duffey said he was preparing to take over as treasurer immediately, and spent some time finding out what paperwork needed to be completed. He said he was considering the offer of an "olive branch" to Mr. Kapszukiewicz, which could include the offer of a job in the treasurer's office to help him learn how the office operates before his four-year term begins Sept. 12.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he would decline such an offer.

"The voters said overwhelmingly that I am qualified and ready, I am experienced enough, in their minds, to serve in the office. Voters didn't say that I will assume office only after I serve a probationary period or after I serve an internship, or any of that stuff. They said that 'You're the guy we want as Lucas County treasurer.'‚óŹ"

He said he resigned last week from his job as a grant writer for Compass, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment organization, in anticipation of being named treasurer this week. He said he will continue as a Toledo councilman.

Mr. Duffey said he plans to keep intact the staff of the treasurer's office, relying on the expertise of top assistants, including top aide John Irish, during this, one of the busiest tax collection seasons of the year.

"Like anything else, the new guy comes in, eases in and observes what's going on. If it looks like there are some inefficiencies that I am aware of, some needs of the office, we'll address all of them. I don't think I'm going to be there 40 or 50 hours a week," he said. "Whatever is needed."

He said he will retain his job at IBEW Local 8, and will donate his treasurer salary, minus any taxes, to the Old Newsboys Goodfellows Association, a local charity group.

The treasurer is paid $68,064 per year.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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