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Published: Saturday, 4/2/2005

Several county Democrats to ignore sanctions by party

FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Several elected Democrats in Lucas County said yesterday they will ignore sanctions imposed on them and their colleagues by the party's executive committee at a meeting Thursday.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, who escaped sanctions imposed by party leaders on seven city councilmen and four Toledo school board members for favoring unendorsed Democrats over endorsed Democrats in appointments to both bodies, said sanctions are meaningless and will have no effect on his behavior.

"I can only assume they are trying to isolate candidates from the party and from each other,'' he said yesterday, adding that he believes party leaders are trying to set the stage for a mayoral campaign challenge by Carty Finkbeiner later this year.

The party suffers from a split that has lasted for decades, but which grew worse last year when the faction in power for years, the "A Team," was tossed out by a group of outsiders, the "B Team." Mr. Ford's faction of the party is now out of power.

"It's all arrogance. It's a power move that has the potential to backfire dramatically,'' Mr. Ford said, adding that he will help Democrats of a like mind.

The seven sanctioned Democrats voted in January to appoint Phil Copeland, an executive of Laborers International Union of North America Local 500, to fill a council vacancy, turning their backs on the party's endorsed candidate, Mark Sobczak, who works for Teamsters Local 20.

The sanctions bar the seven from using party headquarters or volunteers or from receiving campaign contributions from the party or other Democrats. The penalties are supposed to last one year and apply to the candidates in the next year in which they are on the ballot.

This year, the sanctions apply to at-large councilmen Louis Escobar, Frank Szollosi, and Karen McConnell.

Mr. Ford was not sanctioned, though he did help Mr. Copeland win the council seat. He gave him $200 in December, just as Mr. Copeland sought the post.

Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz, who will serve his sanction in 2008, agreed that the sanctions will have little effect except to anger party members.

"I will continue to support candidates who stand up for traditional Democratic values,'' he said. "I will continue to fight for those values, and will continue to serve the public.''

Councilman Ellen Grachek, who ignored the party's endorsement in voting for Mr. Copeland, said she "did what the voters elected me to do'' in choosing the person she feels will best serve the city.

She said she resented the factionalization of the party, did not like being pegged as a member of one faction over the other, and does not understand why the party can't get past the old disagreements.

"These battles started before I was born,'' she said.

Councilman Bob McCloskey, who voted for the endorsed candidate and was not sanctioned last night, said the party's disintegration has him "depressed.''

"I have never seen things like this," he said. "I don't know what to think. I am just very depressed about it.''

He declined to say whether he would abide by the sanctions.

One person close to Mr. Ford, and the sanctioned, said talks are under way to form another formal group of Democrats - a kind of alternative Lucas County Democratic Party - that could accept contributions and pass them on to favored candidates, and that could perform other party-related functions. A formal announcement is expected in the next month.

John Irish, a leader of the faction now controlling party headquarters, said it is "unfortunate that those individuals can't abide by the rules of the Lucas County Democratic Party. When we weren't in power all those years, we still abided by their rules, but now that we are in power, that's not the case.''

He said he is unsure how the intraparty battling may affect the average Lucas County voter.

"I guess we'll find out on election day,'' he said.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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