It took a health scare to make Karen Shanahan run for office.
"About a year and a half ago, I started getting some numb spots on my body," she said. "My doctor sent me for tests to see if I had multiple sclerosis. When I was diagnosed as fine, I thought, 'You'd better get moving. You don't have any time to waste.' "
The Democrat had always enjoyed politics and wanted to make a mark on Toledo. So when the chance to run for one of the six at-large Toledo City Council seats arose, she grabbed it - and placed seventh in the primary, 551 votes shy of grabbing the No. 6 spot.
Her candidacy started with a sit-down with www.lucascountydemocrats.org, a local political-action committee aligned with Toledo Mayor Jack Ford. She interviewed with PAC members and spent an hour talking with the mayor. With their backing, she took the plunge.
But even with the PAC's approval, Mrs. Shanahan relies on low-profile grass-roots campaign efforts, mostly going door to door and making appearances at events, including a recent football game at her alma mater. "I went to the Libbey High School homecoming parade and shook hands," she says. "I had a wonderful time."
The strategy mostly comes down to money - or, more accurately, a lack of it. "I started with a personal loan against my 401K for a couple of thousand dollars," she says, adding she will not have enough money for television ads.
Her vision for the city, she says, is not unique. Everyone favors more jobs, economic development, downtown revitalization, and strong neighborhood schools to keep families in the city. But the issue she picks as one of the most difficult issues council faces in the next year is unusual. "I think the toughest challenge is to continue the diversity Mayor Ford has started in contracting," she says. "It's crucial to making Toledo stronger. It offers hope to people in the central city, that they too can have a piece of the pie."
As for models for Toledo, Mrs. Shanahan hopes the city can learn a few lessons from Cleveland, though not in the ways people usually cite.
"One city I'm so dismayed by is Cleveland," she says. When she and her husband visited its downtown district several years ago, "they had wonderful department stores, fantastic shops, and there were people walking around. My husband and I said, 'Wow! If only Toledo could do this!' We went back there just a year and a half ago, and downtown was horrible. It was like it all fell apart.
"We were at a Browns game on a Sunday afternoon, and the Galleria [mall] was closed, and there was no place to get a meal. Whatever happened in Cleveland in 10 years' time - we need to make sure that doesn't happen in Toledo."
Contact Vanessa Winans at: email@example.com or 419-724-6168.