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Published: Friday, 10/14/2005

Toledo candidates OK credit checks

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The two men running for mayor of Toledo and oversight of its annual $224 million general fund budget have avoided debt in their private lives.

Mayor Jack Ford and challenger Carty Finkbeiner both agreed to allow The Blade to do credit history checks on them. The checks, run by the Credit Bureau of Toledo, show both men have minimal credit card debt and stellar credit ratings. Credit scores range from 300 to 850.

Anything above 720, that s a very good score, said John E. Brown, a Toledo financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial.

Mr. Ford, who carried more than $11,490 in credit card debt before he ran for office in 2001, has dieted his debt down to $47, his report shows. His credit score has risen to a close-to-perfect 808, from 674 in 2001.

That s great, he said last night. You know I haven t even looked at it since four years ago, when a credit check revealed Ray Kest had about $70,200 in credit card debt. The revelation helped torpedo Mr. Kest s bid to become mayor.

Mr. Finkbeiner s credit report showed $787 in credit card debt. His credit score is 787, also excellent.

Good! he said when he learned his score. You re dealing with a guy who s German, tight, and doesn t believe in credit cards. I only have the one. And I don t like to use that.

I just believe in living within your means, he said.

Meanwhile, several candidates for Toledo City Council, Karen Shanahan, Bob Vasquez, Councilmen Frank Szollosi, and Phil Copeland, all Democrats, yesterday reversed their decisions not to allow credit checks.

Mrs. Shanahan allowed the same credit-history check as the mayoral candidates; the others all ran their own checks and gave that information to The Blade.

Mr. Szollosi has one credit card with a balance of about $3,500. He did not release his credit score, but said it was good. His change of heart came after he realized the importance of the issue.

I didn t think this was going to be a big deal, he said. It is.

Mrs. Shanahan s credit score is 743, squarely in the good range. She has about $7,400 in credit card balances.

Whew, that s a relief, Mrs. Shanahan said upon learning her credit score. I thought I was OK.

She changed her mind overnight, calling The Blade before 8 a.m. to say so.

She said she had spoken with other www.lucascountydemocrats.org members, including Mr. Szollosi, before deciding to allow the credit check, but that her decision was her own.

I said I didn t want to set a precedent, but I do want to set a precedent, she said. If there s something in there that makes me ineligible to run for office, then I shouldn t run.

Bob Vasquez, whose credit score is 699, has about $6,800 in credit card balances. He revised his decision after learning he could black out his account numbers on the documents given to The Blade, claiming that identity theft was his primary concern in releasing the information.

He said there was no collusion among the Democrats who changed their minds.

Everyone made their own decision, he said. I didn t know what Frank did, or Karen.

Mr. Copeland and Ernie Berry, an Independent council candidate, generated no credit scores, as neither has a credit history.

In the presence of a Blade reporter, Mr. Copeland attempted to check his credit rating online.

An error screen popped up. It stated that there was not enough recent history to determine Mr. Copeland s credit history.

I haven t tried getting anything since I got the liens, said Mr. Copeland, who explained that he maintains a checking account and pays for everything with cash.

Mr. Copeland, the secretary-treasurer for Laborers Local 500, said that he stopped relying on credit after the 1986 failure of his women s apparel store in Portside Festival Marketplace. He said The Blade now has the relevant information about his finances.

Put me through a raking, but that was it, he said.

Not everyone revised his or her opinions. Asked if he would reconsider his decision to withhold his credit rating from the public, Terry Shankland exploded over the phone.

You re out of your mind! he said. You re bottom feeders. That s all you re doing.

Mr. Shankland, a Democrat, offered to review his bills with a reporter instead of disclosing his credit history.

I can go out right now and buy a house, not that I would, he said.

Other refusals came from Republican Councilmen George Sarantou and Betty Shultz; a third GOP candidate, Dave Schulz, offered to give The Blade a credit check he ran on himself several months ago.

Democratic Councilman Bob McCloskey and Democratic council candidate Mark Sobczak also said no.

Democratic Councilman Karyn McConnell Hancock did not return phone calls yesterday. After refusing to allow a credit check Wednesday, reporters found in public records that Ms. McConnell Hancock owes $83,717 in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service from 2001 and 2002.

Public records also revealed Mr. Copeland owes $61,680 to the IRS and $5,031 in back taxes to the state of Ohio, and that Mr. Shankland s business owes $8,066 in back taxes to the state.

Staff writer Joshua Boak contributed to this report. Contact Vanessa Winans at:vwinans@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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