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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

Thurber run expected, but field to be crowded

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Maggie Thurber appears poised to run again for her seat on the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, the county's Republican Party chairman said yesterday.

If she does, she'll face a crowded field - possibly as early as the GOP primary.

Among the challengers eyeing her seat: Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener, lawyer Ben Konop, and Toledo City Councilman Phil Copeland, all Democrats, and George Sarantou, a Republican councilman from Toledo who said yesterday he believes Ms. Thurber cannot win in November.

Ms. Thurber is the only Republican on the three-member board. A special prosecutor is investigating whether she violated state ethics laws in connection with allegations that she passed money from former Maumee coin dealer Tom Noe to President Bush's re-election campaign.

A federal grand jury last year indicted Mr. Noe for money laundering.

Ms. Thurber faces a mid-February deadline to file for re-election, but has not declared her plans yet. She was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment.

But Dennis Lange, the interim chairman of the county Republican Party, said he is "pretty positive" Ms. Thurber will run again.

Mr. Lange said he hoped to meet next week with Ms. Thurber and Mr. Sarantou to avert a primary battle. He said he preferred that Mr. Sarantou stay on council, where he recently won a new four-year term.

"I'm going to say it's more Maggie's call than anyone's at this point," Mr. Lange said.

Mr. Sarantou said he was taking "a very serious look" at the race, in part, because he believes the Noe scandal has hurt Ms. Thurber.

"I do not think she can win this race," said Mr. Sarantou, who said that Ms. Thurber's plans "will have no bearing on my decision."

Mr. Konop and Mr. Wagener have announced their plans to enter the race. Mr. Copeland, the top vote-getter in last fall's at-large council election and the nephew of the later former county Commissioner Bill Copeland, said he was considering the race and would decide next week.

"It's something I always wanted to do," he said.

All three Democrats appeared last night before the county Democratic Party's screening committee, along with candidates for judgeships, the U.S. House, and state legislature.

In interviews beforehand, Mr. Wagener and Mr. Konop said they'd prefer to avoid a primary, but were ready for one.

"Just having the experience and the relationships I've built up in government and throughout the region will be my advantage," Mr. Wagener said.

Mr. Konop, who unsuccessfully challenged longtime GOP Congressman Michael Oxley in 2004, said, "I've faced bigger challenges" than the prospective commissioner's field.

"I'm the best candidate, I'm the most viable, and I think I have the best vision for moving the county forward," Mr. Konop said.

The local Democrats' policy is to not endorse in primary races where candidates are "equally qualified," said Domenic Montalto, the party's executive director. In the commissioner's case, he said, "My best guess: no endorsement."

Mr. Lange said he did not see any strong Democrats in the group, and he predicted the Noe charges would not hurt Ms. Thurber if she ran again.

He pointed to GOP Councilman Betty Shultz of Toledo, who won re-election last year despite facing Noe-related allegations similar to Ms. Thurber's.

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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