Phil Copeland kicked off his campaign for Lucas County commissioner yesterday with an unlikely prop: a folder of papers detailing more than $60,000 he paid the state and federal government last fall to settle a two-decade-old tax bill.
Mr. Copeland, now a Toledo city councilman and union official, said the back taxes stemmed from a failed women's clothing store he ran in the early 1980s. He called that store "a bad investment" and predicted voters would not hold the unpaid taxes against him in the commissioner's race.
"I wanted people to know, hey, I made some mistakes," Mr. Copeland said in an interview. "I want it out in the open."
One of Mr. Copeland's rivals in the Democratic commissioner's primary, Toledo law professor Ben Konop, said the size of the tax bill raised questions about Mr. Copeland's ability to manage the county's $138 million annual budget.
"I think you can draw inferences about how one would handle the county's finances," Mr. Konop said. "It's a pretty massive tax bill to not pay."
The other Democrat in the race, Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener, declined comment. Incumbent Republican Maggie Thurber has not said if she will seek re-election.
The Blade reported that Mr. Copeland owed back taxes of nearly $70,000 last October during his successful campaign for city council. Two weeks later he finalized deals to pay his tax debt with Ohio and federal officials. Mr. Copeland went on to finish first in Toledo's at-large council race in November.
The details of the deals, which Mr. Copeland's staff handed reporters at his kickoff press conference, show Mr. Copeland paid $5,500 to settle a state debt of $10,575.63 plus accruing interest. He paid the federal government $57,489.16.
Mr. Copeland announced his candidacy outside a central-city housing project where he grew up. He stressed his background throughout the speech, saying he would be a commissioner who "understands needing a ride to get to work" and who "knows the struggle" of living off social services.
He would bring to the commissioners, Mr. Copeland said, "the life experience that no one in that office has."