Lucas County Democrats appear set to make longtime party operative John Irish their new chairman - and possibly aggravate some old divisions.
Current Chairman Jack Wilson said this week that Mr. Irish, a top campaign adviser for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and one-time deputy for former county Treasurer Ray Kest, will "definitely" replace him when the party reorganizes next month. Mr. Irish confirmed the pending move and pledged to unite fractured Democrats in a critical year.
"We have to be in good shape to win this fall's elections," Mr. Irish said. "We've got to get Democrats all on the same page, fighting on the same team, and not fighting each other."
The local party has split for decades between two rival factions.
The faction headed by Mr. Finkbeiner won control of the party two years ago and easily maintained its advantage in elections this month.
Mr. Irish heads the party's screening committee and worked this spring on the special election campaign of Taylor Balderas, the party-backed appointee to Toledo's District 3 city council seat. Ms. Balderas trails another Democrat, Mike Craig, by 12 votes in the final
tally, though some provisional ballots remain uncounted and a recount is possible.
Several Democrats said Mr. Irish's campaign experience, particularly in fund-raising, would boost county and statewide candidates.
"John is good," Mr. Wilson said. "He's got probably a lot more patience than I ever had."
But some members of the rival Democratic faction, most recently associated with former Mayor Jack Ford, called Mr. Irish a divisive pick as the party tries to rally around its top priority this fall: U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D., Lucasville) and his run for governor.
"I thought they wanted to unite the party, really," said Toledo Councilman Michael Ashford. "John has had a really difficult time stretching the olive branch to [rival Democrats]. He's done a much better job of reaching out to the Republicans."
Mr. Ashford and other Democrats criticize Mr. Irish on several issues, including Mr. Finkbeiner's support of Republican Rob Ludeman for council president and Mr. Irish's role in sanctioning several council members who bucked the party when filling a vacancy last year.
Mr. Irish said he would work with "anyone who wants to work with the Democratic Party." At least one old foe said he'd take Mr. Irish up on that: County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, who fired Mr. Irish after assuming the office last year.
"There are few people that symbolize the division in the party more than John Irish," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. "But I'm inclined to give him a chance."
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