When he opened his Toledo campaign headquarters last week, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D., Lisbon) asked a group of Democratic candidates and elected officials - including Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and state Sen. Teresa Fedor - to gather behind him in a show of unity.
It was the latest attempt by local Democrats to unite squabbling factions around Mr. Strickland, who faces Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in the Ohio governor's race this fall.
Party leaders see an opportunity to win the governor's office for the first time in 16 years, and strategists say they need big margins in heavily Democratic Lucas County to do it.
Unity, however, is proving tougher than photo ops.
Mr. Finkbeiner and Ms. Fedor, two of Mr. Strickland's campaign co-chairmen, continued a public squabble yesterday over their responses to local flood victims.
Mr. Finkbeiner repeated charges he made in a letter Tuesday: That Ms. Fedor waited three weeks to contact him or city staff to offer help with flood recovery.
Ms. Fedor said she worked with city councilmen "from day one" of the flooding last month and, after touring flooded areas yesterday for a second consecutive day, accused the city of a lack in planning to aid victims and to prepare for a new wave of storms.
"I think [Mr. Finkbeiner] played political gamesmanship [Tuesday] that was, I think, transparent," Ms. Fedor said.
Mr. Finkbeiner, Ms. Fedor, state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, and Mr. Strickland's campaign spokesman all said the dispute would not hurt the congressman's efforts in northwest Ohio.
But the chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party recently warned local Democrats to muzzle their public shots against one another, for Mr. Strickland's sake.
In a letter last week, the chairman, John Irish, told three Democratic Toledo councilmen to quit criticizing Mr. Finkbeiner during news conferences.
Told yesterday of Mr. Finkbeiner's letter to Ms. Fedor, which was faxed to reporters, Mr. Irish said he'll likely send the mayor a similar warning.
"We should keep our personal differences out of the newspaper and keep it for proper forums," Mr. Irish said. "The fewer public battles within the party and the press, the better for Strickland."
One of the councilmen who received Mr. Irish's letter, Michael Ashford, said public disputes would not distract the Strickland campaign. "It's not going to stop the train from moving forward," Mr. Ashford said.
Others said arguments do not help the campaign.
"I don't think there's any effect with the voters," said Wade Kapszukiewicz, the county treasurer and Mr. Strickland's deputy finance chairman here. "But I think there's probably a negative effect on the morale of the campaign staff."
Mr. Finkbeiner said he would work just fine with Ms. Fedor on the campaign and welcomed her efforts to get state flood assistance. He said it was more important yesterday to focus on flood victims: "We're just doing what we're supposed to be doing," he said, "and have been for three weeks."
Ms. Fedor also said politics was overshadowing flood victims. Her assessment of city recovery efforts was bleaker than the mayor's. "It looked like a war zone in there," she said.
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