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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

New county official expects to deliver

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ben Konop, left, chats with Jennifer Brandon of Toledo at the Waffle House in Sylvania, one of his regular haunts. Ben Konop, left, chats with Jennifer Brandon of Toledo at the Waffle House in Sylvania, one of his regular haunts.
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Steps away from his Toledo apartment, Ben Konop regularly downs his custom drink at Downtown Latte: two shots of espresso, water, vanilla syrup, and whipped cream over ice.

He calls it "the Konop." After the 30 year-old Democrat won the Lucas County commissioner race Tuesday, the coffeehouse announced it would fulfill a pledge to add "the Konop" to its billboard menu.

"A promise is a promise," said Connie Dick, co-owner of Downtown Latte on South St. Clair Street.

Few campaign promises are as easy to keep. Mr. Konop ascended to county commissioner with a battery of technocratic ideas for the office, including hybrid cars, open-source software, and company incubators. Now he needs to make them happen.

"There has to be a sense of urgency about what's going on here," he said. "Maybe one of the things that resonated with my campaign was that I did convey a sense that we could start changing things quickly."

Mr. Konop's message and hustle propelled him to a 64 percent to 36 percent win over Republican George Sarantou, a Toledo city councilman. The margin of victory is larger than that achieved by fellow Democratic Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak in 2004.

"He will walk into a supportive environment to get things done, because that is our modus operandi," Ms. Wozniak said yesterday.

But that environment must cope with a shrinking pool of cash. With sales tax revenue failing to meet expectations, there is pressure to make county programs more efficient in the upcoming 2007 budget.

About half the county's $135 million annual general operating fund budget comes from the 6.75 percent sales tax, of which 1.25 percent goes to the county. Revenues thus far are 1.3 percent below projections. And tax hikes are out of the question.

Mr. Konop's first priority is to establish a small business loan program backed by proceeds from the sale of county property. He will also examine the county's software licenses with Microsoft during the next several months.

"It's one thing to have all these wonderful ideas. It's another thing to implement them," said Maggie Thurber, the Republican commissioner. She did not seek re-election and will officially be succeeded by Mr. Konop in January.

As a candidate with the United Auto Workers' support, Mr. Konop avoided standard Democratic talking points, such as retaining factory jobs.

"The traditional interests, even, recognized the need to challenge the status quo," Mr. Konop said of his union endorsements.

Stuck on "economic cruise control," the county should look beyond the domestic automobile industry for its future, said Mr. Konop, who worked as a lawyer in Washington before returning to Ohio to run for Congress in 2004. County government ought to imitate successful policies from other places in the country and world, he said.

"I didn't go through this campaign and sacrifice a year of my life to get into office and to, what do they say, 'Go along to get along?'•" Mr. Konop said. "I'm not really doing this for the pension. I'm not doing this for the pay. I'm doing this because I actually want to make some changes."

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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