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Published: Wednesday, 7/11/2007

State Democratic Party investigates strippers at golf outing

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Chris Redfern, the head of the state Democratic Party, says he is investigating the Lucas County Democratic Party's stripper scandal and could take action against local party leaders because of it.

And yesterday, Lucas County Commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken called on John Irish, the county Democratic chairman, to resign because of the use of strip club employees at a golf outing June 29.

At the same time, Commissioner Ben Konop called for a re-examination of the party's values.

Mr. Redfern said he has heard from three members of a group of a golfers at the party's $150-per-person fund-raiser at Spuyten Duyval golf course who observed a woman expose her breasts and that Domenic Montalto, the party's executive director, suggested she be tipped.

One of those reporting the incident was Wade Kapszukiewicz, Lucas County treasurer, Mr. Redfern said.

The episode has prompted expressions of outrage from elected officials and a few calls for Mr. Irish to step down.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said yesterday that 20 or more people witnessed a woman exposing herself while golfers were waiting to tee off at a par-3 hole and that Mr. Montalto was there and acting "like a carnival barker."

Employees of Scarlett's Cabaret in Toledo and Club Diamonds in Jerusalem Township provided beverage services at the party fund-raiser.

Mr. Redfern said he doesn't have the power to dismiss or punish a party chairman.

He does have the power to withhold assistance from the state party that local parties need to raise money, target voters, and bring in state elected officials to help candidates and get out the vote.

He said the state party also can open an office that can provide assistance to candidates and run its own campaign efforts independent of the local party.

Mr. Redfern said he wants to ascertain the facts before he makes any decisions.

He already has canceled a state party meeting for regional party officials that was supposed to be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Lucas County office after three Democratic women said they would picket the event to demand Mr. Irish's ouster.

Mr. Redfern made it clear he was displeased with whatever it was party leaders had done to allow the stripper incident.

"That's inappropriate behavior that can't be tolerated. If we find it was sanctioned by anyone hired by the party, then there will be action taken," Mr. Redfern said.

The three women said they plan to go ahead with the picketing at the party's headquarters at 1817 Madison Ave.

Mr. Irish has apologized and attempted to make amends for the event, although he has claimed he knew nothing of the strip clubs' employees activities.

He offered to give the $1,200 contributed by the "gentlemen's clubs" to the YWCA.

But the YWCA said it would accept the money only as payment for training for party leaders on "the needs and concerns of women and their families."

Mr. Gerken said Mr. Irish and Mr. Montalto "are at the point where they should either resign or become irrelevant."

He said he believes the state party will distance itself from the county party.

"If the state puts a fence up, and federal candidates do the same, then at some point [the county party leadership] is going to end up on an island," Mr. Gerken said.

Mrs. Wozniak, president of the county commissioners, said, "It's obvious the time has come.

"We need a strong, healthy, united Democratic Party to gear up for 2008. We're seeing complaints about this situation and concern at the local level, the national level. I think he should step down. The situation is unacceptable," Mrs. Wozniak said.

The two join Toledo Councilmen Joe McNamara and Frank Szollosi among elected officials openly calling for resignation.

Mr. Konop said that merely getting a new chairman doesn't address decades of stagnation in the party.

"For the solution to this big mistake by the party to have some long-term relevance, there should be some structural changes made to the party to address women's issues and inclusion," Mr. Konop said.

"This is a good opportunity for the party to engage in systematic reform and embrace 21st-century values and ideas. That would be the best outcome - much better than having someone resign," Mr. Konop said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz, who participated in the golf outing, said the woman was lifting her top and dropping her shorts at the seventh tee when he arrived from the sixth green. He said it was late in the day.

"When I saw the woman, there were 20 or so other people in the general area. In terms of Domenic, he was not a golfer, he was just there hanging out, shooting the breeze with golfers as they came by. He was right there, saw what the woman was doing, and he was joking about it," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he understands he has been criticized by some for blowing the whistle when he answered questions from The Blade last week about the incident and for not doing enough to stop the behavior.

He said he couldn't very well have complained to party leadership because "Domenic Montalto is the party. You have the executive director of the party acting like a carnival barker."

"They shouldn't be blaming those who said they saw strippers at the golf outing. They should be blaming themselves for having the poor judgment of having strippers at a golf outing," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

The Lucas County Democratic Party has been roiled by intraparty rivalry since 2004, when the B-team wing of the party allied with Carty Finkbeiner wrested a majority of votes on the central committee away from A-team loyalists who were allied with then-Mayor Jack Ford.

Mr. Irish, who helped manage Mr. Finkbeiner's campaign for mayor in 2005, became chairman in May, 2006.

So far those calling for Mr. Irish and Mr. Montalto to step down are associated with the A-team. Mr. Gerken said the county party has been unsuccessful in electing City Council and judicial candidates and that local candidates no longer look to the party for assistance.

"We need to communicate to our central committee that we need a leadership change," Mr. Gerken said.

He said Democrats need a vibrant local party for 2008, a presidential election year.

"We can't afford to have these kinds of distractions in a presidential election cycle," he said.

Mr. Montalto said in a brief interview yesterday that there is an effort to get rid of him and that it is motivated by "a lot of personal animosity."

Mr. Irish did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20 and a member of the B-team group that put Mr. Finkbeiner in office, said he was not at the golf outing and hasn't spoken to anyone who saw improper behavior. He attributed the dispute to partisanship.

"If there was an isolated incident, I don't know, if there was alcohol flowing, I don't know. I just think it's A-team, B-team politics," Mr. Lichtenwald said.

Staff writers Joe Vardon and Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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