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Published: 7/13/2007

Irish resigns as chairman of Democrats over scandal involving strippers

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The resignation of John Irish, left, is effective on Monday. Domenic Montalto also is supposed to resign.
The resignation of John Irish, left, is effective on Monday. Domenic Montalto also is supposed to resign.
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Duffey Duffey
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PORT CLINTON John Irish, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, resigned his post yesterday after being caught up in a scandal involving strippers at a recent golf fund-raiser. The incident cast light on divisions in the party and raised concerns and accusations about its purported long-standing culture of sexism.

Mr. Irish s resignation is effective Monday, other party leaders said.

The resignation occurred a day after Mr. Irish dismissed calls from some fellow county Democrats for him to step down.

Chris Redfern, a state representative from Catawba Island who is chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, announced at a news conference here that Mr. Irish verbally tendered his resignation while meeting with him yesterday afternoon. The meeting, held in a Fremont restaurant, was to discuss fallout from alleged actions by strippers at the June 29 fund-raiser at Spuyten Duyval golf course.

Mr. Redfern said Mr. Irish told him of his decision before they began discussing the situation.

Domenic Montalto, the county party s executive director who also has been caught up in the scandal, is to resign his post, according to Mr. Redfern, who commended Mr. Irish for finally making the right decision.

Dennis Duffey, chairman of the county party s central committee, becomes chairman of the county party when Mr. Irish s resignation takes effect.

It showed leadership on the chairman s part to recognize that the buck stops with him ... and it was time to move on and let new blood come into the party and lead the party forward, said Mr. Redfern, who deflected reporters questions on whether he was prepared to ask for Mr. Irish s resignation had it not come willingly.

Neither Mr. Irish nor Mr. Montalto returned messages last night seeking comment.

Mr. Irish is an ally of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and a leader of the party s so-called B-team. He has taken responsibility for having female strip club employees working as hostesses at the June fund-raiser, although he has said he was unaware they were at the event.

One of the women was reported to have exposed her breasts, and then her buttocks, to golfers at the fund-raiser.

Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, who was the first to disclose details of the strippers presence at the golf outing, said yesterday, It s time to unite and heal.

Their decision to have strippers at a Democratic Party fund-raiser is what led to them stepping down. It was never about me, and it was never about A-team versus B-team politics.

Although Mr. Redfern and the state party did not have the ability to forcibly remove Mr. Irish, state Democrats could have withheld various resources from the Lucas County party.

Mr. Redfern said he hoped the resignations would help the Lucas County party put the golf-outing imbroglio behind it with the state party s aid.

Effective immediately, the state party is instituting an assessment and evaluation of the Lucas County Democratic Party past, present, and future, he said.

In addition, the state organization will move to establish a Toledo office now rather than waiting until January, when it would ordinarily do so to prepare for the 2008 presidential election.

We believe it will provide a good presence, both literally and figuratively, of the state party, Mr. Redfern said.

News of Mr. Irish s departure quickly made its way to Toledo.

Outside Democratic Party headquarters on Madison Avenue, a demonstration once organized as a call for Mr. Irish s resignation went on as scheduled, albeit with a more hopeful and celebratory atmosphere.

A crowd of nearly two dozen women and some men stood behind a banner proclaiming Sexism is sooo yesterday, and another protester held a sign that read, Grow up boys.

Toledo City Council members Ellen Grachek and Joe McNamara were among those participating in the demonstration.

Ms. Grachek characterized the golf outing episode as a public incident of a very long trend that finally has come to the light of day.

Chauvinism and sexism are bygone attitudes that need to be put in their place, she added.

Standing before the crowd, protest organizer Christine Smith, a party central committee member, said Mr. Irish s resignation was a good first step in reforming the organization.

She said she was absolutely ecstatic about Mr. Redfern s announcement that state Democrats will start formally scrutinizing the workings of the county party.

I think it s time for someone from the outside to come in and really take a look at what s going on, and see what the problems are, and settle the disputes so we can all move ahead, Miss Smith said.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who attended the Fremont meeting with Mr. Irish and Mr. Redfern, had no comment about it afterward.

This is an issue that belongs at 1817 Madison, not Government Center, the mayor said through spokesman Brian Schwartz, referring to the address of Democratic Party headquarters in Toledo.

Asked his take on the matter, Mr. Duffey said he considered the events leading up to the resignations were unfortunate and that it was a shame it had to happen this way.

He said it remains to be determined whether he is interested in becoming the party s permanent chairman.

John was spending 50 hours a week, and I don t have that kind of time to do that unless I give up everything else I m doing, Mr. Duffey said.

Mary Chris Skeldon, a retired city of Toledo employee who was a mayoral spokesman and who now works for a Toledo public relations firm, said her name has been mentioned as a possible successor to Mr. Montalto, but I have not had any official calls from any party leaders.

If I can be of any assistance in any way, I ll be there, Ms. Skeldon said. I want the party to be strong and united, and if I can help with that, I ll be there.

Lucas County s commissioners, all Democrats, supported Mr. Irish s resignation.

This is an important decision, said Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners. I ve said in the past that the time has come for [Mr. Irish] to resign, and everyone has come to that conclusion, including John.

Commissioner Pete Gerken joined those who said they hoped the resignations would heal party divisions, and applauded Mr. Redfern for his role.

State chairs usually don t get involved, but he saw the potential for harm and realized this has got to stop, Mr. Gerken said. Everyone said enough is enough.

Commissioner Ben Konop agreed. I m relieved that we will be able to put this behind us as a party.

It s an opportunity to start fresh. The public is totally sick of Democratic Party in-fighting. This is an opportunity for us as best we can to start anew.

Mr. Konop said the week s events have probably put the public s confidence in the Democratic Party at an all-time low.

Sandy Isenberg, a former party chairman and past president of the county commissioners, said the local Democratic Party nominated female candidates, including herself, for decades before nominating women became a common phenomenon, and that she hopes the stripper incident does not tar the local Democrats as misogynists.

She also questioned the motivation of Councilman McNamara, who was in the lead on criticizing the scandal but who, having run as an unendorsed Democrat last fall, might have had an ulterior motive of revenge against the party establishment.

But like others, Ms. Isenberg said the party needs to focus now on healing its divisions.

We need to move past this A and B garbage, that has been on the front burner for several years, she said.

Staff writers David Patch and Joe Vardon contributed to this report.

Contact JC Reindl at: jreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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