THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo
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GOP activist Jon Stainbrook was elected chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party yesterday in a divided central committee meeting that pitted a new guard of tattooed and pierced types against a polo shirt-and-slacks crowd of party veterans.
His victory appeared to herald a broad transfer of power within the party, which quickly resulted in document shredding at the county GOP headquarters and a visit by police.
By the afternoon, the new chairman was in discussions with officials from the Republican National Committee, making plans for tomorrow's launch of the county's phone bank to raise support for GOP presidential candidate John McCain.
Mr. Stainbrook, 44, of South Toledo won the position in a paper ballot vote of 99-86. He defeated incumbent Bob Reichert, 62, a longtime member of Ottawa Hills Village Council who became party chairman two years ago.
The Stainbrook contingent also voted in a new slate of Republican central commit-tee party leaders.
Winning the positions was key for what Mr. Stainbrook described as his larger goal of reinvigorating the Republican Party with new faces and energy and distancing itself from the scandals of the Tom and Bernadette Noe years.
"We're going to go in a new direction so everybody is involved, and it's not just the leadership running the party," Mr. Stainbrook said.
A packed meeting
The meeting packed the Angola Gardens banquet hall, 7001 Angola Rd., in Holland. According to vote totals, 185 of the 229 central committee members attended yesterday's 9 a.m. meeting. Of the total members, 108 were believed to have pledged support to Mr. Stainbrook.
Many of Mr. Stainbrook's strongest supporters were recruited by him and elected in March. Some had little experience voting Republican, and others, who work jobs such as tattoo artistry and bartending, raised eyebrows among county GOP stalwarts.
The meeting had been delayed twice by court battles. Earlier this month, a three-judge appeals court panel barred 18 of Mr. Stainbrook's pledged supporters from the committee because they did not qualify as Republican.
Issues at headquarters
Yesterday morning's movement from the banquet hall to the party's headquarters in Maumee began just moments after Mr. Stainbrook won the chairmanship.
It was led by Joanne Wack, the party's former executive director who resigned in May after public revelations of her felony theft record that stemmed from a 1989 incident in New York.
Wack walked out of the meeting about 15 minutes before its end and proceeded to drive to the party headquarters building at 1724 Indian Wood Circle.
Once the meeting had finished, Kelly Bensman, an associate of Mr. Stainbrook, and Ian Dawson, committee members, set out for the headquarters together to check on Wack.
The two had received a tip from Meghan Gallagher, the newly elected central committee chairman, who said she overheard Wack discussing a plan to retrieve items from the headquarters.
Ms. Bensman said she arrived at the headquarters to find Wack loading furniture and a computer printer into her SUV. Ms. Bensman said she confronted Wack, who replied that she was removing just her own possessions.
But as Ms. Bensman turned to make a cell phone call to Mr. Stainbrook, she said she witnessed Wack remove a crate of headquarters documents from the SUV and put them back inside the building.
A police response
Mr. Dawson meanwhile called 911 to report a break-in. Maumee police arrived about 10 minutes later.
Police later said Wack complied with their request that she return everything to the building until things could sort themselves out.
The officers said they only saw the furniture and printer in the vehicle and did not inspect the headquarters. The county GOP is sharing its office with the Lucas County "Victory 2008" John McCain presidential election team.
There were no criminal charges filed yesterday, and police said there would not be an incident report.
"There's no crime," an officer at the scene told The Blade.
Wack declined to comment as she left the meeting midway through and later hung up on a reporter who called her cell phone.
With officers still at the scene, a group that included Mr. Stainbrook and his attorney, Scott Ciolek, arrived to find file cabinets ajar, boxes of paperwork on the floor, and a shredder positioned over a full wastebasket of shredded financial papers.
"The shredder was still warm. It was like the hood of a car," Mr. Stainbrook said.
Mr. Reichert also arrived to meet with police. Speaking later by phone, the former chairman said he was unaware of any document shredding.
He said it was his understanding that Wack visited headquarters to pick up the furniture she had loaned for use with the John McCain election team.
"Basically, I think that she felt that she was making a loan to the Republican Party, and when it became obvious that Jon was going to win, she thought she probably had to get [the furniture and printer]," said Mr. Reichert, who added that Wack did not have a key to headquarters and was let into the building by a McCain volunteer.
Mr. Stainbrook said he plans to discuss the incident further tomorrow with Maumee police.
"This is the exact reason why there needs to be a change in the party," he said, staring at a pile of green-tinted paper shreddings.
Among the discoveries in the headquarters office were copies of e-mail correspondence between county officials and the Ohio Republican Party. The staff apparently kept the state party informed about the challenge posed by Mr. Stainbrook and his supporters.
"I will be putting together an opposition research plan on Stainbrook, just in case," one e-mail states.
Earlier in the morning at the committee meeting, Mr. Reichert had been gracious in accepting the vote outcome and leadership change, shaking Mr. Stainbrook's hand and wishing him congratulations.
He said he wasn't surprised by the day's vote outcomes.
"It's pure and simple who is here and who votes, and Jon and his people did a great job of showing up. I hope he does well," Mr. Reichert said.
Indeed, Mr. Stainbrook's allies made a head-turning arrival as they gathered inside the banquet hall. There were several men with arm-length tattoos and a few with ponytails and shaved heads.
Ears, lips, and eye-brows were pierced. Metal chains dangled from hole-filled jeans. One man sported a shiny ring through the septum of his nose; another had dyed his untamed goatee a fluorescent blue.
The meeting began in an orderly manner with the swearing-in of committee members.
But soon members voted a "sergeant of arms" to keep order and guard against meeting interlopers. That vote came after a vocal outburst from one disgruntled member about possible interference in the ward committee voting by one of Mr. Stainbrook's associates.
An early indication of the meeting's outcome came when committee members needed three votes in choosing the meeting's temporary chairman.
Neither oral responses of "ayes" nor a visual tally of standing people could determine a clear winner between Doug Haynam or Matthew Bartow, the Stainbrook-backed candidate.
So there was a count of pink paper ballots. Minutes later Mr. Stainbrook pumped both fists into the air, and his supporters cheered in the morning's first victory.
Later on, former state Rep. Lynn Olman of Maumee rose to the dais to urge committee members to consider Mr. Reichert for chairman. Mr. Olman also delivered stern advice, largely aimed at Mr. Stainbrook's new recruits, on their duties as central committee members.
"It's not a matter of supporting one person on one Saturday out of the year," Mr. Olman said. "It's a matter of going back to your districts and working hard to elect Republican candidates."
Committee member Pam Hanley of Sylvania also spoke in support of Mr. Reichert.
"There's a whole lot more in this job than you all think," she said. "What it's all about is taking the principles of the Republican Party, and electing someone who will forward that at a time that is crucial, when we need to get a president elected."
Mr. Stainbrook's supporters erupted in cheers and applause as the chairman vote was announced.
Committee member Constantine Stamos, 34, of West Toledo likened the new chairman's appeal with young people to that of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Such charisma will be crucial in rousing support for John McCain, he said.
"With Barack Obama and the kind of energy he is generating, on this side we have to do the same thing," Mr. Stamos said.
Contact JC Reindl at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6065.