Democrats yesterday jumped on mayoral candidate Mike Bell's remark pigeonholing Republicans as owners and Democrats as workers, calling it "divisive" and the former Toledo fire chief a "stealth Republican."
Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said his party has a better record of job creation than the recent GOP administration and called Mr. Bell's statement "silly talk."
"It makes it appear we don't share the entrepreneurial spirit of our Republican and Independent friends, and that's far from the truth," Mr. Redfern said. "Common sense dictates not all Democrats are workers and not all owners are registered Republicans."
Replying to a question from Democrat Keith Wilkowski in a televised debate Tuesday, Mr. Bell admitting saying, "Republicans create jobs and Democrats work in them." Mr. Wilkowski called it "an old stereotype" and asked whether it was an idea a mayor should promote.
When Mr. Bell suggested Toledo's economic situation is like the Titanic and both workers and owners are needed to keep the ship afloat, Mr. Wilkowski fired back, "Mike, you've got the Democrats rowing that ship and the Republicans owning it."
Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said, "Contrary to what Mr. Bell and his Republican supporters believe, there are many Democrats among Toledo's entrepreneurs and business people." He labeled Mr. Bell a stealth Republican.
The county Democratic Party is waiting until after next Tuesday's primary election to endorse. Running are two Democrats: Mr. Wilkowski and Ben Konop.
Mr. Bell is also a registered Democrat but is running as an independent. Also on the ballot are independents D. Michael Collins and endorsed Republican Jim Moody.
During two debates aired Tuesday by WUPW-36 and WTVG-13, Mr. Konop directly accused Mr. Bell of having close ties to prominent Republicans, naming them from his campaign finance reports - Robert Reichert, the former Lucas County Republican Party chairman; Kevin Gilmore, the Republican mayor of Ottawa Hills; and Bob Hadley, a prominent fund-raiser for local Republican candidates.
Last night, at his second news conference of the day, Mr. Konop said, "Mr. Bell has clearly aligned himself with Republican policies. That's not what Toledo needs right now."
Mr. Bell said yesterday he believes he will get Democrat, Republican, and independent votes on Tuesday. He said he was referring strictly to the local economy.
"I'm talking about what's happening in Lucas County. I'm sorry if I offended them somehow, but I stick to my statement," Mr. Bell said.
He speculated that the Democratic Party was getting worried about losing the election.
"What I believe they're doing is they realize they're behind in the polls and they can't understand why. This is their way of trying to attempt to tarnish my name and make it seem like I'm a person who divides as compared to a person who attempts to find middle ground," Mr. Bell said.
His comment occurred in the May 31 broadcast of WTVG's public affairs show Coffee with the Fords, in which he was interviewed by former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, a Democrat.
In that interview, Mr. Bell talked about the need for all sides to work together for the good of the region.
"There is a disconnect right now between the R's and the D's. The R's are the ones a lot of times who create the businesses and the D's are the ones that actually do the work," Mr. Bell said. "We need to reconnect those people so we can get the growth we need."
Mr. Ford, the interviewer, didn't comment during the interview.
Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the county Republican Party, said Mr. Bell is in fact a Democrat, regardless of what the Democratic leadership claims.
"Mike Bell pulled a Democratic ballot in March, 2008, so according to the state of Ohio, Mike Bell is a registered Democrat. There's only one Republican in this race, and that's Jim Moody," Mr. Stainbrook said.
He said Mr. Bell's Republican backers are associated with "the wing of the Republican Party that is left over from the Noes, the corruption part." He referred to former party leaders Tom and Bernadette Noe. Tom Noe was sentenced to state and federal prison terms for unrelated convictions for campaign finance violations and theft from the state's injured workers' trust fund.
- Tom Troy