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Published: Sunday, 9/13/2009

Toledo City Council: 23 vying for at-large positions

BLADE STAFF

The departure of two longtime Toledo councilmen - one by term limits and another who decided not to run again - seemed initially to open the door for political newcomers to the city's legislative body.

But a field of 23 people - including four incumbents and one former councilman - will appear on Tuesday's primary ballot in an attempt to make it into the top 12 and then proceed to the Nov. 3 election. At that time, voters will select the top six to serve as at-large councilmen for the next four years.

But the rules change if voters on Tuesday approve the "Nine is Fine" ballot question to reduce the size of council from a dozen members to nine. If that happens, only the top six vote-getters would appear on the November ballot, and only three of those would be elected. They would serve just two years rather than four years.

That would guarantee that at least one of the incumbents running to retain their seats - Democrats Joe McNamara, Steven Steel, and Phillip Copeland, and Republican George Sarantou - would not be re-elected.

Democratic Councilman Frank Szollosi is not seeking re-election and Betty Shultz, a Republican, cannot run again because of term limits.

The majority of those running said many of the same things regarding key issues facing the city: Now is not the time to raise taxes; the city needs more police officers on the streets, not fewer, and council should not be reduced to nine members.

Mr. McNamara, 32, who has been council president since July 7, said many voters have told him they want City Council to focus on jobs, public safety, and infrastructure - in that order.

"You heard me say this before that I am trying to make responsible budget decisions that put public safety first," he said. "Now is a very difficult time to be raising taxes on the middle class, and we need to explore other options, and it's been extremely frustrating with the mayor not taking council's suggestion to balance the budget without raising taxes."

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has for much of the year tried unsuccessfully to get council to approve an increase to the monthly trash fee and increase income taxes on Toledoans who work in other locales.

Nearly all the council candidates said they would be against raising fees or taxes to balance the city's general fund budget - which is predicted to end the year $7.8 million in the red.

To help address the budget problem, Democrat Terry Biel said he would vote in favor of putting before voters an increase to the temporary 0.75 percent income tax to 1 percent - only if the increase was dedicated to public safety.

Democrat Terry Shankland said a vote on that increase could be necessary, while Republican Hans Schnapp said it should be on the ballot to let the voters decide.

Democrats have the majority on council, although some have sided with the three Republicans, Mrs. Shultz, Mr. Sarantou, and Tom Waniewski, and the only independent, D. Michael Collins, in order to approve or defeat measures.

Of the 23 running for council, eight are Democrats, eight are Republicans, and six are independents.

One candidate Ty Daniels, could not be reached despite repeated attempts by The Blade.

Each of the incumbents seeking re-election voted on Sept. 1 in favor of increasing the city's monthly trash fee charged to residents and simultaneously establishing a recycling incentive program. Each said they only voted for the increase because it mandated a plan to create a recycling incentive program that offers coupons and gift certificates for groceries and other goods.

The measure ultimately failed as six other councilmen voted against its.

Candidate Kevin Milliken, leader of the fiscally conservative group Teamwork Toledo, said he could not believe the incumbents running Tuesday voted in favor of the controversial trash fee increase.

"We don't need another rewards program," Mr. Milliken said. "I would have never voted in favor of that."

Only two women are running for council.

Polly Taylor-Gerken, a Democrat who is married to Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, is a 30-year employee of the Toledo Board of Education, spending the last 12 as a school psychologist.

She said she wanted to run because there were no female candidates with her experiences and skills.

"A lot of people are talking to us about basic city services, cooperation. They are tired about the negative stuff going back and forth," she said.

The other female candidate running for council is Republican Tricia Lyons, a member of Teamwork Toledo.

If neither Mrs. Taylor-Gerken nor Ms. Lyons is elected, Democratic Councilmen Lindsay Webb and Wilma Brown would be the only women on council.

One high-profile candidate is Rob Ludeman, a Republican who was elected from District 2 in 1993 and regularly re-elected until 2007, when he was barred by term limits in the city charter from running again.

Mr. Ludeman said he would push for an income tax credit for anyone buying a home in the city for the first time.

He wants the city payroll income tax, which is 2.25 percent, reduced to 1.5 percent for five years for people purchasing a home in Toledo for the first time. It would be extended an additional five years if the second home purchased is also in the city of Toledo.

Other council candidates running are John Adams, Jr.; Joseph Carter; Mark Clark; Jeff Cromwell; Adam Martinez; Constantine Stamos; Steven Sulewski; Jeremiah Van Buren; Stephen Ward; David Washington, and Michael Watson.

- Ignazio Messina



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