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Published: Friday, 9/17/2010

Democrats step up Iott attacks

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) kept up her assault on Republican opponent Rich Iott Thursday, sending supporters out to say Mr. Iott offered no assistance when thousands of former Seaway Food Town employees lost their jobs.

"Mr. Job Creator, where were you, where were you when these people needed help? The rest of us helped. You were missing," said Pete Gerken, a Democratic Lucas County commissioner who was director of a union job-retraining center in 2003, the year the Food Town chain collapsed.

Mr. Iott is challenging Miss Kaptur for her seat representing Ohio's 9th Congressional District in the Nov. 2 election.

He was president and chief executive officer of the former Seaway Food Town company when it was sold to the larger Spartan Stores Inc. of Michigan in 2000. Three years later, the new owners shut down 47 grocery stores and 26 drug stores, idling about 5,000 workers.

The Iott campaign has said that although Mr. Iott was still on the Spartan board in 2003 he was a minority owner and was not in management.

"What was he supposed to do?" asked Matthew Parker, an Iott spokesman. "If they really have a problem, they need to take it up with Spartan Stores."

The Iott campaign Thursday accused Miss Kaptur's campaign of engaging in a "desperate attack" while ignoring her own record of "raising taxes, wastefully spending our nation into debt that our grandchildren will have to pay off, and burdening our economy with mindless regulations that strangle job growth."

Mr. Gerken said more than $125,000 in federal funds was spent to retrain former Food Town workers. He said the UAW Training Center, of which he was director, stepped in to help displaced workers get retraining.

He said the training was made possible by the coordination of resources from the UAW, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and several training entities, including the University of Toledo.

He said Food Town management declined to participate in meetings in 2003 at which job retraining for 877 workers was discussed. As a result, meetings took place with workers on their lunch hours in parking lots and at union halls, he said.

He said when other businesses closed, management worked with the UAW through their human resources departments to provide assistance.

Told that Mr. Iott had no management role in Seaway Food Town by the time the closures hit, Mr. Gerken said Mr. Iott could have made management meet to coordinate training if he wanted to.

Joining Mr. Gerken for the news conference in front of the shuttered Food Town store at DeVeaux Village Shopping Center was Jeff Stephens, former president of UFCW Local 911.

"We never saw Rich Iott come forward with anything. He never stepped forward and tried to help with keeping any jobs when the other company went out of business and left town," Mr. Stephens said.

Miss Kaptur's campaign focused on the closure of Food Town for her first re-election campaign advertisement, accusing Mr. Iott of driving the company that he took over from his father "straight into the ground."

The Iott campaign said the ad was false and said it would file a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.

"Critics who are intent on distorting Rich Iott's record of job creation are missing the point of what voters really care about this election season, which is the sorry state of the economy under President Obama, Marcy Kaptur, and local Democratic Party leaders," the Iott campaign statement said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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