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With their former CEO, Rich Iott, pursuing a bid for Congress, workers for the defunct Seaway Food Town supermarket chain gathered Sunday to add their voices to the debate over his role in actions that led to the stores closing in 2003.
And it wasn't to endorse Mr. Iott's candidacy.
"He could care less about the people who lost their jobs. We were viewed like a business decision. It's hurray for him and to heck with everybody else," said Steve Magnatta of Toledo, who said he was a Food Town employee for 36 years, including 20 years as a negotiator for Teamsters Local 20.
Mr. Iott is the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District. He was president and chief executive officer of Seaway Food Town of Maumee when it was sold in 2000 to Spartan Stores Inc. of Michigan. Three years later Spartan began closing the 47 grocery stores and 26 Pharm drugstores.
Mr. Magnatta's union is backing Mr. Iott's opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
Miss Kaptur has made the Food Town closure, which cost 5,000 employees their jobs, a big theme of her re-election campaign against Mr. Iott.
Neither Mr. Iott nor his spokesman, Matt Parker, nor his campaign consultant, Fritz Wenzel, returned calls to The Blade regarding the former Food Town workers' news conference.
About 30 people gathered at the shuttered Food Town at DeVeaux Shopping Center in West Toledo and invited the media to hear their stories.
Several said Mr. Iott did not have the dedication to the business that his late father, Wallace "Wally" Iott, had, and that Rich Iott was in a hurry to sell and was unconcerned with fears that Spartan would not be successful.
Mr. Iott has repeatedly said the merger with Spartan was essential because Food Town was not big enough to compete with the mega food stores that were entering the market, such as Wal-Mart.
He said he made sure employees had a severance plan and argued unsuccessfully as a minority board member against Spartan's decisions about Food Town. He has put commercials on television with two former workers defending his management of the business.
Joyce Johnson of Delta said she worked for Food Town for 21 years and said Mr. Iott should have stuck it out longer. "It was a good-running business."
"It's just a shame he didn't have the love that his father had for the business," Ms. Johnson said.
Ron Weckerlin, a vice president of Local 20 who said he drove for Food Town for 17 years, said he helped organize the event and informed the Kaptur campaign.
"We know those stores never would have closed with Wally," Mr. Weckerlin said.
Mr. Iott's father, who died in 2006, was chairman of the company at the time of the merger with Spartan.
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