Republican congressional candidate Rich Iott found himself in a real battle Monday night, not a pretend one, as he tried to use a televised debate to regain momentum in his campaign against incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur.
Mr. Iott accused Miss Kaptur of “coordinating” the “character assassination” that he said was aimed at falsely branding him as a Nazi, during the live debate on WUPW-TV, Channel 36 Monday night.
But Miss Kaptur rejected the claim and accused him of failing to take personal responsibility. She said after the debate that she found his re-enacting of the Nazi SS to be “disturbing,” and said she personally knows people who were tortured by the SS.
And Mr. Iott was asked to respond to evidence that he may have claimed his occupation as “soldier” and his employer as the State of Ohio in a federal campaign finance disclosure.
The two combatants are vying for the 9th Congressional District. Miss Kaptur, 64, has held the seat since 1983. Mr. Iott, 58, a Monclova Township businessman, is making his first run at political office.
Miss Kaptur said she knew nothing about Mr. Iott's past experience as a Nazi military re-enactor until she read about it in The Blade Saturday.
“Just unbelievable. You have no idea how disturbing I find it,” Miss Kaptur said after the debate. “The SS were not soldiers. They were butchers. And they killed people and tortured people that I know personally.”
She said she doesn't know anyone else who engages in Nazi military re-enactments, calling it, “totally atypical behavior.”
Asked if she thought Mr. Iott might be a Nazi sympathizer, Miss Kaptur said, “I don't know him well enough to answer that question.”
Mr. Iott has said he was not in sympathy with Nazi Germany, that he deplored the Holocaust, and that he re-enacts for the educational and historical value.
The story of Mr. Iott's past activity as a war re-enactor in Nazi uniform surfaced Friday night in an online publication, theatlantic.com, though the magazine did not say how they learned of it.
“You helped coordinate an attack on me that's tried to brand me a Nazi. A Nazi? Because I've participated in some historical re-enactments? That saddens me because you know it's not true,” Mr. Iott said, addressing Miss Kaptur directly.
He told Miss Kaptur they've known each other 25 years, he's contributed to her political campaigns, and they have done much for the community together.
Miss Kaptur said the first time she met Mr. Iott was at a Point Place parade this summer.
She told Mr. Iott, “you've been very negative,” and scolded him, “You should be taking responsibility for your own actions, not trying to shift the blame to somebody else.”
Laura Emerson of WUPW's news department confronted Mr. Iott with the printout from a March 19, 2010, Federal Election Commission disclosure for his donation of $500 to the Republican National Committee. The typewritten entry identified his employer as the state of Ohio and his occupation as “soldier.”
Mr. Iott said he was mystified as to how that came to be. He holds the rank of colonel in the Ohio Military Reserve, a unit of the Ohio Adjutant General's office, that has trained for years, but has never been activated for duty.
“I am a soldier of the state of Ohio, I am in the Ohio Military Reserve, but that would not be my employer, certainly, but I don't know how that got that way,” he said.
They battled over Mr. Iott's handling of Seaway Food Town, a business which the Food Town board, of which he served as president and chief executive officer, sold to Spartan Stores Inc. in 2000, only to see the entire chain of 47 grocery stores and 26 drug stores shut down beginning in 2003.
Miss Kaptur accused him of making a “bad business decision” in deciding to sell Spartan.
“Our community lost part of its identity that had been built up over a half a century by Wally Iott, Mr. Iott's father,” Miss Kaptur said.
She said he needed a “growth strategy” to maintain the business but instead he chose to cash out.
“We've seen that all across our country where some people become very well-off but lots of other people get hollowed out,” Miss Kaptur said.
Mr. Iott insisted, “that was a good decision. It was the right thing at the right time, and I'd do it again.” And he said Miss Kaptur's criticism of his selling of a profitable business showed her ignorance of the private sector because a nonprofitable business would be hard to sell.
“There are people today in Washington making rules telling businesses how they're going to run, and they have never balanced a budget, never had to make a payroll, never signed the front of a check,” Mr. Iott said. “We need people with private sector experience in Washington.”
Later in the debate, he reversed himself on whether the Spartan merger was a wise move.
“If I had to do it again with 20/20 hindsight of course I wouldn't do that, but nobody has that advantage,” Mr. Iott said.
Mr. Iott tried to lob a few political grenades in Miss Kaptur's position, saying that she had received $143,000 in campaign contributions from a lobbyist who recently pleaded guilty to federal election fraud.
Miss Kaptur said she was cleared by two Congressional committees. Mr. Iott dismissed House ethics oversight as “the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Miss Kaptur also had to defend her lack of town hall meetings during 2009 when the Tea Party movement was getting organized, largely in response to opposition to the proposed health care bills then being considered in Congress.
Miss Kaptur said she met with “a broad array of citizens, and held tele-town meetings,” but “we didn't permit ourselves to be shouted at as some of my colleagues found to be true around the country where people who were opposed came to meetings purposely to catcall.”
“I was in one of these town hall meetings to discuss the health care and Miss Kaptur didn't show up. I'm not sure how she could know in advance that the audience was going to be rude,” Mr. Iott said.
Asked about their failures, Miss Kaptur described her failure to realize how long it takes to make significant change in national policy, such as in getting the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiated.
A second failure she named was that she has not made time for friends and family outside her core group, such as attending birthday parties and weddings.
Mr. Iott, who was adopted, said he put off too long trying to track down his birth mother. He credited his mother with making the difficult decision to carry him to birth and then give him up for adoption. He said the health care bill supported by Miss Kaptur allows for federal funding of abortion.
“I was fortunate to be able to do that. Babies who are aborted never have that opportunity,” Mr. Iott said.
Miss Kaptur fired back that the bill did not allow for abortion funding, and in addition, President Obama signed an executive order banning insurance funds to be spent on abortion services.
“It's rather a lowly move to try to mix your personal affairs with public policy in the debate tonight,” Miss Kaptur said.
The debate was co-sponsored by the Toledo Free Press, a free weekly publication.
Contact Tom Troy at:email@example.com or 419-724-6058.