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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Labor ties prove no sure entree to council

3 newcomers backed by unions fail at polls

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Aji Green. Aji Green.
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Organized labor found out Tuesday night that Toledo City Council can be a tough nut to crack.

Three candidates who had the backing of city unions in an election driven largely by union opposition to Issue 2 failed to make a dent, despite hopes for labor coattails.

Incumbents who had labor backing won easily. But then, so did incumbents who didn't have labor backing.

It was a campaign in which there were few candidate forums or debates for challengers to gain notice and in which most of the attention focused on one subject: Issue 2.

Steve Kowalik, staff representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8, said that although AFSCME backed a slate of candidates for council, it put the bulk of its efforts into defeating Issue 2, the referendum on a state law that would have weakened the collective bargaining law in effect since 1984.

"Normally we would have some time to invest in [campaigning for council candidates]. Our focus was on Issue 2, and all the candidates knew that," Mr. Kowalik said, referring to the effort to defeat issue 2.

Shaun Enright. Shaun Enright.
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Issue 2 was soundly rejected by voters statewide and in Lucas County.

Challenger candidates who were supported by unions representing city employees but who fell short at the polls Tuesday were Jim Martin in District 5, Shaun Enright in District 3, and Aji Green in District 1.

"I think our candidates weren't very well-known," said Joe Cousino, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8, of which Mr. Enright is a member. "For them to go through and win an election against an incumbent was difficult."

Mr. Enright, a Democrat, received 45 percent of the vote to 55 percent for incumbent Mike Craig, also a Democrat. The Democratic Party didn't take sides in the race.

"Shaun had a lot of very good responses at the polls. We were out there. But some people are so set against change they vote for the same people. Those older folks are die-hard voters, and to change their minds is hard to do," Mr. Cousino said.

Mr. Craig said the vote was a referendum on his performance in office, not on whether he was labor's candidate.

He said he pointed out in his literature that, although he had voted against union interests several times on council, he has a labor background in previous jobs. "The results of the race were probably not much different for people who were involved in labor than the general population," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Enright did not return a call seeking comment.

Jim Martin. Jim Martin.
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Councilman D. Michael Collins, an independent who was returned to office against unendorsed Republican Jeremy Demagall in South Toledo's District 2, also said voters were voting based on performance.

The former Toledo police officer union president said he did not have labor endorsements when he ran the first time in 2007, and said he hasn't always voted how unions wanted.

But he took a high-profile pro-union stance against Mayor Mike Bell's efforts in 2010 to impose unilateral cuts in city union wages and benefits.

He was an outspoken opponent of Issue 2, making trips to Columbus to speak against the bill before it was voted on and appearing at local news conferences with city union leaders urging a "no" vote on the referendum. He was sent back to council with 74.6 percent of the vote.

He cited the re-election of Republican Tom Waniewski in West Toledo's District 5 as proof that a party-line labor vote was not a big factor in the council elections.

Mr. Waniewski defeated Mr. Martin, a recently retired city firefighter and former president of Firefighters Local 92, with 64 percent of the vote.

"Councilman Waniewski, while opposed to the basic tenets of organized labor [as shown] by many of his positions, still provided within that community constituent service and his newsletter, and his accessibility trumped labor efforts to secure the position for Jim Martin," Mr. Collins said.

Nor can the results of the election be seen as a verdict on the performance so far of Mayor Bell, whose former ties with labor have been severely strained by his positions on city union contracts and his support of Issue 2.

Two of the mayor's biggest critics on council -- Mr. Collins and Democrat Lindsay Webb in District 6 -- easily defeated their Republican opponents.

But also gaining election victories were Bell supporters Mr. Waniewski and Mr. Craig.

Mr. Waniewski said "working hard pays off." He noted that a substantial number of voters -- 2,340 of the 15,244 who cast ballots in his district -- didn't vote for a council candidate. He said a number of them may have been interested only in Issue 2.

And in District 1, despite some efforts to cast him as a rubber-stamp vote for Mr. Bell, Tyrone Riley won a solid victory over fellow Democrat Aji Green, who was backed by several city unions.

The Democratic Party did not choose sides.

Mr. Green said the election turned more on who was better-known in the community than on perceived labor ties. Mr. Riley was born in the district, but Mr. Green moved to Toledo in 2001.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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