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Published: 12/11/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Recruiting vexes local GOP chief

Stainbrook gets mixed marks on finding candidates

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Jon Stainbrook says he's trying to build a more inclusive GOP. Jon Stainbrook says he's trying to build a more inclusive GOP.
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Jon Stainbrook spent the last four years fighting with Democrats and fellow Republicans, but he wasn't able to complete his primary job -- recruiting candidates to run against Democrats.

To be fair, he's the leader of the GOP in one of Ohio's strongest Democratic strongholds, and he has set himself to the task of rebuilding a local political party destroyed by the crime and greed of Tom Noe.

Mr. Stainbrook, "Stain" to friends and foe alike, was able to improve the Lucas County GOP's showing on the 2012 ballot but still left many seats unfilled and wasn't able to recruit candidates in the marquee contests.

Wednesday was the deadline for candidates to file for the March 6 primary election.

Republicans filed for 12 of 21 seats on the ballot, which includes judgeships, statehouse, and row offices.

Of the nine county row-office seats, Republicans filed for five races, but that means Democrats will have no GOP opposition for four elected positions -- sheriff, prosecutor, engineer, and coroner.

Even among those five candidates, Mr. Stainbrook acknowledged that one or more are "placeholders" -- people who aren't serious candidates who file for the position with the expectation of withdrawing if a more qualified candidate steps forward.

Mr. Stainbrook defended his slate for the 2012 election. He said there's more work to be done in rebuilding the party after the Tom Noe scandal.

Noe, a former county Republican chairman and fund-raiser, was convicted in 2006 of illegal campaign financing by donating to the 2004 Republican presidential ticket and using local politicians and businessmen to funnel money to the Bush campaign. He also was convicted and sent to prison for stealing millions from the injured workers' trust fund maintained by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

"The Republican Party was destroyed after Tom Noe, and it took years and years to recuperate and there has been no farm team," said the local GOP chairman, whose background as a punk-rocker and his unending drive has attracted a younger and decidedly different kind of Republican to the party's central committee in recent years. "We are rebuilding the infrastructure."

But the party infrastructure he's building is not one most Republicans a generation earlier would recognize.

Today's Republican precinct committeemen are more likely to sport tattoos than country-club memberships. The Stain was even able to recruit a self-described roller derby queen to his committee.

Although unorthodox, Mr. Stainbrook's efforts to create a more inclusive GOP may pay dividends.

Open races

One of the four unopposed races he wasn't able to attract a candidate to is sheriff, an office long held by Democrat James Telb, who is not seeking re-election. Mr. Stainbrook said he had two potential candidates, but both declined the opportunity.

"People are telling me that if you're a professional in this county and say you're in law enforcement, which you have to be as sheriff, or you're a lawyer, which you have to be to be prosecutor, nobody is going to run for any of those offices and jeopardize their livelihood," Mr. Stainbrook said. "It takes somebody already in the realm of politics that's going to say, 'I'm going to throw my hat in the ring and I'm going to suffer the consequences.' "

In 2012, arguably the party's best hope of winning a row office is George Sarantou, a longtime Toledo city councilman and financial adviser, who has run twice for county commissioner, unsuccessfully, and feared losing a third time. He is running for recorder, a job overseeing the recording of real estate deeds, liens, and mortgages.

He opted for the more winnable seat of recorder rather than take on either of the two incumbent commissioners, Democrats Peter Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak.

The two Republicans running for commissioner are Constantine Stamos, who filed against Mr. Gerken, and Jonathan Anderson, who filed against Ms. Wozniak.

Mr. Stamos ran for Toledo City Council in 2009, making it through the primary only to finish last among 11 people running for six at-large seats on council. Mr. Anderson, who is vice chairman of the party's central committee, came in last among four people competing for a seat on the Washington Township Board of Trustees in November.

Both Mr. Gerken and Ms. Wozniak were re-elected four years ago with no opposition. The third commissioner seat is held by Carol Contrada, also a Democrat elected in 2010.

With the county mired in high unemployment and facing other problems, it was widely thought a Republican could mount a successful challenge to one-party control of county government, but Mr. Stainbrook wasn't able to convince serious GOP candidates to run.

Mixed reviews

The party's judgment of Mr. Stainbrook's performance is a mixed one after four years of sometimes bitter infighting.

Republican Toledo Councilman Rob Ludeman said Mr. Stainbrook has spent too much time battling for control of the Lucas County Board of Elections and not enough time recruiting candidates and raising money.

"I have not seen, as I saw with previous party chairmen, that they had in-roads and contacts, not only in the business community but in the labor community. There shouldn't be a presumption that labor is going to be totally Democratic," Mr. Ludeman said.

"The people that are running for county office are friends of Jon that I've seen. They're probably good people, but just to put somebody up to say that 'I've got somebody running,' it's not just the same as building a base. The focus has been totally on the board of elections, not on candidates or raising the money," Mr. Ludeman said.

Mr. Stainbrook became a member of the elections board this year after fighting three years to force the removal of rival Republicans. On Friday, Republican staff Director Ben Roberts resigned because of what he called a "caustic," overly partisan work environment.

"Jon has kind of ditched the old guard so to speak, the people who have been strong Republicans, and has not reached out to them," Mr. Ludeman said.

Former Chairman Robert Reichert, the face of the "old guard" whom Mr. Stainbrook defeated in the 2008 contest for chairman, noted that he also had to contend with the chaos of the Noe scandal.

"The whole Noe situation was going on and nobody wanted to be associated with the Republican Party," Mr. Reichert said.

He said Mr. Stainbrook has done "a reasonably good job."

Mr. Reichert noted that candidates for the four unopposed Democratic-held seats -- sheriff, prosecutor, coroner, and engineer -- must have specialized credentials or experience.

The former chairman also pointed out that, counting all the county, township, village, city, and school board races, Republicans hold more than half the elected offices in Lucas County.

Mr. Reichert said the Republican message is gaining ground among voters.

"I think it's getting better to be a Republican, not only in Lucas County, but in the country when you see what's happening," he said.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans won majority control of county government in a net gain of 13 counties in the last election, according to that state's GOP chairman, Rob Gleason. That brought the number of Republican-led courthouses from 40 to 52 out of 67. Those included suburban Pittsburgh's Westmoreland County. An additional county went from Democratic control to Republican/Democrat/independent, he said.

Looking back, ahead

Lucas County Republicans mustered candidates to run against the incumbent Democrats in the offices of county treasurer and clerk of courts.

In addition to the five Republicans running for row offices, Republicans are running for the one local state Senate seat, two of the four local Ohio House seats, as well as Lucas County Common Pleas Courts and the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals.

Mr. Stainbrook is not the first GOP chairman to wrestle with Lucas County's Democratic dominance.

Compared with Mr. Stainbrook's overall field of 12 candidates, his predecessor, Mr. Reichert, put six Republican candidates on the ballot in 2008, the last presidential election year.

Four years before that, Republicans ran in 15 of the 22 races that were on the ballot. The chairman then was Bernadette Restivo Noe, who was Tom Noe's wife at the time.

Despite having so many vacancies in the party's slate, the Lucas County GOP is on track to notch more victories than in either of the two previous presidential election years. In both 2008 and 2004, Republicans won three of the 22 races on the ballot.

In 2012, county Republicans are likely to win five races and have a shot at seven.

Three shoo-ins are Common Pleas Judge Linda Jennings, Domestic Relations Judge David Lewandowski, and whichever of two Republicans -- Toledo Municipal Judge Robert Christiansen or Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Jensen -- wins the primary to run for the seat of retiring appeals Judge Peter Handwork. No Democrats filed for those three seats.

Two likely GOP winners are state Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), seeking re-election in the 47th House District, and state Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) in the 2nd Senate District to replace Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills). Both have Democratic opponents but they also have the advantages of incumbency and voter registration.

The GOP also has a chance to pick up two open seats: the recorder seat that Mr. Sarantou is running for against the winner of a three-way Democratic primary, and the seat of retired Common Pleas Judge Charles Doneghy; Republican Kenneth Phillips is running against appointed Democratic Judge Myron Duhart.

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



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