The contest for Lucas County recorder could add some excitement to this year's political contests -- if the two candidates choose to mix it up.
Republican George Sarantou, a private financial adviser making his third run in seven years for county office, is facing Phil Copeland, a Democratic labor union official running in an election year that some say is tailor-made for a Democrat.
Both are at-large Toledo city councilmen, and both are barred by term limits from running for council again in 2013.
They say they consider each other friends.
"These are two of the nicest men. They're both professionals," said fellow Toledo City Councilman Paula Hicks-Hudson. "They may take the gloves off, but right now they're not."
Conventional political wisdom favors Mr. Copeland, whose uncle, the late Bill Copeland, once held the office of county recorder.
It is now held by Democrat Jeanine Perry, who is not seeking re-election.
Josh Thurston, a Democratic Party campaign manager and member of the party's executive committee, extolled Mr. Copeland as a hard-working campaigner in a year that will overflow with Democratic voters going to the polls.
"Phil has got an organization behind him. He's got a lot of supporters out there," Mr. Thurston said. "It comes down to excitement between Democrats and Republicans. This is going to be a Democrat year in Lucas County, big time."
ABOUT THE OFFICE
The office of county recorder in Ohio maintains deeds, mortgages, land contracts, liens, and military discharges. On a typical day more than 350 documents are filed.
In a year, the office collects about $2.4 million in fees, half of which goes into the county general fund and half into the Housing Trust Fund.
Current Recorder Jeanine Perry said lawyers, title company representatives, and residents bring or send their records to the office to be scanned and made into a permanent record. Those records are mailed back the following day, Mrs. Perry said.
The office also records military discharge papers for veterans in case they lose their discharge papers later. She said the veterans must record the documents themselves.
The office is strictly administrative, with hundreds of sections in state law directing the recorder's office and setting the fees.
The office in Lucas County has a staff of 11 under the recorder.
Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said Mr. Sarantou is better qualified than Mr. Copeland.
He said Mr. Copeland's campaign is based on people confusing him with his late uncle, who was also a Toledo city councilman and Lucas County commissioner.
"I think we need a Republican down there because all of the county row offices are Democrats. We need to make sure that somebody is there to keep an eye on the Democrats and be a watchdog," Mr. Stainbrook said.
A drop-out from Scott High School, Mr. Copeland later got a GED and then worked his way up in the Laborers Union. He followed the path of his uncle, who was also business manager of Local 500 and was the county recorder from 1985 to 1990.
Phil Copeland unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to run for county commissioner in 2006. He was the secretary-treasurer of the union for 27 years.
He was elected business manager in 2007 after the previous business manager was forced out of office in a scandal. Two men pleaded guilty in federal court to union embezzlement for using union money to pay for strip club outings and meals unrelated to union work and were removed from office.
Mr. Copeland denied responsibility for the lavish spending, saying that the receipts he approved as secretary-treasurer did not identify strip bars. "I wasn't the boss. The business manager was. I was investigated by everyone you could possibly think of," Mr. Copeland said. If he hadn't been cleared by the union's international office and the Department of Justice, he would not have been allowed to remain in leadership, he said.
Mr. Copeland was appointed to city council in 2005 and was elected later that year and again in 2009.
"I've always believed in service, and this would be another step in me serving the public," said Mr. Copeland, 67, of South Toledo.
Mr. Copeland said he's been managing contracts, job assignments, dues, and benefits paperwork for a union of 1,500 members for years.
"Basically, what the recorder job does I've already been doing in a certain way," Mr. Copeland said.
Mr. Sarantou, 60, of West Toledo is a financial adviser and registered representative for New England Financial. He has a degree from Ohio State University and said he has taken many continuing education courses since then.
He's trying to do what no Republican has done since 1930 -- get elected recorder in Lucas County. The last Republican recorder was Noble Jones, who was defeated in 1932 by Gerald Cullen, who went on to serve until he retired in 1971.
"I plan on having a positive campaign. My message is very simple. The recorder's office is very important. We handle all kinds of documents that affect people from all walks of life at all income levels -- mortgage documents, liens, land contracts, military discharge papers. And what I'm focusing in on is I do have proven business experience as [being] a financial professional for 30 years now," Mr. Sarantou said.
Mr. Sarantou contends that his own dogged campaigning and his reputation will catapult him to victory and that Republicans will be out in force on Nov. 6, contrary to Democrats' boasts of a big Democratic year.
"I personally believe it will be a close presidential race," he said. "You also have two well-known names running against each other in the county race, which will create interest."
Mr. Sarantou, son of a tavern owner, was elected to council in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005 and 2009. For most of his time on council he has been chairman of the finance and budget committee, even though Democrats have held a majority the entire time.
He ran twice for county commissioner, losing to Democrats Ben Konop in 2006 and Carol Contrada in 2010.
After he lost the 2010 election by 191 votes, he accused the Lucas County Board of Elections of counting illegally cast provisional ballots that cost him the election.
Mr. Sarantou filed suit to try to have the election set aside, but he dropped the suit, saying he didn't want to violate the privacy of hundreds of voters by putting them on the witness stand.
Later, the director and deputy director of the elections board were fired for allowing the counting of 114 provisional ballots in violation of legal direction from the Ohio secretary of state.
On council, both Mr. Sarantou and Mr. Copeland voted, over the opposition of angry city unions, to declare the city in "exigent circumstances" to cut city employee wage and benefit packages to ward off a budget crisis.
Mr. Sarantou said that was a politically tough vote, and he said he congratulated Mr. Copeland the following day on his political courage.
But Mr. Copeland said he was misled by city officials when they threatened layoffs of 300 city employees, such as police officers, and would have voted differently if he could go back and do so.
"It was going to be a layoff but it might not have been to the extent that they said it was going to be," he said.
He said he now believes the city could have achieved concessions by negotiating with its unions without first declaring exigent circumstances.
"Now that I went through it, I wouldn't again," Mr. Copeland said.
Mr. Sarantou said no one was misled.
"We all had the information. That issue was thoroughly vetted. For someone to say they were misled I don't think is a very accurate statement," Mr. Sarantou said.
He said there was no movement in negotiations and the city would have been at risk of being taken over by the state.
State of the office
Mr. Copeland said he's not promising a bunch of improvements in an office that is already acknowledged to be well run.
"If I can bring a little of my expertise what I had in the last 30 years down there, well and good," Mr. Copeland said.
Mr. Sarantou said there are improvements to be made.
He said he would look into posting a member of the recorder's staff in the auditor's office to help speed document processing for people who have to go to both offices.
He also said he would investigate the possibility of electronic document filing, if security concerns can be allayed.
Mr. Sarantou also said he would appoint an advisory committee of the lawyers, title company representatives, and others who use the recorder's office regularly.
"I think Jeanine Perry has done a good job. I want to maintain that but I want to build on it," Mr. Sarantou said.
The recorder is paid $71,287 a year.
Coincidentally, Lucas County voters this November may also get to vote on a referendum to abolish the elected position of recorder, along with most of the other elected county offices.
A county reform organization is trying to collect enough signatures to put a county charter on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Neither Mr. Copeland nor Mr. Sarantou has endorsed the plan.
"I don't have a problem with it, but let's let the people decide," Mr. Copeland said.
Mr. Sarantou said he's concerned about giving up the accountability voters have by electing county officials directly and he's not convinced that reorganization would reduce the cost of county government.
"With the county council, it's a good plan in terms of giving more voice to people," Mr. Sarantou said.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.