Construction unions are supporting Shaun Enright, left, to succeed Phil Copeland on Toledo City Council.
As one union representative departs Toledo City Council for an elected job with Lucas County, Toledo-area construction unions are supporting another union representative to take his place — a man with a history of legal trouble.
Shaun Enright, an unsuccessful 2011 council candidate, was convicted in 1999 of illegally carrying a concealed handgun. In 2004 he declared personal bankruptcy.
Mr. Enright and his supporters say he has matured and that he would bring a needed labor voice to city council.
“It happened over 14 years ago, and since then I put myself through college, put myself through an apprenticeship, started a family, and I would hope that wouldn’t be held against me,” Mr. Enright said.
Phil Copeland, business manager for the Laborers Local 500, will soon resign his at-large seat on council to become Lucas County recorder, a job he won in the Nov. 6 election.
The Lucas County Democratic Party is expected to endorse a candidate for the council vacancy Dec. 3.
In September, 1999, Mr. Enright was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and was sentenced to six months in jail, but the entire sentence was suspended. He was placed on inactive probation for one year.
According to a complaint filed in Toledo Municipal Court in July, 1999, Mr. Enright “had concealed and ready at hand the loaded Lorcin 25-cal. automatic pistol found underneath the driver’s seat” of a car he was driving. The court record indicates he was pulled over for failure to display a license, not wearing a seat belt, and slow speed.
In November, 1998, he was charged with having an open container in a stopped vehicle, menacing, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct-intoxication.
All the charges were dismissed. The felony menacing charge stemmed from an exchange at his booking during which Mr. Enright told a sheriff's deputy “that he would remember his face and take care of him when he got out of jail,” records show.
Mr. Enright, 33, an organizer with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8, said all of his criminal charges were the result of youthful indiscretion — “just being dumb and making mistakes.”
Mr. Enright has had more recent financial troubles. The Ohio Department of Taxation filed a personal income tax lien in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against him and his wife in August for $3,447. He said he has paid that debt and the lien is in the removal process. The couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in November, 2004, listing credit-card debt of nearly $13,700.
The criminal history became an issue during Mr. Enright’s campaign last year against Democratic Councilman Mike Craig, who won re-election to Council District 3, which includes East Toledo and part of South Toledo.
“Mike Craig put out a mailer about [the charges],” Mr. Enright said. “I don’t know if that affected the campaign.”
Unions contributed more than $18,000 to Mr. Enright’s campaign, of which construction-related unions donated $14,050, according to campaign finance reports for 2011 on file with the Lucas County Board of Elections. He also had a fund-raiser that generated $2,800 in contributions. None of the contributions was from Mr. Enright himself.
To ward off Mr. Enright’s challenge, Mr. Craig raised $20,090 for his campaign, including a $2,000 loan from his wife, Karen Craig. He received contributions of $500 each from political action committees representing dock workers, the utilities industry, and general contractors.
Mr. Craig reported to police that two family cars were vandalized on May 31, 2011, just hours after he voted to sell a 69-acre portion of the Marina District in East Toledo to Chinese investment firm Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. for $3.8 million. Five tires were slashed on his and his wife’s vehicles in front of their Consaul Street home. No arrests were made.
The Northwest Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council objected to that transaction because the buyers would not commit in writing to hiring union labor for the project, although the group said a verbal commitment given by the company’s construction manager before council’s vote allayed some of the concerns.
Nine days after the incident, Mr. Craig received an anonymous letter suggesting Mr. Enright as the culprit based on a “history,” but without offering any evidence.
Mr. Enright on Friday denied any role in vandalizing Mr. Craig’s cars. “I don’t condone that behavior and we don’t do that behavior,” Mr. Enright said. “I’m not the type that wishes harm on anybody.”
Mr. Craig did not discount as a reason for the vandalism his support the previous year of an “exigent circumstances” declaration to force concessions from most city labor unions, which also aroused union opposition.
Mr. Craig said the party’s endorsement “doesn’t carry a thing for me, because they didn’t endorse me last time,” and he had no intention of voting to appoint Mr. Enright.
“I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. Craig said. “I know all there is to know about his criminal history. ... There are tons of people out there who are qualified and who don’t have criminal records. This is the best they could come up with?”
The Northwest Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council is trying to line up support for him within the party and on council. The council of 16 unions, representing as many as 12,000 workers, contends that council needs a labor representative to replace Mr. Copeland.
“We’d support him for that seat. We would like to see Shaun appointed,” said John Schlagheck, executive secretary of the organization that represents area unions, including electricians, ironworkers, pipefitters, laborers, painters, masons, and carpenters.
Mr. Schlagheck said Mr. Enright has experience as a community activist.
“We’re just trying to get a guy who thinks like us on council. He shows interest in being in council because he ran for the district from East Toledo. He was unsuccessful, but he didn’t have a bad run,” Mr. Schlagheck said.
Lucas County Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, a former director of the Northwest Ohio Council of Carpenters, said he supports Mr. Enright for the vacancy.
“I believe in giving people a chance to recover and become what they really want to be. He really wants to do that and I’m willing to give him a chance and I support that,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said. “I do believe that he would be a good replacement for Phil Copeland, because we feel that the labor community needs a representative to watch out for issues that are near and dear to their heart.”
Councilman Lindsay Webb said the party’s endorsement would carry significant weight, and she would “most assuredly” vote for the person receiving the endorsement.
“There is a process that the Democrats use to help determine who is the best person to serve, campaign, and retain the seat after the appointment as with Paula Hicks-Hudson and Steven Steel,” Ms. Webb said.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson, who like Mr. Steel was appointed to council after getting the party’s endorsement and later won election, said Mr. Enright’s past does not disqualify him.
“I know there is a lot of interest in whoever is in that seat has an interest in labor,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.
Councilman Tom Waniewski, one of the three Republicans on council, said he would not support Mr. Enright or former mayor Jack Ford, who has also expressed interest.
“I can’t see how someone could adequately perform public service when they violate it so often based on a criminal record,” he said.
Mr. Waniewski ran a newspaper ad seeking people interested in the endorsement.
“I had a retired CFO inquire about the position,” he said. “If you look at what we have, it seems to be a political career ladder and the public is cheated when we get that.”
Council President Joe McNamara, a Democrat who supported Mr. Craig’s re-election in 2011, wants the party to endorse someone all the Democrats will support.
“I think the party should be working with all Democrats to find a candidate we can all support and who the voters will elect,” he said. “At the end of the day, as a Democrat, I want to see Democrats elected, and part of that goal is to find a candidate who will win and be supported by the voters.”
Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who defeated Mr. Ford in 2005, said Mr. Ford’s intellect and knowledge of city issues, including finances and development, are too valuable to pass up.
“Almost annually there is an opportunity for an appointment to be made. It should go to the person who can contribute immediately to dealing with budget issues, public safety issues, and job creation issues,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook said that in light of the Democratic Party’s council majority, there isn’t anything the Republican Party can do to derail the appointment.
“Obviously this guy has turned his life around and it happened over a decade ago. If the Democratic Party is picking Mr. Enright, then Mr. Enright is going to get the nod. It’s just the way it is,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Whoever is appointed to the vacancy would be expected to run for election in the September primary and in the general election next November with other at-large council candidates.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.