Toledo Council President Joe McNamara, a potential Democratic candidate for mayor, has angered local labor bosses and faces possible removal from the Lucas County Democratic Party’s executive committee if he continues to oppose the party’s choice for a vacancy on council.
Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Democratic Party and a former director of the Northwest Ohio Council of Carpenters, said Monday he is looking into whether Mr. McNamara’s removal from the Democratic Party executive committee is called for because of his support for someone other than the party’s candidate, Shaun Enright, to fill a vacancy when city council meets today.
“The bylaws of the Lucas County Democratic Party has a clause to deal with issues such as this and I will be consulting with the executive committee and my executive director, Yvonne Harper, in regards to any action that can be taken,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
He said the bylaws allow the executive committee to hold a special meeting for the purpose of removing someone from the panel.
Mr. McNamara and fellow Democratic Councilman Mike Craig are refusing to support the union-backed Mr. Enright for the vacancy on council that was created by the resignation on Friday of Democrat Phil Copeland, who was elected Lucas County recorder. They are supporting former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford for the vacant council seat.
Mr. Enright’s nomination is drawing opposition because of a criminal record from 1999, and because of more recent financial setbacks. Mr. Enright ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Craig for the District 3 seat in 2011.
It’s clear Mr. Enright’s backers are coming after Mr. McNamara.
Dennis Duffey, secretary-treasurer of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, and former head of Local 8 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, for which Mr. Enright is a staff organizer, said Mr. McNamara doesn't belong on the executive committee if he votes against its recommendations.
“He’s taken an oath to uphold those bylaws and what he’s doing now tells me he’s in direct conflict with those bylaws. Whether he should be removed, tarred and feathered, or de-nutted, it don’t [expletive deleted] matter, something ought to happen to him,” Mr. Duffey said. “When you take an oath you ought to live by that oath, and if you can’t live by it, just exit.”
He said if Mr. McNamara is being forced to choose between the obligations of being a public official or a member of the Democratic Party’s executive committee “he should quit one of them.”
Mr. McNamara said he's standing up for racial diversity on council. He said the fourth goal of the party's constitution is to "strive to eradicate social, political, and economic injustice in our communities.’’
"I think it's unjust if we would not have an at-large African-American on council when we have the most qualified person possible," Mr. McNamara said, referring to Mr. Ford. "I am upholding the value of the local constitution and the state and national constitutions."
Since the start of the strong-mayor form of government in 1994, council has been without a black at-large councilman only during a 14-month period in 2002 and 2003. It has had two black district councilmen at all times.
The Enright appointment is avidly sought by the Northwest Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, a consortium of more than a dozen unions, including Mr. Enright’s union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8.
Mr. Rothenbuhler said Mr. Enright, 33, has put his youthful indiscretions in the past and turned his life around, and said council needs young people, as well as continued labor representation.
Mr. Enright was convicted in 1999 of illegally carrying a concealed handgun, and in 2004, he declared personal bankruptcy.
Despite his past, Mr. Enright and his supporters say he has matured and that he would bring a needed labor voice to City Council.
Mr. Rothenbuhler said 68 out of 70 executive board members supported Mr. Enright in a close-door meeting of the party committee on Dec. 20.
Mr. McNamara and Mr. Craig said Mr. Ford has the best qualifications for the job, and that the seat should be filled by an African-American to maintain a tradition of having three black councilmen out of the 12 councilmen at all times.
Mr. Rothenbuhler said he was more disturbed at Mr. McNamara’s “playing the race card.” He said he was made chairman five years ago as part of an effort to heal divisions within the party, which at the time was split between what were called the A-team and B-team factions.
“I’ve never discriminated against anybody for anything,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a possible Democratic candidate for mayor this year, said, “As a member of the Democratic Party, I've always sought the endorsement and I’ve always valued the endorsement. I serve on the executive committee and I believe you need to support the people that support you.”
City Council has until Feb. 3 to agree on a replacement or the job of naming the appointee goes to Mayor Mike Bell.
Mr. Bell said Monday he hoped council “would come together and be able to make a vote of solidarity to the mission that they are basically assigned to do for the citizens of Toledo.” He declined to say who he might appoint if he gets the chance, but said, “I am prepared to make a decision if they can’t.”
Council is deadlocked because none of the potential candidates, including at least one Republican and one independent, in addition to Mr. Enright and Mr. Ford, has the necessary six-vote majority on the 11-member council.
Council meets at 4 p.m. today when it will hold at least one round of votes on the question. Observers say it is possible that council will set aside the appointment issue for two weeks if no candidate garners six votes in today's session.
The dispute over Mr. Enright’s appointment recalls a previous case of Democrats on council refusing to implement a recommendation from the party.
In 2005, seven Democrats on council were “sanctioned” by the party’s executive committee for voting to appoint Mr. Copeland instead of the party's candidate, Mark Sobczak. In addition, four Democratic Toledo school board members were sanctioned in a separate instance of not backing the party's choice for an open seat.
The sanctions banned those officeholders from receiving any support from the party or its organizations, including financial donations, use of party headquarters, and use of volunteers. The sanctions were to last one year and were to be applied in the year in which the sanctioned candidates next appear on the ballot.
Mr. Sobszak ran for office that November and was elected, as was Mr. Copeland.
Some believe that Mr. Enright’s chances of winning the election in November would be improved if he could run as an incumbent, while Mr. Ford has no need of an appointment on council to finish among the top six vote-getters for council in November.
The six at-large seats will be on the ballot.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.