Union-backed and Democratic Party-endorsed Shaun Enright was appointed today to fill a vacant at-large seat on Toledo City Council after Republican Councilman George Sarantou crossed party lines and joined five Democrats.
Mr. Enright, an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 8, fills the seat vacated by Philip Copeland - another union official who was elected in November as Lucas County recorder.
The appointment process fractured council. Five people were nominated for the seat before Mr. Enright ultimately received the six needed votes after three rounds of voting. Voting for Mr. Enright were Mr. Sarantou and Democrats Paula Hicks-Hudson, Adam Martinez, Tyrone Riley, Steven Steel, and Lindsay Webb.
Mr. Sarantou initially nominated and first voted for Constantine Stamos, a Republican and former candidate for council. No one else supported Mr. Stamos. Mr. Sarantou switched his vote in the second round to Sandy Spang, an independent from South Toledo who was formerly a Republican. In the third round, Mr. Sarantou cast the deciding vote to land the seat for Mr. Enright.
“I nominated Constantine Stamos and he got one vote so I didn't see a point in continuing that,” Mr. Sarantou said. “I then voted for Sandy Spang but there was no movement on that.... I believe we would have been here until midnight had I not changed my vote.”
Mr. Sarantou said he did not want the appointment decision to fall to Mayor Mike Bell, who would have been able to pick the new councilman if council remained deadlocked for 30 days.
The other two council Democrats – Council President Joe McNamara and Councilman Mike Craig - supported former Mayor Jack Ford for the seat. Mr. McNamara, a potential Democratic candidate for mayor, could now endure the wrath of local labor bosses and even face possible removal from the Lucas County Democratic Party’s executive committee because he supported a former Democratic mayor rather than the party’s choice for the vacancy.
Mr. Enright’s endorsement by the party was controversial because of his conviction in 1999 for illegally carrying an handgun, and for a more recent financial setback in 2004 when he declared personal bankruptcy. There is no love between Mr. Enright and Mr. Craig - both east-siders. The two locked horns in 2011 in a heated race for the District 3 seat that included some negative advertisements. Mr. Craig defeated Mr. Enright to win that seat.
Independent Councilman D. Michael Collins and Republican Rob Ludeman supported Ms. Spang in all three votes. Republican Councilman Tom Waniewski nominated Matt Rubin, an interim financial analyst for the University of Toledo, and then voted for him in the first two votes before switching his support to Ms. Spang in the third vote.
Mr. Enright, 33, of East Toledo, said the division today of council would not carry on because of his appointment.
He said he will "vote his conscience" rather than always supporting what unions want, and that he will work to create jobs and attract new businesses to Toledo.
“I intend to stand shoulder to shoulder with Toledo's faith-based community, block watch groups, and law enforcement to improve the city's neighborhoods and reduce crime,” Mr. Enright said after taking his seat. “People shouldn't have to feel like prisoners in their own homes.”
Mr. Enright was a victim of a crime last week when his Clark Street home was burglarized.
Mr. Ford said he didn't expect to win enough votes from council to get the vacancy appointment, and said he was not deterred from his plan to run in the fall. Mr. Enright and Ms. Spang also plan to run.
"I didn't see myself as running against any particular person or any particular interest. I just thought there was still some things I could do to contribute," Mr. Ford said. "That's why I offered myself and I will run in the fall and go to the voters directly and attempt to win the old-fashioned way."
Ms. Spang, 52, who owns the Plate 21 coffeehouse in the Beverly area of South Toledo, said she is planning to run for one of the six at-large seats on council. She said she has voted Republican in the past but is now not affiliated with a party.
"I would serve all the citizens and I want to work with all the members of council, as well as the administration, and I think that level of independence is what we really need right now. I don't feel that the issues facing Toledo are best approached from a position of Republican or Democrat and I think that sometimes party influence has prevented progress," Ms. Spang said.
Joe Cousino, president of the Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, the umbrella group that includes Mr. Enright's union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8, noted Mr. Enright's remarks that he would represent the whole community.
"I think that he has a little bit to prove to the city and council members and the naysayers, but I think he'll do us a good job," Mr. Cousino said. He rejected suggestions that the unions seek excessive influence on city council.
"Labor is a big part of this, but it's more than labor. It's the community, it's the neighborhood he grew up in, lives in, and he wants to represent the neighbors and the community just as much as he wants to represent the union. I think that the take that he's here just for the unions is a little off-base," Mr. Cousino said.
Mr. Enright is a delegate from the IBEW to the construction trades council.
Blade staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.