4 incumbents among 17 seeking at-large spots on Toledo council

Top 12 primary finishers will advance to November election


Helping neighborhood businesses and ridding neighborhoods of abandoned and foreclosed homes is a theme that unites many of the 17 people who are battling in the Toledo primary election on Tuesday for the right to appear on the general election ballot in November,

Six at-large City Council seats are up for grabs. Two veteran councilmen, Democrat Joe McNamara and Republican George Sarantou, are stepping down.

In addition, one councilman who holds his seat by appointment, Democrat Shaun Enright, will test his ability to win votes citywide.

The incumbents

The field includes four incumbents: Mr. Enright, 34, a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Adam Martinez, 34, a Democrat and Realtor; Steven Steel, 51, a Democrat and part-time professor at Bowling Green State University; and Rob Ludeman, 60, a Republican and a Realtor.

Mr. Enright, who lives in East Toledo, said he wants council to keep its focus on neighborhood development and safety.

“We all know money’s tight,” Mr. Enright said.

He ran unsuccessfully two years ago for the District 3 council seat and was appointed to council in January with labor union backing.

Mr. Martinez of South Toledo manages multi-family rental properties, mostly in so-called “disinvested” neighborhoods. He said he’s a big supporter of “microlending”— helping minorities overcome obstacles in bonding and financing to start businesses.

“I just want to finish what I started, and I think we’ve been pretty successful,” he said.

Mr. Martinez has had to answer complaints from unions that didn’t like his vote for exigent circumstances in 2010, the legislation that gave Mayor Mike Bell power to impose concessions on city employee unions. He said a little-heralded fact is that new city labor contracts include a reopener clause in case of extreme financial circumstances.

Mr. Steel of the Old West End was on the school board before being elected to council four years ago.

“I am working on issues of quality of life — a vibrant downtown and Uptown, a strong park system, a strong arts and entertainment scene,” Mr. Steel said. He highlighted the creation of a parks advisory board, which is working on implementing a recently completed $25,000 master plan.

“The goal is to find a stable funding stream. Having a robust parks and rec program for this city is very important,” Mr. Steel said.

Mr. Ludeman of South Toledo served 14 years as the District 2 councilman and is now seeking a second term as councilman at-large.

Mr. Ludeman said he brings common sense and business sense to council. He said he’s been working for the last year and a half with the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority on a plan to “leverage” the about $10 million the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annually for industrial revitalization.

“Hopefully whoever is the mayor will be more than willing to work with me and other council members to provide the services, keep the water pumping, and not put undue restrictions on people or businesses in the city of Toledo,” he said.

The challengers

Challenger Theresa Gabriel, 76, of West Toledo, started working for the city in 1963 and retired as assistant chief of staff to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. Her tenure included service as an AFSCME union president. Long a Republican, Ms. Gabriel is running as an independent.

Ms. Gabriel also served out an unfinished term as Toledo Municipal Clerk of Courts in 2003, losing the election that year to Democrat Vallie Bowman-English.

Her plan is to get council and the administration to work as a team and to be an advocate for senior citizens — like her 96-year-old mother.

“The entire city needs some tender-loving care,” Ms. Gabriel said.

Independent Sandy Spang, 53, of South Toledo, came up with an idea to promote neighborhood business based on her own success transforming a neglected commercial block in the Beverly neighborhood of South Toledo. Ms. Spang, owner of Plate 21 coffee shop, also worked as a gemologist for a former local jewelry store, which included making semi-annual trips to New York to buy diamonds, and has a degree in fine arts from BGSU.

She has proposed giving incentives to property owners to rent vacant commercial buildings to entrepreneurs.

“That’s the message I’m trying to get out — I made my neighborhood better and I want to make their neighborhood better,” Ms. Spang said. She and her husband, Mark, an ironworker, own commercial and residential rental properties., including in Perrysburg where she has helped tenants to be successful.

Embarking on his first run for political office is Bill Delaney, 72, of West Toledo. He ran Delaney’s Lounge on West Alexis Road for 28 years and led the unsuccessful effort to repeal the ban on smoking in bars.

“I want to know where the money is going. No one is telling the public what is going on,” said Mr. Delaney, an independent. “Small business is being shafted and paying fees that are unnecessary."

The Democratic slate includes Larry Sykes, 64, of West Toledo, owner of a consulting firm, who is finishing up a term on the Toledo Board of Education.

He said he would advocate that the city partner with groups whose boards he has served on, such as the Toledo Public Schools, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, and Toledo Area Metroparks.

He suggested having Mayor Bell use his contacts in the Chinese community to get a Panda exhibit for the Toledo Zoo.

“This synergy would help not only the zoo but the hotels. People would run to the zoo to the see the panda bears,” Mr. Sykes said.

Democrat Jack Ford, 66, is running an aggressive campaign for a person whose name recognition probably tops that of all his opponents, with fund-raisers, yard signs, and policy pronouncements. He was elected mayor in 2001 and defeated for re-election in 2005. Mr. Ford, a native of Springfield, Ohio, nearly lost his life to diabetes but today manages the disease, while also teaching a course in Africana studies at the University of Toledo.

He said his main emphasis would be on housing, including paying attention to low-income housing projects that are privately run and thus ignored, he said, by city government.

“We need to fix up some of the homes that have not yet deteriorated so far that they are no longer usable. And those houses that have been built and are boarded up, we need to market those,” Mr. Ford said.

On the Republican slate, Joe Celusta, 49, of South Toledo, is brimming with ideas, some of them inspired by the loss of his job as a senior manager when employer True North Energy moved to the Cleveland area.

He wants to know why liens can't be placed against the residences of absentee landlords, instead of just against their deteriorating dwellings. And he's advocating more frequent council and zoning meetings to expedite business and keep members current.

“There was total transparency in the company I worked for. We got numbers weekly, we met weekly, and whether the meeting lasted 10 minutes or an hour we met, so we kept our ears to the ground, so we knew what was going on,” Mr. Celusta said.

Fellow Republican Ernest McCarthy, 71, of East Toledo, is a retired construction supervisor who also sold industrial electrical equipment.

“We need to have council communicate with the public,” Mr. McCarthy said. To achieve that he is advocating the establishment of a kind of staffed district office in every area of the city where people could go to have their concerns addressed.

“If we had 6 to 12 centers that coordinated with police I think we could really work on problems,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Ron Johns, 21, of South Toledo, a student at UT and account manager for an online food ordering business, stirred things up with his F.A.I.R. proposal.

Mr. Johns, a Republican who leads a Libertarian student group at UT, objected to council's contributions of $30,000 to the Toledo Urban Affairs Center and $20,000 to the African-American Legacy Fund. His Fair Allocation of Internal Revenue ordinance would make 11 councilmen and the mayor pay the money back out of their own pockets.

He’d repeal the eye-in-the-sky (police video monitoring) program and the red-light cameras and speed cameras as an intrusion on the constitutional right to be presumed innocent.

Republican James Martin, 27, of West Toledo, runs a business that helps other businesses acquire start-up financing.

A graduate of Clay High School, he’s taking international business management at Owens Community College.

“I’m hoping we can find some kind of balance to make Toledo the city it should be,” Mr. Martin said.

James Nowak, 61, who ran for City Council in 1977 and 1979, is a longtime member of the Lucas County Republican Party’s central committee from the Shoreland precinct.

“If we don’t start really looking out for jobs and creating a better environment for [jobs], why should anybody live here?” said Mr. Nowak, an attorney. “We have great universities, we have a great work force, but nobody can find jobs.”

Republican Alfonso Narvaez, 22, of North Toledo, ran unsuccessfully for council District 4 in 2011 and is treasurer of the Lucas County Republican Party. He is a sales associate now at Home Depot on Secor Road.

“I've been doing door-to-door for months. Every voter has expressed their discontent with this City Council,” Mr. Narvaez said. “Council is not a part-time position. It’s a full-time position when you represent 300,000 people.”

Sean Nestor, 28, of Point Place, who ran for council District 6 in 2011, is endorsed by the Green Party.

Mr. Nestor, the systems administrator for a Maumee company and computer instructor at Owens Community College, has a bachelor's degree from UT. He's accepting campaign contributions only from individuals, and is interested in investing in infrastructure, avoiding wasteful city spending, and holding banks responsible for the foreclosed properties they own.

“We have to take care of ourselves in order to appeal to business and residents to assure we have the population and economy to be a sustainable city going forward,” Mr. Nestor said.

Joshua Fowler, a Democrat, who lives in the Central City, declined to provide information about himself.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.