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Some of Toledo’s strongest Democrats were hoping a fellow party member would knock down Mike Bell in November and in the process weaken John Kasich’s 2014 re-election chances.
So much for that idea.
Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern identified defeating Mayor Bell as the party’s top goal for 2013 because of the mayor’s high-profile support in 2011 of Senate Bill 5 and state Issue 2, the referendum backed by Republican Governor Kasich that would have weakened public employee bargaining rights. It was defeated following a campaign by unions and the Democratic Party.
Mr. Redfern said Mr. Bell was the party’s “No. 1 target” and even scheduled a fund-raiser for Sept. 19 to raise money for Mr. Bell’s defeat, in the anticipation of a Democrat making it through the primary and onto the general election ballot.
“John Kasich looked for a friend to help destroy collective bargaining and he looked no further than Mike Bell. We have to remind Toledoans that Mike Bell is aligned with John Kasich ... someone who wants to strip away collective bargaining rights,” the Democratic chairman said.
The only problem now: The party has no horse in Toledo’s mayoral race.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bell and Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins — both political independents — advanced to the Nov. 5 general election past Democrats Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez and Councilman Joe McNamara.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said the Democrats are “out of touch with the issues facing voters” if their goal in electing a Democratic mayor was to somehow affect the 2014 governor’s race.
“If that is what they are focused on, it is evident to everyone in this building and all Republicans around the state that the Democrats have lost their way,” Mr. Borges said, “People want to know what you are for and what you will do. ... What Democratic Party leadership has done to Toledo and Lucas County over many decades has led it down a perilous path and Mayor Bell represents a departure from that path and I think that is a message that Republicans and Democrats can embrace.”
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Like many, Mr. Redfern said he believes the two Democrats split the party’s votes in Toledo’s mayoral primary, thus denying either the chance of taking on the incumbent mayor.
Criticism in the hours after the election was heaped upon Mr. McNamara from Lopez supporters such as Teamsters Local 20 President Bill Lichtenwald and Toledo Councilman Lindsay Webb. Both said Mr. McNamara robbed Ms. Lopez of her chance to take on the incumbent.
Elected officials of the Democratic Party and the party’s chairman, Ron Rothenbuhler, met Thursday for breakfast at a downtown restaurant and discussed the unconventional possibility of the party endorsing Mr. Collins’ candidacy. Sources told The Blade that the unanimous choice of the party’s elected officials was not to endorse Mr. Collins, a position Mr. Rothenbuhler said he agreed with.
“I am not going to endorse an independent or a Republican,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
Mr. Rothenbuhler refused to discuss what happened in the closed meeting, other than to say, “We had interdepartmental discussions about many many issues. It was a very positive and informative meeting.”
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Issues in common
Mr. Collins said he did not seek the Democratic Party’s endorsement but would not have rejected it if it had come his way.
“I am an independent, and I have the utmost respect for the political process, and that includes both parties, and if that is the decision of the Lucas County Democratic Party, I respect it,” Mr. Collins said.
“I would be humbled and graciously accept. However, I am not going to be in a position or allow my campaign to be in a position where we would become a divisive force in a party,” Mr. Collins said.
That said, “We probably have more in common than dissimilar interests.” Among those interests are their intense opposition to Senate Bill 5.
“I was absolutely, totally aligned with them on that issue,” Mr. Collins said.
But he said he would not be used as a “pawn” by the party in its quest to defeat Mr. Kasich, who is known to be a supporter of Mr. Bell.
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Some in the Democratic Party resented Mr. McNamara for running this year, given the strong support expressed by one of the party’s strongest elements, the construction and trade unions, in favor of Ms. Lopez.
The Lucas County auditor collected endorsements from the construction unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, as well as from the Greater Toledo AFL-CIO labor federation and Teamsters Local 20.
But she didn’t get all of labor. The Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and Toledo Firefighters Local 92 endorsed Mr. Collins. And the United Auto Workers union stayed neutral in the mayoral contest.
Ms. Webb, one of the few prominent Democrats to publicly endorse Ms. Lopez, said the party’s bylaw barring an endorsement before the primary should have been repealed. She was critical of Mr. McNamara’s decision to run.
“This is the result when the Democratic Party is divided,” she said. “[Mr. McNamara] came in fourth ... now we’re facing a general election with two independents.”
She said Mr. McNamara gave up his post as council president and gave up his council seat when he could have run for re-election and possibly been the top vote-getter.
“He’s not on council. He’s not going to be mayor. And now there’s no Democrat in the race,” Ms. Webb said.
A similar frustration was voiced by Robert Torres, who helped on Ms. Lopez’s campaign and previously was youth commissioner under Mayor Jack Ford and an economic development specialist under Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.
“We need leadership in the Democratic Party,” he said Tuesday night after Ms. Lopez’s defeat. “It’s a sad night to be a Democrat.”
Mr. McNamara said blaming him for the lack of a Democratic contender is unfair. He said Ms. Lopez divided the local Democratic Party.
“I wanted to avoid a Democrat-on-Democrat fight and I was actually working to change the bylaws last year to allow for preprimary endorsements,” he said.
Mr. McNamara pointed out that he was first to announce his candidacy in February and that Ms. Lopez did so in April without discussing that with him.
Mr. McNamara takes umbrage with Lopez supporters such as Mr. Lichtenwald blasting his use of negative television advertisements and billboards. The councilman pointed out that Ms. Lopez publicly attacked him first early in the campaign when she incorrectly criticized him for supporting raises for councilmen and the mayor. He was actually against that idea.
“I challenged Anita Lopez to a one-on-one debate that would have shown voters who was the stronger Democrat and more informed, but Lopez refused to debate me one-on-one,” Mr. McNamara said. “She attacked me first, her facts were wrong, and she was a hypocrite because she was attacking pay raises when she gave huge pay raises in her office.”
Mr. McNamara said he will not seek another public office and on Thursday stepped down as chairman from the Lucas County Democratic Party’s central committee.
“I am not going to let anyone rewrite history,” he said. “Labor made a mistake in backing Lopez. She ran an incredibly incompetent campaign, she mangled multiple facts about her campaign and about her opponents, and if we had a fraction of the resources she had, we would have crushed everyone.”
Out of 23,748 votes cast, Mr. Bell won about 27 percent, or 6,340 votes, while Mr. Collins collected 5,806 votes, or 24 percent. Falling just short of Mr. Collins was Ms. Lopez, with 5,443 votes, and Mr. McNamara, with 5,328 votes. Four other candidates together garnered fewer than 1,000 votes.
Ms. Lopez said she is “at peace” with losing the election and said Mr. McNamara should “move on” rather than dwell on the campaign.
“Joe needs to have faith in God and stop worrying about the past and move forward,” she said.
Ms. Lopez said she would concentrate on initiatives in the auditor’s office.
Lack of diversity
Wade Kapszukiewicz, Lucas County treasurer and a Democrat, agreed that the party needs to take a more decisive role in offering candidates for election.
“One of the things the Democratic Party needs to do — I think what this mayor’s race demonstrates — is the need for the party to make primary endorsements,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “One of the things that would have helped us avoid the mess would be to take a stand and endorse before the primary. The mayor’s race gets all the attention, but I am just as embarrassed about the failure of the party for not recruiting any female candidates [for council at-large].
“It’s never happened in modern history that we fielded a slate with so little diversity,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
Six Democrats, all men, were among 17 people running in the primary for at-large council positions. The top 12 advanced to the general election to compete for the six available seats.
Three of the six Democrats — Larry Sykes, Jack Ford, and Joshua Fowler — did not seek the party’s endorsement. Mr. Sykes and Mr. Ford finished in the top six on Tuesday, while Democratic incumbents Adam Martinez and Shaun Enright finished seventh and eighth, setting up an uphill climb to displace one of the top six in the general election.
And two of those who might be displaced, if Mr. Martinez and Mr. Enright are successful, are women — independents Theresa Gabriel and Sandy Spang. Democrats regard both of them as Republicans, given their voting records, though they chose not to seek the GOP endorsement and ran as political independents.
“The only two women running are Republican and, sure enough, they’re in the top six,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
He advised canceling the Sept. 19 Democratic fund-raiser and rejected the potential of a campaign to defeat Mr. Bell without openly endorsing Mr. Collins.
“I think the Democratic Party had its chance to elect a Democratic mayor this year, and it missed its opportunity. It’s over, and I think the Democratic Party needs to focus on City Council races, judicial races, and school board races,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
Mr. Redfern said he will not tell the Lucas County Democratic Party how to proceed regarding a Collins endorsement, but he does suggest they concentrate on getting a full slate of Democrats elected to City Council.
Mr. Martinez said he is confident he will make up the lost ground — which he did four years ago after coming in seventh in the 2009 primary.
“It’s my opinion that we already lost the mayoral race and as a party we need to concentrate on the council and school board,” he said.
For school board, the Democratic party endorsed political newcomer the Rev. Randall Parker III, pastor of the Manifested Word Church on Islington Street; Polly Taylor-Gerken, who was employed for 30 years in the district and is married to Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, and Perry Lefevre, a Sylvania Northview teacher and president of Sylvania’s teachers’ union.
Incumbent Bob Vasquez, a Democrat, was denied an endorsement.
A Toledo first
The 2013 Toledo mayoral election will be the first in modern times in which there is neither a Republican nor a Democrat on the ballot.
There have been 19 elections for mayor since city voters passed a charter amendment in 1963 to allow direct election of the mayor, with no previous instance of a Democrat not being on the general election ballot during that time. However, there have been several elections in which no Republican ran in the general election.
In 2001, Democrat Jack Ford defeated fellow Democrat Ray Kest. In 2005, Democrat Carty Finkbeiner challenged and defeated Mr. Ford. In 1975, Democratic Mayor Harry Kessler defeated unendorsed Democratic opponent Pamela Daoust.
Some political veterans saw a parallel to the situation in 1993 when Mr. Finkbeiner, an independent Democrat who in the past had run for office as a Republican, faced independent Mike Ferner in the general election after the party’s endorsed Democrat, Peter Silverman, and another Democratic contender, former Democratic Party Chairman Bill Boyle, were defeated in the primary. Also defeated in that primary was Republican contender Paula Pennypacker. Mr. Finkbeiner went on to win the 1993 race to become Toledo’s first strong mayor.
Mayor Bell — who was a Democrat until he decided to run for mayor in 2009 — is not the first independent to hold the city’s top executive seat.
Mayors Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones and Brand Whitlock were independent mayors of Toledo between 1897 and 1913. And Mayor John Q. Carey, who served from 1940 to 1942, claimed the title of political independent.