THE BLADE/LORI KING
The Lucas County Democratic Party underwent a shakeup at the top Thursday in the wake of the party's failure to get a mayoral candidate through the primary and onto the general election ballot.
Yvonne Harper, 64, of Toledo stepped down as executive director at the request of the party chairman, Ron Rothenbuhler, which Mr. Rothenbuhler confirmed to The Blade. He declined to provide any more details, calling it an internal matter. He said it was a part-time job for which she was paid a stipend. It was not immediately known who might replace Ms. Harper, or if any other changes were coming.
Democrats within the party have complained of a lack of organization and outreach by the party, culminating in the primary election in which neither of the two Democratic candidates for mayor — Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez and Councilman Joe McNamara — received enough votes to compete in the general election on Nov. 5.
Toledo voters will choose between two independent candidates, incumbent Mayor Mike Bell and city Councilman D. Michael Collins — the first time in modern history that no Democrat will appear on the general ballot.
Also, the party came up short in candidates for council, with only three endorsed Democrats on the list of 12 candidates on the ballot. Two of them — incumbents Adam Martinez and Shaun Enright — finished seventh and eighth, respectively, and with an uphill climb in winning one of the six at-large council seats up for election.
Ms. Harper could not be reached for comment.
Pete Gerken, a Democratic Lucas County commissioner and member of the executive committee, said it's appropriate for the leadership of an organization to be accountable when there has been a failure, though he said there was not a call for Mr. Rothenbuhler to resign. He said the responsibility for day-to-day activities of the party falls on the executive director.
"Accountability for failure starts at the top, and that is what has transpired in recent weeks. There was a movement by some who thought it was time for her to move on, given the activities," Mr. Gerken said.
He said the party should focus in the remaining weeks before the election in helping its candidates for city council, Toledo Board of Education, municipal clerk of courts, and municipal judge to get elected.
Ms. Harper may also have run afoul of those within the Democratic Party who pushed unsuccessfully for the party to put its support behind Mr. Collins' bid for mayor in the party's recent executive committee meeting, where an endorsement motion was defeated by a vote of 24-23.
According to sources, Ms. Harper criticized Mr. Collins' position that there was no racial profiling practice in the police department, suggested he roughed up minorities when he was a policeman, and accused him of not posting campaign signs in black neighborhoods.
Mr. Collins was annoyed by the reported remarks, but said he did not want to inject himself into Democratic Party inner workings.
“I think it’s unfortunate the issues that were raised that evening, which are totally unfair and reprehensible as far as I’m concerned as to my sensitivity to ethnicity and minorities,” Mr. Collins said. “I feel that my record in the Toledo Police Department for 27 years of service is an open book. There have never been any allegations to support those statements.”
Mayor Bell also professed to have no part in the Democratic Party but suggested Ms. Harper was punished for expressing her opinion, which he said is a Democratic value.
“What I always believed is that the portion of being a Democrat is being able to speak your mind. If somehow she got caught up speaking her mind, I think that’s a sad state of affairs,” Mr. Bell said.