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Published: Saturday, 11/23/2002

Good job, Bill Copeland, man of principle, dignity


Sooner or later, I knew the news would come. But I was still stunned last week when Lucas County Commissioner Bill Copeland announced his retirement.

Can you imagine? Political campaigns and ballots without Bill Copeland? It will be odd for me to not see his name on the ballot in November, 2004.

In one capacity or another, Mr. Copeland has been a political figure here since I started voting way back in the 1970s.

I admit that I voted for him every time he was on the ballot, even though whenever I saw him I kidded and said I wouldn't support him unless he could remember my name. He eventually remembered. Whatever it takes to get votes, I guess.

The Nashville native earned a bachelor's degree in education at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. First elected to Toledo City Council in 1973, Mr. Copeland isn't known only as an elected official, but as the business manager of Laborer's Union Local 500.

Certainly the public knows his health has been poor for some time. Many wonder why he ran for office again in the last election.

Yet he wanted to see through the opening the Mud Hens' new ballpark. He got his wish when Fifth Third Field opened in downtown last April, even though he wasn't at the opening because he broke his arm the previous weekend.

Mr. Copeland has been a worthy public servant, one who sets an example for others. For one thing, Commissioner Copeland never moved from his humble abode.

Surely he could have, but he remained right there on Indiana Avenue, in the heart of Toledo's central city, where he could inspire and impress the people whom others gave up on long ago. That's commitment.

Second, Mr. Copeland has filled a couple of firsts. When he was elected county recorder in 1985, he became the first African-American to hold a countywide post.

He followed that first with another when he became the county's first black commissioner when he was appointed in 1990. He has since been re-elected again and again.

When Mr. Copeland got more votes than any council candidate in 1983, he was the second black Toledoan to become vice mayor.

The first black public elected official was the late J.B. Simmons, who served on city council and as vice mayor, the first black to hold that position.

Mr. Copeland has through the years impressed me as a man of principle and quiet dignity. I don't recall a single report about him abusing his power as a public official, of his lording it over anyone, or of his throwing his weight around to accomplish personal goals.

For a closer glimpse into how he conducted himself as a politician, my predecessor, retired associate editor William Brower, wrote this about Mr. Copeland in a column in November, 1990:

“He kept getting re-elected to city council and in 1983 topped the field. ... At first, Mr. Copeland seemed reluctant to go for the vice mayorship. He said he wouldn't try for it if an original council mentor, Gene Cook, who had perennially held the position, challenged for the post. Mr. Cook opted to let his city council colleagues decide. Thus Mr. Copeland became the second black vice mayor in the history of Toledo.”

With so much power at his fingertips for more than two decades, he will go down in Toledo history as a political stalwart who hasn't found it necessary to boast, be arrogant, or snub anyone. He merely has gone his way and worked for the people who elected him.

So on that note, the next time I see Bill Copeland, it won't matter whether he remembers my name. I - along with a lot of other people - will certainly remember his. We thank him for his grand service to Toledo and Lucas County, and we wish him the best in his retirement.

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