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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

Values key for Barlos as term nears end

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Harry Barlos knows that some people may be baffled about some of the moves he made during his re-election bid for Lucas County commissioner.

He knows some wonder why he didn't make more of an effort to mend his relationship with Lloyd Mahaffey, the state United Auto Workers boss who recruited his opponent, Pete Gerken.

Or why he didn't accept the co-endorsement of the Lucas County Democratic Party when it was offered to him after it initially was given to Mr. Gerken.

Or why the longtime Democrat wouldn't publicly endorse Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Whether any of those decisions cost him the election last month is impossible to say, but Mr. Barlos, 53, feels that not compromising his personal values ultimately will mean more to him in the long run than winning the race.

"I have a 10 [year-old] and a 13-year-old," he said. "Someday in the near future, my boys will be men. And if they're fortunate enough to remain here in this community, I think it's important that if my oldest says, 'My name is Michael Barlos,' people will view him and his name in a positive fashion."

Mr. Barlos completes his term Saturday, ending a five-year stint as a county commissioner.

Mr. Gerken, a Toledo city councilman, will assume the post after doing what is nearly unheard of in Lucas County - taking on a fellow Democrat who is an incumbent.

Mr. Gerken, who has spent his career with the UAW, was tagged to run for commissioner by Mr. Mahaffey after the union leader became unhappy with Mr. Barlos' "communications" with him.

One source of friction between the men was Mr. Barlos' questioning of a contract the United Auto Workers negotiated last year for some Lucas County Sheriff's Department employees.

Mr. Barlos, though, thinks that was a convenient excuse and that Mr. Mahaffey has had a problem with him for a few years. He said he heard in late 2002 that Mr. Gerken was going to run against him.

Whenever the rift started, Mr. Mahaffey proved a powerful enemy. As the leader of 85,000 UAW members statewide, he has significant political influence, so when he pushed for Mr. Gerken, party leaders had a tough time resisting.

For his part, Mr. Mahaffey said his differences with Mr. Barlos were professional, not personal, and he thought Mr. Gerken would be a better commissioner. But last year, he made a point of saying Mr. Barlos had his secretary call him instead of personally contacting him to try to heal their relationship.

"That's how politics are - you take positions, you support candidates, and one wins and one loses," Mr. Mahaffey said. "I wish him the best in whatever he does."

Mr. Barlos has spent most of his adult life in the public sector. He made his first run for public office as a 25-year-old in 1976 when he lost a state representative's race. It would be nine years before he ran again for office, this time as mayor of Maumee, a town he and his Greek immigrant parents moved to from North Toledo in 1965. It was a race he wasn't supposed to win because he was going up against the late Jim Dussel, who had been mayor since 1980. Somehow, he pulled off the win by less than 200 votes.

Not everyone was happy about the victory at first. Lynn Olman, who is finishing his career as a Republican state representative, was a Maumee councilman at the time. Mr. Olman said Mr. Dussel was his best political friend and he told Mr. Barlos he would have to earn his trust. Mr. Olman said even though Mr. Barlos was a Democrat, that didn't take long and they've been friends ever since.

"Three words come to mind when I think of Harry Barlos: Thoughtful, deliberate, and honest," Mr. Olman said. "I count Harry Barlos among a very select group of public officials that I consider the hardest working, most dedicated, and greatest bargains for the taxpayers."

Former commissioner Sandy Isenberg, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, wouldn't necessarily disagree with that assessment, but she'd throw in another word to describe Mr. Barlos: stubborn.

Earlier this year, after her political faction overthrew the leadership of former chairman Paula Ross, Ms. Isenberg tried to get Mr. Barlos to accept a co-endorsement for the commissioner's race. She and others in the party felt Mr. Barlos had been wronged when Mr. Gerken won the party's endorsement and she wanted to come up with a compromise solution.

In the end, though, Mr. Barlos wouldn't take the co-endorsement. He's said he knows Ms. Isenberg doesn't understand his reasoning, but he didn't want the party to treat Mr. Gerken like he had been treated.

"He's a wonderful family man. He has a great wife and beautiful children," Ms. Isenberg said. "But he lost some of the respect I'd had for him over the years when he lost his way by hanging around with the Republicans and taking the Republican endorsement."

After spending seven years as Maumee's mayor while Arrowhead Park continued to prosper, Mr. Barlos ran for Lucas County clerk of courts. He said becoming clerk wasn't a lifelong dream, but it was an opportunity to make some positive changes on a bigger political stage.

When Mark Pietrykowski left the commissioner's office to become a judge on the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals, Mr. Barlos was selected by the Democratic Party to fill his seat. In 2000, Mr. Barlos won a four-year term.

Along with Ms. Isenberg and the late Bill Copeland, he was part of the political team that built the $39.2 million Fifth Third Field, which opened in 2002. Those three served together until the commissioner's office went through a major shake-up in 2002. Ms. Isenberg was defeated by Republican Maggie Thurber and Democrat Tina Skeldon Wozniak replaced Mr. Copeland, who left office late in the year because of poor health.

The last two years have seen sometimes contentious interactions among all three commissioners. Mr. Barlos' relationship with Ms. Thurber started off with some public disputes, but they seemed to develop a camaraderie, particularly after Mr. Barlos accepted the Republican endorsement in his race against Mr. Gerken.

"Having what happened to him by the Democratic Party left him freer to develop a relationship with people on the Republican and Democratic side," Ms. Thurber said.

Just what Mr. Barlos plans to do next isn't clear. He said whenever he's been at a crossroads in life a new opportunity has presented itself ,and that's what he's hoping will happen this time. He said he wants another job where he can make a difference in people's lives.

"Personally, I would like to stay in the public sector because I feel there are areas where I have an expertise that I could apply," he said. "I guess the best of both worlds is to have [a job] that's public-private where I could benefit both."

Contact Dale Emch at: daleemch@theblade.com or 419-724-6061.



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