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Published: Sunday, 1/9/2005

Commissioners get insider

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mike Beazley moves to his new job as the administrator for Lucas County after seven years as clerk for Toledo City Council. Mike Beazley moves to his new job as the administrator for Lucas County after seven years as clerk for Toledo City Council.
DIANE HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

Visiting Michael Beazley's office is sort of like spending time at a phone bank during a busy telethon.

The calls never seem to stop.

People call for advice about politics. They call for advice about public policy. Or they call just to talk.

Whether it is a city council member, an elected official from another jurisdiction, or a local political player, Mr. Beazley always seems to be in demand. After 30 years of involvement in politics and government, he has carved out a unique niche for himself as a sought out political strategist and a policy wonk.

"Mike moves between the purely political world and governmental world better than anyone I know," said Jim Ruvolo, a Democratic political strategist and ally of Mr. Beazley. "He understands the limits of both, but is respected both by political people and government people."

Now Mr. Beazley is taking those skills to the Lucas County commissioners' office. After spending seven years as clerk of Toledo City Council, he's been named county administrator. The move to the $94,800 a year job was made possible when former city Councilman Pete Gerken was elected county commissioner in November. He joins Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, another former Toledo councilman who has a strong relationship with Mr. Beazley.

Early in his life, Mr. Beazley, 50, thought he'd be the public official running for election and winning races. After being born in Bar Harbor, Maine, and spending his early childhood in Chicago, his family moved to Toledo's Old Orchard neighborhood when he was 9.

His family wasn't politically active with Democratic politics, but issues of the day were frequently discussed at the dinner table. His mother, Patricia, produced a politically oriented public television show called "Voter's Voice."

Mr. Beazley's earliest active involvement in politics came at the age of 14, when he campaigned for Senator Robert Kennedy for President. While attending the University of Toledo from 1972 to 1977, he majored in political science and became president of the Lucas County Young Democrats and the college's Democratic club.

In 1974, he had his first significant role on a political campaign when he worked on John Gilligan's race for governor.

Scores of other campaigns followed, but he never one for himself as he once expected to do.

"I looked at the life I wanted to lead and the values that were important to me and I said I'd rather lead a life where I'm with my children, where I'm coaching their sports, and I'm involved in their lives," said Mr. Beazley, who has raised four children ages 19 to 28 with his wife, Juliann.

"One of the problems with people running for major public office is that they talk about family values, but they don't really get to be with their families that much," he said. "Thank goodness there are people who are willing to sacrifice their families for those objectives or no one would serve in those offices."

Instead of seeking elected office, Mr. Beazley, who also has a law degree, became one of the people elected officials rely upon - not just to get elected, but in shaping their polices once in office. After years of involvement in the county's Democratic Party, he party chairman in 1992.

His tenure as chairman was short (lasting to 1994) and bumpy. During Toledo's first race for strong mayor in 1993, Mr. Beazley pushed hard for Pete Silverman, who came in fourth in the primary. Carty Finkbeiner, winner of the primary, went on to become mayor, but without the party's endorsement.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he was unhappy with Mr. Beazley's decision to back Mr. Silverman, but his real disappointment came when he couldn't get the party's endorsement after the primary. Despite their differences in that race, Mr. Finkbeiner said he worked well with Mr. Beazley, who became clerk of council in 1998.

"He's probably the best politician to be groomed and come out of the Jim Ruvolo stable," he said. "He's got better political skills and style in terms of working with people than some of the elected officials."

But the first strong mayor's race fractured the local Democratic party, and Mr. Beazley came under strong criticism from some party members and in stinging editorials in The Blade. In 1994, he stepped aside before his term as party chairman was up to help Toledo lawyer Keith Wilkowski beat John Irish, former Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest's top deputy, for the chairmanship.

It wasn't the first or last time Mr. Beazley and Mr. Irish would clash, primarily because the two move within different wings of the party.

"I've been involved with Mike pretty much since I came into politics," said Mr. Irish, head of the party's candidate screening committee. "He's always been the planner, the one to come up with the strategy for what we call now the A-team. I've always admired him. We've been foes in many of these battles between the two factions of the party. He's always gone to win, but he never gets personal."

Mr. Beazley said his time as party chairman mostly was interesting and fun, but admits the criticism wasn't easy to endure.

"I think all of us would rather have people just say nice things about us every day," he said. "But, when you get into government and politics and public policy, you understand the bad will go with the good."

Even while entrenched with the politics of the party, he also was involved with the mechanics of elections. Mr. Beazley served as director of the county's board of elections from 1983 to 1989. After leaving the director's post to become executive director of the Democratic Party, he became a member of the elections board, serving as chairman from 1992 to 1998.

He gave up his position on the elections board when he became clerk of council. By many accounts, he changed the clerk's role from a bureaucrat's dream of paper pushing to a political and public policy advisor.

Despite initial reservations because of his background, Mr. Beazley even won over Republicans he worked with on council.

"There were concerns because of the partisan role he played in party politics before he became clerk that the partisan activity would play through," said Toledo Municipal Court Presiding Judge Gene Zmuda, a former GOP councilman. "My experience was that it did not. He recognized council as his employer."

Republican Councilman Betty Shultz, who spent most of her career as a Democrat, called Mr. Beazley "brilliant" and confirmed that many elected officials do consult with him.

"I think he could charm the snakes right out of Ireland," she said. "He's a very charming, beguiling guy."

Mr. Beazley downplays the influence he has on the political leaders, saying he is sought out because he's known as a political and public policy junkie.

"I have a pretty easy style and I get along with people from both political parties and enjoy the give and take that comes from confronting public policy challenges. I think people recognize that," he said. "If you hang around for a long time, people are going to call you for advice. I recognize that and I enjoy that role, and I take it seriously."

Even though he's going to county government, city officials anticipate that they'll still be working with him.

"Michael is a very talented individual," Mayor Jack Ford said. "We work well together. His skills will assist us in our efforts to merge the city and county economic development departments."

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



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