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Published: Monday, 10/31/2005

Nursing home executive, Bush 'Ranger,' keeps low profile

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

On a summer day, M. Keith Weikel looked up and saw the presidential helicopter buzzing by.

It was 1974 - and after a few years in the lower federal ranks - Mr. Weikel was working his first day as the White House-appointed commissioner of the Medical Services Administration.

It happened to be the day after the Watergate scandal forced President Nixon to resign on national television. The disgraced politician was leaving town.

As the helicopter rotors turned and one chapter of American political history closed, Mr. Weikel was there, ramping up his career and continuing his long education in Capitol Hill politics.

"I remember vividly, I was giving my first speech in that position at a hotel in south Washington and we were on break when I saw the helicopter actually fly right over the hotel with Nixon on his way to California," he told a federal government historian, who in 1995 was recording Mr. Weikel's career.

From Nixon to George W. Bush, Mr. Weikel's multicolored career has spanned disciplines.

He has been there as academic, government worker battling Medicaid fraud, health-care lobbyist for a hospital chain, and currently as the millionaire chief operating officer of Toledo nursing home giant, Manor Care Inc.

The executive now lives on Riverhills Lane in Sylvania Township and is unwilling to grant an interview.

But in his early Washington days, he was an outspoken reformer. They were old-styled, anti-corruption reforms steeped in the GOP politics of the time - cost-cutting and streamlining health care programs. It was a national political theme, and Mr. Weikel was its lead enforcer and charmer.

He appeared on Good Morning America to debate New York state's Medicaid chief. He was quoted and pilloried on the front page of national newspapers for calling New York City a "vast wasteland."

Two decades removed from that spotlight, Mr. Weikel is more like a silent-running submarine, pushing a legislative agenda and also winning recognition as a fund raising darling of the Bush-Cheney re-election bid.

The 67-year-old executive was credited with raising more than $200,000 in individual contributions for the President's re-election campaign and joined an exclusive circle of supporters dubbed "Rangers" by the campaign. The exact figure he raised is unknown.

Like Mr. Weikel, Manor Care's executives keep low profiles, spokesman Rick Rump said. But even so, company employees, mostly managers, spoke loudly with their political contributions last election.

Those listing Manor Care as their employer gave more than $100,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign, more than 21 times the $4,750 they gave to the Kerry-Edwards effort, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The company's legislative agenda includes maintaining or increasing Medicare payments and promoting legislative caps on jury awards, Mr. Rump said.

"We're looking for anything that affects our ability to provide care for patients," he said, adding that the company does invite key lawmakers to facilities to lobby them. "[For the lawmakers] to gain a better understanding. It's not a matter of saying [to employees], 'Go out and vote for this person.' "

The "Ranger" group includes 10 other Ohioans. Among Mr. Bush's top fund-raisers are those appointed as ambassadors and those working as lobbyists with long lists of politically active clients. Others are business executives, like Mr. Weikel, whose companies rely on government contracts and entitlement dollars, such as Medicare payments.

In the case of Manor Care, two-thirds of its revenues come from government payments. The company, which operates more than 500 nursing homes and hospice care units in 31 states, had $3.36 billion in revenues last year. Net profits increased in the third quarter by 28 percent to $50 million.

The company paid Mr. Weikel, who is also executive vice president, $1.38 million in salary and bonuses last year, and he exercised $2.17 million in Manor Care stock options. The company trades under the HCR ticker symbol.

Mr. Rump acknowledged Mr. Weikel's passion for Washington politics, but he would not comment on it.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6077.



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