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Published: Friday, 4/28/2006

State races offer political flashback

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It might be a little hard to find on Tuesday's ballot and it certainly doesn't have the allure of the Republican gubernatorial primary.

But two battles for spots on the Republican and Democratic state central committees offer area voters a flashback to the two most intriguing political stories of the last year.

On the Democratic side, Jack Ford, the former mayor of Toledo, is taking on three challengers, including the man who bounced him from office, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

"Isn't that crazy," quipped Democratic pol John Irish.

On the Republican side, attorney John Birmingham is fighting Jon Stainbrook, David Schulz, and William Jennings.

To campaign for the unpaid post, Mr. Birmingham mailed thousands of brochures about his candidacy. In them, he touts the support of Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, former Toledo mayor Donna Owens, and Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber.

All three were identified as conduits in the campaign-finance scandal that has former area coin dealer Tom Noe facing federal charges.

Each woman could face state ethics charges for not disclosing money they received from Mr. Noe - money federal prosecutors claim they then illegally funneled to the Bush/Cheney election campaign.

A special prosecutor is mulling charges against the three, as well as Sally Perz, a former state representative who the FBI has identified as another Noe conduit.

Mr. Schulz, the current GOP central committeeman, said he is not behind an e-mail that went out to reporters last week, pointing out Mr. Birmingham's supporters.

"I don't campaign that way. I campaign on the issues," he said.

But Mr. Schulz is also sending out literature himself saying how, as a member of the central committee, he will "remove the Noe influence from the executive committee."

Few campaign for the committee posts, and challenges are infrequent. Winners help their respective parties pick statewide candidates, manage the party's finances, and mold party policies.

It is rare that the races, done every two years, garner much attention.

But this year, at least in Toledo, they add a little sizzle to a down-ticket race.

The Lucas County Democratic Party endorsed Mr. Finkbeiner. But he's the only one who sought the endorsement, Mr. Irish said.

The mayor said he's running so he can weigh in on statewide matters.

When asked if the race gives Mr. Ford a rematch, he joked: "I would say it's a showdown between Frank, Jack, and Carty." He was referring to City Councilman Frank Szollosi, who, along with Kollin Rice of Oregon, is also on the ballot.

Mr. Birmingham said he boasts of his supporters because they have either won elected office in the past or are current officeholders. He said one of the committee's biggest tasks is finding candidates who can win elections.

Mr. Birmingham, who is general counsel for Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala's office, said Ms. Shultz, Ms. Owens, and Ms. Thurber have not been charged with a crime. While saying he wouldn't condone what they allegedly did, he said they are important to the party because of their ability to hold office.

One of Mr. Birmingham's opponents in the central committee election, Mr. Stainbrook, said he was concerned with the message the endorsements send to voters.

"I'm disappointed that a candidate who wants to represent our party in Columbus would tout the endorsements of people who have been identified by the FBI as conduits in an illegal campaign money-laundering scheme," Mr. Stainbrook said.

An FBI affidavit used to secure a search warrant alleges that Ms. Shultz, Ms. Owens, and Ms. Thurber received money from Mr. Noe in order to attend a fund-raiser for President Bush. After receiving money from Mr. Noe, all three then bought $2,000 tickets for the Oct. 30, 2003, event in Columbus.

Each testified before a federal grand jury last summer. In October, Mr. Noe was charged with three felony counts for allegedly laundering $45,400 into the Bush campaign.

Mr. Kaczala and his wife also attended the Bush fund-raiser, each writing $2,000 checks to the Bush-Cheney campaign. The month before, Mr. Kaczala accepted $4,000 in campaign contributions from Mr. Noe and his wife Bernadette for his run against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur. He was not named as a conduit.

Contact Mike Wilkinson at:

mwilkinson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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