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Nader to mayor: Told you so

ADA, Ohio - Reacting to the news that DaimlerChrysler will cut up to 2,035 jobs this summer in Toledo, Ralph Nader had a simple message for Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner: I told you so.

Appearing yesterday at Ohio Northern University, the consumer activist and former presidential candidate said he warned city officials in the late 1990s that they were granting too many concessions in their bid to keep Jeep in Toledo.

“Chrysler promised to retain 4,900 jobs. Now it looks like it's going to be under 3,000 jobs,” Mr. Nader told a crowd of about 500 in a campus gymnasium. “The mayor ... wouldn't listen when we told him this is not a binding deal, it is not an enforceable deal, between the city giving the subsidy in return for the company maintaining the job levels. He wouldn't listen. He would spill out abusive language as only he could. He's one of the most amazing mayors I've ever met.”

In 1997 Mr. Nader offered legal help to 84 homeowners who faced removal by eminent domain to make room for the new Jeep plant. After construction began in July, 1998, he criticized the $281 million incentive package offered to the automaker, which included $95 million from the city.

That sparked a verbal battle between Mr. Nader and the mayor, who sparred in a live debate on a Toledo radio station in March, 2000. After the mayor lambasted critics of the Jeep project in a December, 1998, news conference, the consumer advocate sent him a bar of soap and urged him to clean up his “sneering, barnyard language.”

Yesterday Mr. Nader resumed the debate, saying he had warned Mr. Finkbeiner that DaimlerChrysler would fall short on the promised number of jobs. “He wouldn't listen, and on April 25 he criticizes Chrysler for backing off on the deal. He said he'd have to use legal remedies. Well, he doesn't have any legal remedies,” Mr. Nader said. “He is in a one-sided contract, and Chrysler has plenty of escape clauses to make sure that they couldn't be brought to justice.”

Reached last night, the mayor insisted that the agreements DaimlerChrysler signed with the city and state ensure at least 4,900 jobs and said he would seek to reduce the incentives to the automaker by the same proportion as any job cuts. “I expect DaimlerChrysler to live up to its agreement,” he said. “We have kept our end of the agreement, and they should keep their end of it.”

The mayor added: “I don't have much respect for Ralph Nader. He's been an anti-business crusader for 40 years. He's basically, in my view, a socialist.”

The mayor threatened legal action against DaimlerChrysler on Wednesday and demanded a meeting with Dieter Zetsche, president of the automaker's U.S. operations.

In a written response, DaimlerChrysler said the development agreement signed with the city in 1997 states only that employment at the company's Toledo assembly operations is “currently anticipated to be about 4,900 Chrysler employees.”

The automaker said this week it expects to employ at least 3,600 at the new Toledo North plant and two older factories and that the job cuts could be fewer than 2,035. DaimlerChrysler said it needs to cut employment in Toledo because of the end of Jeep Cherokee production and slowing sales of the Jeep Wrangler.

The Cherokee is being replaced by the Jeep Liberty, which is being produced at the $750 million Toledo North plant. Mayor Finkbeiner said he expects strong demand for the new sport-utility vehicle to force DaimlerChrysler to add a third shift at the plant. “There is no slowdown impacting the Liberty,” he said.

Mr. Nader made his comments during a speech on “the objectives of democracy.” While at Ohio Northern, he also met with law students and addressed pharmacy students, discussing medical errors and what he sees as the excessive influence of pharmaceutical companies and HMOs.

In remarks to reporters afterward, the 2000 Green Party presidential candidate said the city overreacted to fear that a new Jeep plant would be built elsewhere. “They should have driven a harder bargain. ... Everything was going for Toledo because Chrysler was there,” he said. “I don't think they'd have lost it. It was too connected to the old plant.”

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