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Published: Wednesday, 10/10/2001

Escobar hopes to continue role as a consensus builder

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Louis Escobar says he was motivated by stories of his grandfather wanting to help people. It was a road that took Mr. Escobar into the Catholic priesthood, which he eventually left, and then to Toledo city council.

Mr. Escobar, 51, is vying for one of the city's six at-large council slots.

“I really like being on council. I hope I get re-elected. I think the thing I like best is being out meeting people and talking to people,” Mr. Escobar said.

When Mr. Escobar sought the Democratic endorsement for Toledo city council four years ago, his background as an ex-priest and openly gay man produced worries within the Lucas County Democratic Party, he said.

Recalling the episode with a smile, Mr. Escobar says he was asked to obtain a letter from Bishop James Hoffman stating that he left the priesthood in good standing. The bishop said he did.

That year, Mr. Escobar won enough votes to become one of six at-large city council members, in part due to a television commercial in which he was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).

On Nov. 6, city voters will choose six at-large council members from among the 12 top candidates in the September primary. Mr. Escobar finished fifth in the primary out of 15 candidates.

Mr. Escobar said he has tried to work behind the scenes to form consensus. He chaired the living wage committee in 2000.

“It started out very controversial. I was able to find common ground for business and labor to come together,” Mr. Escobar said.

He said he is disturbed by the sometimes random drift of city policy when it comes to neighborhood and park improvements. “I do not believe there is a plan,” he said. “It's the district councilmen who scream the loudest who get their parks done.”

One area in which he said he'd like to institute some planning is traffic safety and congestion.

“I am really concerned about the safety of kids in neighborhoods. I have heard people talk in these town meetings about kids almost getting hit,” Mr. Escobar said.

He said he has tried to work closely with the city's youth commission to establish opportunities for youth.

One of his concerns is that the city funds youth programs that duplicate one another.

“Some of those could work together so we can get more stretch for the dollar,” Mr. Escobar said.

In 1998, he sponsored and shepherded to passage a human rights ordinance that bans discrimination in hiring based on sexual or perceived sexual preference. He said he has felt little discrimination himself, but feels he has helped other people, including council members, accept the existence of gay people. He said he has a partner of 13 years.

As a priority for the next council, Mr. Escobar said shoring up the city's economic base and maintaining city services is essential to maintaining citizen confidence.

The grandson of immigrants from Mexico, Mr. Escobar grew up in the area around Junction and Nebraska avenues and attended the Polish church and school St. Anthony's.

Stories about the generosity of his grandfather in Mexico motivated him to want to be a priest, he said. He graduated from Central Catholic High School, attended the University of Toledo for one year before transferring to St. Mary's College seminary in Orchard Lake to study for the priesthood.

He graduated from St. Mary's and then from University of Detroit in 1976. He was ordained that year. He served at churches in Tiffin and Toledo.

Mr. Escobar left the priesthood in 1983.

“I felt I could do more to make a difference in the lives of others outside the priesthood,” Mr. Escobar said.

After working as a substance abuse counselor, in 1999 he was appointed executive director of Adelante, Inc., a South Toledo social service agency.

Also competing for the six at-large seats are Carol Buno, Peter Gerken, Perlean Griffin, Art Jones, Dennis Lange, George Sarantou, Terry Shankland, Betty Shultz, Peter Ujvagi, Matthew Zaleski, and Gene Zmuda.



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