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Ujvagi makes `due diligence' council mantra

Editor's note: This article is one of a series of profiles of the 12 Toledo city council at-large candidates running in the Nov. 6 election.

When he became Toledo city council president in 1998, Peter Ujvagi predicted he would occasionally battle with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

Occasional sounds like an understatement. Just two weeks ago, Mr. Ujvagi was lambasted in a remarkably vitriolic way by Mr. Finkbeiner. The mayor was upset with Mr. Ujvagi's insistence on moving at a deliberate pace in reviewing a proposed $400 million settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In his news conference, Mr. Finkbeiner accused Mr. Ujvagi of trying to steal the administration's thunder.

Mr. Ujvagi denied the mayor's claims, and contended council was just doing its “due diligence,” a favorite Ujvagi phrase.

“It's been one of my frustrations,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “Notwithstanding that, a lot of good things have happened in this city.”

Mr. Ujvagi, who came close to deciding not to run for re-election this year due to family and business concerns, is one of 12 people seeking six at-large seats in the Nov. 6 general election. He emerged from the Sept. 11 primary election as the top vote-getter of 15 people on the ballot.

Unlike other council members who tend to cite their own accomplishments, Mr. Ujvagi touts council's successes in his run for office. He's been president since January, 1998, and is the undisputed leader, backed up by nine other Democratic votes. Republicans hold two seats.

He said council has been successful in continuing basic city services and maintaining fiscal stability.

He said council has fought repeatedly to hire additional police, often against the mayor's efforts. He claimed credit for council for satisfactory negotiations with city labor unions in the last several years.

And he said council took responsibility to reduce the city's budget and head off an abrupt budget crisis when city revenues leveled off. Even so, he said, the city faces an $8 million deficit next year.

“I have helped the mayor more times than he knows or has been willing to accept,” Mr. Ujvagi said.

Mr. Ujvagi said he sees a city as a collection of neighborhoods, and government as service to those neighborhoods.

“I love the city, I love politics, and I love neighborhoods,” Mr. Ujvagi said.

He said a specific goal if he is re-elected is to work with U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) to “land bank” green space outside Toledo and put it off-limits to development.

Such green belts are a popular concept with advocates of “new urbanism” who say current laws encourage suburban sprawl at the expense of established neighborhoods.

Mr. Ujvagi worked as a neighborhood activist in East Toledo before leaving for Washington in 1972 for a series of federal government positions.

Since 1981, Mr. Ujvagi's political and government activity has centered on Toledo.

Mr. Ujvagi's family members fled their homeland of Hungary, then under the boot of the Soviet Union, in 1956. They immigrated to New York where Mr. Ujvagi's father heard of a job in Toledo as a tool-and-die maker. The elder Mr. Ujvagi started a family machining business that is today jointly operated by Peter and his two brothers in East Toledo.

Mr. Ujvagi was appointed to council in January, 1981, and elected later that year. He ran for mayor in 1983 but lost to Republican Donna Owens. He has since considered running for mayor but decided against it because of personal family and business responsibilities.

Others seeking an at-large seat are Carol Buno, Louis Escobar, Peter Gerken, Perlean Griffin, Art Jones, Dennis Lange, George Sarantou, Terry Shankland, Betty Shultz, Matthew Zaleski, and Gene Zmuda.

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