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Published: Saturday, 12/28/2002

Councilman says Ford backtracked with his support

BY TOM TROY AND DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

On Monday, a Toledo city councilman will become a Lucas County commissioner. It won't be Wade Kapszukiewicz, and he says he knows why: Mayor Jack Ford dumped him in a fit of anger.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz lost the post to fellow Councilman Tina Skeldon Wozniak last week. The 30-year-old councilman said that after he criticized the mayor in a newspaper column earlier this month, the mayor withdrew crucial support for his candidacy.

"I am being penalized and punished for telling the truth," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. He represents District 6.

Mr. Ford denied this week that he ever endorsed - or later withdrew - support. Paula Ross, chair of the county's Democratic Party, backs Mr. Kapszukiewicz's version of the story. In a Dec. 5 column by Blade writer Roberta de Boer, Mr. Kapszukiewicz criticized the mayor for not helping him push legislation to extend health benefits to "domestic partners" - the unmarried partners of city workers in committed, long-term relationships, be they homosexual or heterosexual.

Ms. Ross said that before the column was published, the mayor told her he would support Mr. Kapszukiewicz's appointment to replace former Commissioner Bill Copeland, who retired early this month for health reasons.

"When it became evident there was going to be a vacancy that would be filled by the Central Committee, I told Wade that I wanted to go to the Central Committee with a recommendation that had the support of the mayor," Ms. Ross said. "I asked the mayor early in the process if he would support Wade and he said, 'Yes.'"

After the column ran, she said she learned "indirectly" that Mr. Ford had dropped support for Mr. Kapszukiewicz. She said she wasn't able to get the mayor on the phone or meet with him to learn where he stood.

The mayor's lack of support for Mr. Kapszukiewicz, who was seen as the frontrunner despite the heat he was taking for sponsoring the domestic partners legislation, encouraged Ms. Wozniak and others to apply for the job, Ms. Ross said.

Mr. Ford said he never committed to support Mr. Kapszukiewicz. Therefore the column, he said, didn't cause him to have a change of heart.

"I don't agree with some of the things that were said about what my role should be in carrying the legislation," Mr. Ford said. "But I did not take that and decide to go to war with Wade. I was disappointed, but after that I just let the process take care of itself."

Mr. Ford acknowledged that he encouraged Ms. Wozniak to interview with the screening committee, citing the District 5 councilman's gender, name, and experience as political advantages for winning the election against a Republican in two years.

Mr. Ford said he also encouraged other people to screen for the job because he wanted a well-rounded field.

Some party insiders said Ms. Wozniak, daughter of late-Democratic icon Ned Skeldon, a former county commissioner himself, would have gotten the job regardless of any role Mr. Ford may have played. She was perceived as the stronger candidate for what is shaping up to be a tough race, they said.

Ms. Ross, who supported Mr. Kapszukiewicz, readily admitted Ms. Wozniak "wowed" the screening committee with her presentation.

What effect Mr. Ford's lack of support for Mr. Kapszukiewicz had on the screening committee is hard to say, but Ms. Ross said members were aware of it.

Some Democratic Party insiders disputed Mr. Kapszukiewicz's claim that he ever had the mayor's endorsement, saying they were not aware that the mayor had backed any candidate. Others said that Mr. Kapszukiewicz prematurely cast himself in the role of frontrunner before he had secured the job.

Lloyd Mahaffey, the regional director of the United Auto Workers union who supported Mr. Kapszukiewicz, said he never heard of the mayor having any opinion at all.

Once Ms. Wozniak entered the race, she received the backing of Keith Wilkowski, the chairman of the screening committee, according to people familiar with the process. Ms. Ross named Mr. Wilkowski as chairman shortly before the screening began.

Mr. Wilkowski would not comment on the screening committee's deliberations, but he said Ms. Wozniak is impressive for a number of reasons, including her ability to "connect with people."

Though Ms. Ross didn't get her first choice for the job, Mr. Wilkowski said she can be "pleased and proud that the process worked."



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