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Council picks Copeland for vacated Gerken seat


Phillip Copeland takes over the seat on City Council that was vacated by Peter Gerken.


The Democratic-controlled Toledo City Council voted 7-4 last night to appoint Laborers Local 500 official Phillip Copeland to a vacancy, rebuffing the Lucas County Democratic Party, which had endorsed Teamsters official Mark Sobczak.

Mr. Copeland, 59, takes over the seat vacated by Democratic at-large Councilman Peter Gerken, who resigned Jan. 1 to take an elected seat as a Lucas County commissioner.

A nephew of the late William Copeland, who was a city councilman and a Lucas County commissioner, Mr. Copeland becomes one of four African-Americans on the 12-member council.

He was sworn in immediately by Toledo Judge C. Allen McConnell, and then thanked members of council and Mayor Jack Ford for their support.

Mr. Copeland said later he would run in November for the at-large seat.

Mr. Copeland received the votes of Councilmen Louis Escobar, Wilma Brown, Michael Ashford, Karyn McConnell Hancock, Ellen Grachek, Frank Szollosi, and Wade Kapszukiewicz, all Democrats.

Mr. Sobczak, vice president of Teamsters Local 20, was supported by the one other Democrat, Bob McCloskey, and the three Republicans, Rob Ludeman, Betty Shultz, and George Sarantou.

Mr. Sobczak was endorsed Dec. 14 by the Lucas County Democratic Party's executive committee.

After the vote, Mr. Sobczak complimented Mr. Copeland, but criticized the council for ignoring the nearly unanimous backing he got from the party.

"The pusillanimous vote that was made was deeply disappointing to me," Mr. Sobczak said, adding that he intends to run for the seat.

Mr. Sobczak is backed by the so-called "B Team" that took over control of the party last year from former Chairman Paula Ross, electing former Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg.

Mr. Copeland said he was born and raised in Toledo, attending Gunckel School and Robinson Junior High School. He attended Scott High School, but did not graduate. He obtained a GED in the 1970s, he said.

He is divorced, and has three daughters and one son.

His father, the late Roy Copeland, was Bill Copeland's brother.

He said he set up his campaign committee last fall, and was disappointed at not winning the party's endorsement, "but I wasn't going to let it deter me."

As a union official, he said he founded an African-American youth group, and plans to focus on youth as his campaign issues, along with jobs, senior citizens, and public safety.

He has been secretary-treasurer of the laborer's union since 1985.

Mr. Ashford, who lobbied for Mr. Copeland, said Mr. Copeland earned the appointment because of his volunteer work for the Democratic Party.

Mr. Escobar said he never heard from the leadership of the party about Mr. Sobczak.

Under the Toledo charter, the remaining members of council make appointments to fill vacancies to the board, but they usually accept the nomination from the party screening committee.

Mr. Sobczak is the top aide to Teamsters President Bill Lichtenwald, who played a part in establishing Ms. Isenberg as the party's new chairman last spring.

However, Ms. Isenberg spoke in support of Mr. Copeland at the meeting in December.

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