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Published: Friday, 5/19/2006

Council vacancy has Dems divided

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Santiago Santiago
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Lourdes Santiago says her 23 years of employment with the city have prepared her for the issues facing Toledo City Council.

But her endorsement by the Lucas County Democratic Party's executive committee Wednesday for an at-large vacancy brought criticism yesterday from two Democrats on council.

Ms. Santiago, 56, was endorsed by the party's executive committee to take over the vacancy created when Democrat Bob McCloskey resigned May 2 while under bribery charges. She is a senior attorney in the division of taxation where she files lawsuits seeking payment of delinquent taxes.

"I'm very knowledgeable about how city departments work and how council works. I love doing legal work. I love analysis. I think that's one of the many pluses I bring to council," Ms. Santiago said yesterday.

Democratic Councilmen Michael Ashford and Frank Szollosi said they support Democrat Bob Vasquez, who also sought the party's endorsement.

The appointment will be decided at council's meeting Tuesday night by the 11 remaining members.

Mr. Vasquez ran for an at-large council seat in November, finishing first after the six who were elected, traditionally a strong claim for appointment to the next vacancy.

Ms. Santiago ran unsuccessfully for Toledo Municipal Court in November, losing to Republi-can Lynn Schaefer.

Mr. Ashford said the screening committee returned the candidate that Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wanted, and not necessarily the candidate with the best claim on the appointment.

"At the beginning of the process, Carty told everyone Lourdes was going to get it. That means the process was tainted and unfair," Mr. Ashford said.

Mr. Szollosi said Mr. Vasquez would have been elected in November if the party had not endorsed McCloskey.

He said the party should have taken responsibility for its support of McCloskey, who is awaiting sentencing in federal and state courts for bribery convictions.

"I believe that the quote-unquote party leaders have an obligation to accept a little responsibility over endorsing McCloskey because doing that hurt the party," he said.

The disputed council appointment keeps up the running battle between the A-team and B-team factions of the Democratic Party.

Mr. Szollosi and Mr. Ashford last year sided with the A-team group that supported former Mayor Jack Ford's re-election bid, along with Mr. Vasquez's candidacy.

The party, which came under control of the so-called B-team during Mr. Ford's term, backed Mr. Finkbeiner's successful bid for mayor.

Council President Rob Ludeman, a Republican, said he expects to support Ms. Santiago and that the GOP will nominate a candidate for the seat to run Nov. 7.

"If the mayor feels comfortable with Lourdes, I think that might be the most consistent approach for the short term," Mr. Ludeman said.

Election of an A-team Democrat could lead to a challenge to his position as council president and to the chairmanships held by other Republicans. The Republicans and Mr. Finkbeiner and some Democrats have forged a coalition to support the mayor's pro-business platform.

Ms. Santiago said yesterday she wouldn't try to predict the outcome of the council vote Tuesday night and tried to steer clear of the intraparty dispute.

"There's always debate and I think respectful disagreement. I see myself as a unifier," she said.

A native of Puerto Rico, Ms. Santiago came to Toledo in 1974 while working on an education degree and stayed to get her law degree from the University of Toledo.

Ms. Santiago has worked for the city since 1983 and held a variety of positions in Mr. Finkbeiner's first term, including acting director of the departments of development and neighborhoods. She was reassigned to the law department when Mr. Ford took office.

If appointed to council, Ms. Santiago would have to give up her city job. She said yesterday that she is seeking a job as a lawyer in the private sector.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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