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Toledo City Councilman Frank Szollosi mined a partisan divide and staked a claim for the council's presidency yesterday, stating that he could stand up against - yet cooperate with - Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.
He joins fellow Democratic councilman Wilma Brown as a candidate to supplant the council's current president, Republican Rob Ludeman.
In a move that apparently encouraged Mr. Szollosi to seek the presidency, the mayor has recently promoted efforts to retain young college graduates and hosted a forum on "brain drain" last week.
"It's hard not to answer Carty's call for the best and the brightest when I feel I have so much to offer," said Mr. Szollosi, 34. "The city needs to be shaken up. Let's see if Finkbeiner's rhetoric matches up with reality here. Let's see if he puts his money where his mouth is."
Brian Schwartz, a spokesman for the mayor, said the administration can partner with whoever is council president.
Mr. Szollosi accused the mayor of attempting to micro-manage council through an agreement that installed Mr. Ludeman as president, despite Mr. Finkbeiner's shared affiliation with the council's Democratic majority.
The resulting alliance between the city's executive and legislative leadership set the council's agenda and prevented ordinances from getting the appropriate level of debate, said Councilman Michael Ashford.
"Carty says, 'It's my way or the highway,'•" Mr. Ashford said.
"Carty forgets that we don't work for Carty. We work for citizens."
Regarding the debate over the council presidency, Mr. Schwartz said he was unsure "why they're making this about Carty Finkbeiner. It's a council decision."
Mr. Ashford supports Ms. Brown but thinks Mr. Szollosi would also make an "excellent" president.
Mr. Szollosi said he too can work with Mr. Finkbeiner, provided the mayor respects the council's independence.
Among his credentials to be president, Mr. Szollosi stressed that he managed Mr. Finkbeiner's 1997 mayoral re-election campaign, a relationship that has become strained since Mr. Finkbeiner returned to City Hall after a four-year hiatus.
"Frank has proven this past year that his sole goal has been to obstruct and be a critic of the mayor," Mr. Ludeman said. "Typically, the council president has to have a good working relationship with the mayor."
The time commitments involved in being president could also hinder Mr. Szollosi, Mr. Ludeman continued, noting that Mr. Szollosi missed two of the four budget task force meetings held since last Thanksgiving.
"That's funny, because Carty hasn't shown up to any of them," Mr. Szollosi responded. "That's Carty's budget. It's not our budget."
Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Finkbeiner was unable to attend those budget task force meetings.
Questions about next year's $241.7 million budget are a source of friction in city government.
Mr. Szollosi alleged yesterday that payroll increases sought by the mayor for his political patrons account for part of the budget's projected $10.6 million shortfall.
"That's absolutely incorrect," Mr. Schwartz said, adding that there are "multiple reasons" for the deficit that must be addressed by the mayor and council.
The elections of Democrats Mike Craig and Joe McNamara, both of whom replaced council appointees favored by the mayor, enabled the potential realignment of council leadership.
Mr. Ashford and Councilman Ellen Grachek are confident there are now the seven votes the 12-person council needs to at least open nominations for a new president.
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